Canada, U.S. must harmonize carbon pricing: envoy

The Obama administration cautions that Canada and the U.S. do, in fact, need to have a harmonized plan to fight climate change as suggested by the Harper government.

MONTREAL — The Obama administration cautions that Canada and the U.S. do, in fact, need to have a harmonized plan to fight climate change as suggested by the Harper government.

The Canadian government has faced considerable criticism from environmentalists, political foes and even some provincial governments over its claim of powerlessness to act alone.

But U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson warns that if the countries fail to co-ordinate environmental policies, there could be an unwelcome fallout on either side of the border.

“The practical reality is that in Canada you can’t have a system of carbon pricing that is different from the one in the United States,” Jacobson said Tuesday during his speech at Montreal’s McGill University.

“The negative effects on trade, on business and on environmental stewardship, in one country or the other, would be very significant.”

The Harper government has long said it will wait for the Americans before setting up a Canadian climate-change plan — out of fear a made-in-Canada system could erode jobs, investment and industrial competitiveness.

Opponents call Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s approach a stall tactic that gives him an excuse to do nothing.

They note that his government will soon have its fourth environment minister, and still no coherent climate plan.

Jacobson conceded that the problem has not been made any easier by the inability of the Americans to put a price on carbon.

U.S. President Barack Obama himself candidly acknowledged, following the drubbing in the recent congressional elections, that American cap-and-trade legislation is unlikely to pass in the next couple of years.

“There are going to be fits and starts — we’re not going to solve this problem overnight,” said Jacobson, whose public lecture was titled, U.S.-Canada Relations: A Strategic Vision of the Future.

“But I do believe we’re going to get there and we’re going to get there because we’re going to work together.”

On either side of the border, there have been numerous setbacks in the effort to set carbon prices.

Jacobson’s comments came just one day before Conservative senators helped defeat a climate-change bill Wednesday already approved by the House of Commons.

Harper’s wait-for-the-U.S. stance has been frequently hammered over the last year by Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.

“We have to work with the Americans, but we don’t have to be defined by the Americans,” he told reporters in Montreal earlier this month.

“We’ve been sitting here four years waiting for the Americans on climate change.”

Ignatieff has said Canada should create its own system — one that would fit into a global program and work in conjunction with any plan set up in the U.S.

Quebec Premier Jean Charest even travelled to last December’s UN climate convention in Copenhagen, where he declared he would not sit idly by if Ottawa failed to set more ambitious targets for reducing emissions. Harper expressed his annoyance at the premier for airing Canada’s internal laundry on the world stage.

One climate-policy expert says Canada need not wait for the U.S.

Matthew Bramley, a director with the Pembina Institute think-tank, acknowledged a unilateral move could impact certain industrial sectors, but studies suggest it would not hurt the economy as a whole.

Specific policies could be installed to protect vulnerable industries, he added.