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Inside Christy Clark’s climate change brinksmanship

Did B.C. Premier Christy Clark win something real, or just put on a show?


 
B.C. Premier Christy Clark arrives to take part in the Meeting of First Ministers and National Indigenous Leaders in Ottawa on Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

B.C. Premier Christy Clark THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

It sure looked like an effective display of brinksmanship. Late in the Dec. 9 meeting between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the premiers on climate change, B.C.’s Christy Clark walked out and told reporters she wouldn’t be signing Trudeau’s vaunted Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.

Clark explained it to the cameras as a matter of fairness. The essentials: B.C. has taxed carbon emissions since 2008, a levy that now stands at $30 per tonne, and doubts the measures some other provinces are adopting will amount to the same thing. Clark wanted assurances that a fair comparison would be made before B.C. had to hike its tax, as dictated by the new framework.

Minutes later, B.C. officials hurried out to to tell reporters they’d got what they wanted, strongly suggesting that Clark’s gambit had applied the necessary pressure to gain concessions. But federal officials later countered that nothing of the sort had happened. They said the key B.C. ask—a comparative review of what provinces are doing to cut carbon in 2020—was already agreed to before Clark’s public performance.

RELATED: Trudeau claims victory on national climate ‘framework’

It’s difficult to report with confidence on what went on behind the scenes. However, based on interviews conducted a few hours after the meetings ended—and the Pan-Canadian Framework was announced, with only Manitoba and Saskatchewan refusing to sign—this is what federal and B.C. officials largely agree happened.

In fact, before Clark walked out to tell reporters she wouldn’t be signing, there was already agreement to include a key clause into the framework, promising an interim report to be completed in 2020, assessing the different approaches the provinces are taking to meet the emissions-reduction objectives of the agreement. The Prime Minister and premiers will review those findings.

That sounds a lot like what B.C. officials had been telling reporters all day Clark was seeking. So what, if anything, did her threat not to sign change? Federal and B.C. officials said a single line was added to the “annex” on the province at the back of the framework document. It reads: “B.C. will assess the interim study in 2020 and determine a path forward to meet climate change objectives.”

A lot depends on how much weight is put on those words. From Clark’s perspective, they imply that if the 2020 assessment finds that other provinces—notably Ontario and Quebec—haven’t done enough, B.C. won’t be increasing its carbon tax. But a federal official flatly called the sentence “redundant,” suggesting it doesn’t really alter the 2020 interim review’s importance.

Beyond the squabbling over how much Clark won for B.C., if anything, serious questions now arise about how that 2020 review will be conducted. University of Alberta business economics professor Andrew Leach, a key architect of Alberta’s climate change policy, suggests it will be tricky to compare carbon pricing, like B.C.’s, against the so-called cap and trade systems adopted by Quebec, Ontario, and, most recently, Nova Scotia. Under those systems, companies buy and sell credits to pump out greenhouse gas emissions, effectively putting a price on burning fossil fuels.

RELATED: Manitoba, Saskatchewan only holdouts in national climate plan

At root, B.C. is demanding a comparison of how heavy a price provinces impose on fossil fuel burning, while Ontario and Quebec insist the emphasis should be on how much emissions are cut. It turns into a highly technical argument. Leach doesn’t claim to be neutral—he’s heavily invested in Alberta’s approach, which is closer to the B.C. model—but his observations about the battle to come seem about right.

He worries that Canada is heading to a fork in the national policy road, a split between provinces that emphasize the quantity of emissions, and those that stress the level of carbon pricing. “It seems we’re heading to a hybrid, where the worry would be moral hazard,” Leach said in an email. “So provinces who can meet deep reductions with low prices choose the quantity ‘lane,’ and provinces that can’t meet big reductions without high prices choose the ‘price’ lane, and overall we end up well short of our target.”

What shouldn’t be lost in all this is that the framework hammered out on Dec. 9 is a substantial feat of federal-provincial diplomacy. But, if Leach is right, the battle over the right way to implement that landmark agreement has only just begun.


 

Inside Christy Clark’s climate change brinksmanship

  1. So by 2020 the east-west divide will be complete. Alberta will dump this carbon tax nonsense after Notley is fired. Clark won’t be satisfied with eastern inequalities. Wall and Pallister will hold firm on not signing up. Jr Trudeau can be so proud of his accomplishments. Win a carbon battle for his half of the country while losing the productive half of the country.

    • That kind of thinking is why the west will always remain the hinterlands.

      • So happy you did not disappoint the readers as once again we get a smug,arrogant but stupid opinion from the so wise one. Why don’t you just go away.

        • Why don’t YOU get used to other people having a different opinion?

  2. It’s unbelievable that the media is hyping this agreement with no specifics or hard targets based on science, as anything other than a sham. Even if we meet our 2030 targets, they are the weakest in the G7, and come nowhere near enough to keep us under 2 degrees warming. That’s the point where all hell breaks loose, and these politicians have the nerve to say they’re doing this for their kids and grandkids. How does everybody feel about having their children’s quality of life sold out?

    • Reading between the lines of your comment it would seem that you believe that nothing good can come from governments agreeing on anything and that inter-governmental agreements mean nothing.

      I hope I am reading your comment wrong, because the way I’m reading it implies that you have no hope for any positive outcome from anyone agreeing with anyone else, and that perpetual disagreement is the only way forward.

  3. I do not believe for one minute that all of these decisions regarding BC have not been negotiated a long time ago. The rest is just grandstanding by everyone involved.

    BC is grandstanding as the election is coming up soon and if Clarke does not win the pipeline is done.

    Saskatchewan is grandstanding as they are trying to change the subject from dirty land deals and huge out of province corporate donations.

    Manitoba is grandstanding as they want concessions in health care.

    The federal government is grandstanding as they want people to think they can balance the economy and the environment while having the provinces on board.

    Only time will tell what will get accomplished from the grandstanding.

  4. And yet BCs GHG emissions are on the rise. What a freakin scam this is.

  5. The temperature of this planet has been fluctuating since the Big Bag and will continue to do so until Planet Earth goes the way of Krypton. Keep believing the Liberal nutbags Canada until your wallet is clean and it’s too late to reverse you’re bad decision to put a check mark beside PM numbnuts name.

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  8. Wow! This woman knows no shame! Careless Christy Clark’s Theatrics, taking credit for things she didn’t do, the woman knows no shame! It’s seriously time for a change in BC! ANYBODY BUT CARELESS CHRISTY CLARK IN 2017!

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