Setting the table for Trudeau’s dinner with the premiers

Premiers will meet with the Prime Minister on Monday for the first time since 2009. Top of the agenda: climate change.

Prime Minister  Justin Trudeau greets Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne as they are surrounded by security detail at Queen's Park in Toronto, October 27, 2015. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne as they are surrounded by security detail at Queen’s Park in Toronto, October 27, 2015. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

Upon becoming Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau initiated, in the words of the Privy Council Office, a number of changes to “the machinery of government” to “reflect the government’s priorities.” Among those reflections was the expansion of the title of minister of the environment to create a “minister of the environment and climate change.”

If properly dealing with the spectre of climate change were as easy as changing the sign outside the minister’s office, surely one of the last few prime ministers would have done so before now. The Liberals came to office sounding much as the Conservatives did in 2006, lamenting their predecessor’s inaction and vowing new efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Related: Jason Markusoff on Alberta’s game-changing climate plan

Three weeks after being sworn in, Trudeau will gather the premiers in Ottawa on Monday to discuss climate change at a “working dinner” that could begin to provide the sort of answers a new ministerial title promises—including the enduring question of whether Canadians are ready to seriously confront climate change.

“We have momentum at the political level, with all orders of government. We’ve got momentum in the sense of Canadians being supportive. And we’ve got an international process that’s driving a structure that all countries can participate in,” says Louise Comeau, executive director of Climate Action Network Canada, a coalition of environmentally concerned groups. “I think we have a window that hasn’t been open in a very long time.”

Related: David McLaughlin on whether Trudeau can nail down a climate deal

Trudeau’s move to quickly convene the premiers contrasts with Stephen Harper, who last brought the first ministers together in January 2009. But Trudeau will go to the UN climate conference in Paris—the premiers, opposition leaders and Indigenous leaders in tow—with the climate commitments of the Harper government. Further negotiations with the provinces after Paris will determine a new target. Catherine McKenna, the minister of the environment and climate change, has said that the Conservative target—a 30 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by 2030—represents the “floor” for Liberal ambitions, but a target is only half the answer, perhaps even less. “What we need is not ambitious political targets,” Trudeau told the CBC in October. “What we need is an ambitious plan to reduce our emissions in the country.”

In the absence of a federal plan, provincial initiatives have sprung up. British Columbia has had a carbon tax since 2008, while Quebec has adopted a cap-and-trade system and Ontario will detail plans to do likewise in the spring. “Suddenly, you’re talking more than 70 per cent of the Canadian population being under emission-pricing policies without the federal government doing a single thing,” says Mark Jaccard, the economist and professor who advised the Conservative government and its Liberal predecessor. The Alberta government has also promised to increase its carbon levy and could soon announce additional plans.

Related: Federalism will dictate Canada’s carbon-emissions policy

Stitching those policies together, or crafting a new national policy to share fairly the burden and to balance provinces’ unique situations, is a rather complicated undertaking. How, for instance, do you account for resource-dependent economies such as Alberta and Saskatchewan? “How do you figure out how much each province contributes, whether in emissions reductions or dollars spent?” asks Jaccard. “How do you have coordination that is in the interests of everyone, for economic efficiency and equity reasons, as well?” The federal government will need to provide incentives for action, says Erin Flanagan, an analyst with the Pembina Institue, but also penalties to ensure compliance.

Can they do it? And can they bring the electorate along with them?

About climate change, Jaccard tells his own children to be patient and hopeful. “What I say to my kids, who are now in their 20s and very concerned about this stuff, and activists themselves, is: Humanity is going to be slow on global challenges like this, and then there could well be some kind of flipping,” he says.

For the moment—before the premiers sit down for dinner—it is possible to imagine that time could be near. The table, at least, is set.


Setting the table for Trudeau’s dinner with the premiers

  1. “What we need is not ambitious political targets,” Trudeau told the CBC in October. “What we need is an ambitious plan to reduce our emissions in the country.”

    This is mindless blather. If we don’t need “ambitious political targets”, will the PM defer travelling to Paris to deliver one? Didn’t think so – too many selfie opportunities to forego.

  2. This is a subject that neither I nor Justin Trudeau understands very well. I would love him to keep his mouth shut, just listen to whatever everyone else says and return home without any commitments. I also have a few questions for which I need honest answers. Other than that, I won’t otherwise dispute anything anybody has to say on this topic.
    The first one: What about the latest NASA video that talks about Antarctica ice sheets? Wasn’t the melting of these ice sheets the mainstay of all global warming arguments, all these years? The premise had been that these ice sheets were melting faster than we had projected and therefore the doomsday was nearer than we had anticipated. Doesn’t this particular video show that the accumulation in the Eastern side is more than compensating the melt in the Western side and therefore the ice sheets in totality are actually growing? Does that mean that we are entering a global cooling period? Just an honest “Yes” or “No” please!
    Isn’t Carbon Tax, just a tax? Doesn’t it actually help the wasteful, corrupt governments to find some extra cash in subtler, politically correct ways to make additions to their own fleets of motor vehicles? Can this tax somehow threaten the rain clouds to behave themselves or something like that? The one who causes the Global warming would actually be the consumer who has no restraint in any of these schemes. Only the producer is penalized. Yet, if the production costs go up because of a silly idea, he certainly is going to pass it along. Wouldn’t that affect a lot many industries, affect a lot of employment prospects and affect the mainstay of life sustenance for many a family? Is there an alternate idea so well developed that we can trust our premiers to grasp every implication thereof here?
    Out of a barrel of oil, only 19.5 litres are distilled into global warming gasoline and related products. Even out of that, almost half goes into unavoidable burning such as jet fuel and bunkering oil. The balance 23.5 litres of a barrel are turned into more than 6,000 items counting everything from Aspirin to life-saving medications, to clothes, shoes, slippers, paints, machinery parts and whatever else you name it. Should consumers of all these products become paupers by paying through their nose for the sins of consumers of just 10 litres of fuel?
    Most of the countries that will be affected by global warming are the recalcitrant ones that are adamant about their continuation of coal-fired power plants and wood-burning stoves. We, on the other hand are much cleaner even though David Suzuki makes us feel guilty every day of the year. Any global warming will push the tree line further up North, increase our forest density, make tapping our natural resources more energy efficient, release more land mass to settle more refugees from all over the world, increase water-flow in our Hydropower dams and in short, would make us a global leader in every count and every sense of the word. Should we forgo all that and help those who do not want to help themselves?
    Are all the alternatives, proffered as solutions to global warming as alternatives for gasoline burning, really all that clean? My specific questions are 1) When we break or fuse atoms, convert a portion of it into energy, then waste almost 60% of it in heat expulsion and produce electricity from the balance, how much of the globe have warmed unnecessarily? 2) When we capture sunlight by crowding a huge land mass with solar panels, aren’t we preventing the deflection thereof back into the space? Doesn’t that add to the consumed heat and affect the equilibrium? What is the conversion efficiency ratio and how much of that energy have we thrust into the global warming equation in the name of political correctness?
    Apparently, global warming was first noticed over 250 years ago? Petroleum industry is very much younger. Who are these other culprits that we haven’t talked about?
    There is also an element of Global warming (and cooling) that is cyclical. Geologists, paleontologists, archaeologists and many other disciplines confirm the existence of these cycles? There had been cycles of a million years, 10,000 years, a 1000 years and even an unconfirmed 500 year cycle. The North-Eastern coastal areas that had been warm enough to cultivate grapes during Leaf Erickson’s arrival in Newfoundland coast, had become so called during Jacques Cartier’s arrival so as to cause so much human misery and death to his explorers? Have we ever tried to understand any of these assorted phenomena?
    I am not disputing anything here; just seeking sensible answers!

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