Off to a tense start: Justin Trudeau meets the premiers

Pipelines, pricing carbon, and profiting during the ‘transition’ off fossil fuels: The quotes to know from the First Ministers’ meeting


 
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, centre, is seen during a meeting of the First Ministers, First Nations, Inuit, and Metis Leaders in Vancouver, B.C., Wednesday, March. 2, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, centre, is seen during a meeting of the First Ministers, First Nations, Inuit, and Metis Leaders in Vancouver, B.C., Wednesday, March. 2, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Their meetings hadn’t even officially started yet, and the mood among Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the provincial premiers—as they were assembling in Vancouver today for a conference on climate change policy—was noticeably strained.

There were two main reasons for this failure by the First Ministers to immediately adopt the requisite West Coast low-stress attitude. First, the Quebec government’s surprise move yesterday to seek an injunction to force TransCanada to submit to Quebec’s review of the stretch of its proposed multibillion-dollar Energy East pipeline that would run through the province. And, second, reports that Trudeau was hoping to coax the provinces somewhat closer to accepting a national minimum price on carbon emissions, as a starting point for a pan-Canadian approach to fighting climate change.

Much more on these issues will emerge tomorrow after their main meeting. But for a flavour of the mood at the outset of this test of Trudeau’s highly touted ability to orchestrate a positive vibe, here are four key chunks of political rhetoric, mixed with some policy positioning, from the Vancouver Convention Centre today.

Related: What provincial insiders say about Trudeau federalism, 2.0

Regional tensions? Merely a matter of process.

Speaking to reporters, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard took pains to stress that his insistence on a made-in-Quebec review of Energy East is not an attempt to usurp the federal jurisdiction of the National Energy Board, and nor should it be taken as an affront by anyone in oil-producing Alberta and Saskatchewan who wants a pipeline approved:

“It’s not at all an East vs. West issue. It’s not a ‘Pipeline, Yes or No’ issue. It’s a process issue. In the same way as Ontario has had its own environmental review for the Ontario segment of the project, it’s only normal and expected that the same would apply in Quebec. So we just look forward to the company [submitting] itself to the existing laws and regulations, file its project, and the process will go forward.”

So, climate change—how big is that anyway?

Appearing with Couillard at a morning news conference, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne took a stab at calming any nervousness over the notion that Trudeau has a national price on carbon in the works. She seemed to suggest that tomorrow’s meeting must start off on the much more basic level of scoping out the seriousness of the climate change problem, making sure everybody agrees:

“How do we tackle climate change as a country? And what is the magnitude of the problem that we are confronting. And then we talk about what each of us are doing in our own provinces. Then we get to the mechanism. What is the most efficient mechanism, province by province, territory by territory? If we’ve had the initial discussion about agreeing on what the problem is, and agreeing on the magnitude of the problem, then we’ll be able to move to, ‘Well, how are we actually going to do this?’”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, centre, attends a meeting of the First Ministers, First Nations, Inuit, and Metis Leaders in Vancouver, B.C., Wednesday, March. 2, 2016. (Jonathan Hayward/CP)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, centre, attends a meeting of the First Ministers, First Nations, Inuit, and Metis Leaders in Vancouver, B.C., Wednesday, March. 2, 2016. (Jonathan Hayward/CP)

Selling oil to finance a no-oil future

Prime Minister Trudeau is caught between apparently irreconcilable demands: Sell Canadian oil, and wean Canada off oil. But he denies that they are, in fact, in conflict. At his opening speech to the GLOBE 2016 conference, which is being held at the Vancouver Convention Centre while Trudeau meets the premiers here, the Prime Minister spelled out his vision for how Canada can exploit a “transition” in the energy economy:

“We need to make smart, strategic investments in clean growth and new infrastructure. But we also must continue to generate wealth from our abundant natural resources to fund this transition to this low-carbon economy. The choice between pipelines and wind turbines is a false one. We need both to reach our goals. And as we continue to ensure that there is a market for our natural resources, our deepening commitment to a cleaner future will be a valuable advantage.”

And speaking of that transition…

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall arrived in Vancouver in a bit of a mood. Wall said Trudeau should be an outspoken proponent of Energy East, even before the project gets federal regulatory approvals. And he rejected the idea of putting a price on carbon while the oil industry is suffering because of low prices. Wall took Trudeau’s message about selling Canada’s resources—during this transitional phase, mind you—and added some octane:

“We know that fossil fuels will continue to be burned around the world, certainly as a transition energy until we get to renewables. That’s a fact. Forty per cent of electricity comes from coal—that’s a fact. Oil and gas will continue to be a central part of economies around the world—that’s also a fact. Do Canadians want to be a part of meeting those fossil fuel needs? And if the answer to that is Yes, then we’ve got to build some pipelines… And I would also ask this: If Canada is playing a bigger part of supplying fossil fuel needs, in this transition period to the post-carbon economy, if we’re doing that, isn’t that better if it’s countries that frankly don’t give as much of a darn about the environment, or human rights, and the list goes on and on?”


 

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