Federal, Ontario ministers lower expectations for climate negotiations

The federal and Ontario environment ministers say a highly anticipated meeting next month between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the premiers isn't likely to conclude in a new climate plan for the country.

OTTAWA — The federal and Ontario environment ministers say a highly anticipated meeting next month between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the premiers isn’t likely to conclude in a new climate plan for the country.

Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said Wednesday that a pan-Canadian climate strategy is going to take time and next month’s meeting is designed to lay the foundation for that plan.

Glen Murray, Ontario’s minister for environment and climate change, told The Canadian Press in a recent interview that the work is “going to take many months that’s not going to happen in a week or two.”

Trudeau’s promise to convene a first ministers meeting to work out a climate plan within 90 days of December’s Paris climate conference set high expectations.

“Central to this would be the creation of national emissions-reduction targets,” said the Liberal election platform.

But Murray said a meeting two weeks ago of the provincial and territorial environment ministers and McKenna directed officials to spend the next six months establishing a common framework of key elements that all parties agree upon, as well as a list of issues that still need to be resolved.

Those unresolved issues, he said, include matters such as trade and capital outflows resulting from climate-change policies and how common carbon pricing can be approached, given the various models already established by provinces including British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba.

“I don’t think the pan-Canadian framework will be ready by March. I don’t think anyone imagined that,” said Murray.

“The previous government in 10 years couldn’t produce a paragraph, never mind a framework, so there’s a lot of work going on.”

The Prime Minister’s Office’s has confirmed Trudeau will attend a clean-tech business conference in Vancouver March 2-4, setting the stage for the first ministers to meet in the city that week.

McKenna told the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in a speech Wednesday that next month’s meeting will “build the foundation of a pan-Canadian plan.”

Speaking to reporters afterwards, she said the government wasn’t going to throw out an emissions target without a plan to meet it.

“That will take a bit of time, but we certainly are committed to looking at our target. It’s just going to take time because we have to figure out what are the measures we need to get there.”

The Liberal government attracted a lot of criticism for going to the Paris climate summit with national carbon-reduction targets set by the previous Conservative government. Depending on who you ask, the 2030 target of cutting emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels is either wildly ambitious or woefully inadequate.

McKenna has said the Conservative target is a “floor.” But she has also conceded the country is currently not anywhere close to being on track to meet the existing national emissions target.

“We currently do have a target, but the plan is to sit down with the provinces and territories and actually discuss how are we going to reduce emissions across a variety of sectors,” McKenna said Wednesday.

“That’s what we’re going to do and after we’ve done the hard work then we will be able to say what a new target will look like.”

Murray says the recent environment ministers meeting in Ottawa agreed that setting a new national target is not currently the priority.

“The sense among all the ministers is let’s actually get everything else sorted out before we start setting targets,” he said.

“Getting this together is going to take a while.”

Nonetheless, Murray said there’s a great deal of optimism among the country’s environment ministers, who have been working together on a national energy and climate strategy in the absence of an active federal government partner for several years.

“Most of the authority for climate change,” actually rests with the provinces anyway, he said, citing things such as building standards and transportation.

“Now we’re able to look at other options as a result of the change in the federal government.”

Murray, a former Winnipeg mayor, says he’s been attending municipal and provincial conferences for many years and he’s never seen the level of casual, informal and collaborative planning that’s going on among the various jurisdictions.

“I think the next few years are going to see major progress,” he said. “We’re not putting up fights. We’re finding solutions to things like pipelines that work for everybody, including Alberta.”

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