Canada risks being a patchwork of jurisdictions with "uneven" climate-change policies unless the federal government requires all provinces to meet consistent requirements, says a British Columbia environmental law group.
West Coast Environmental Law is calling for a "national accountability mechanism" in a letter to federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, sent on Wednesday.
"Accountability must be an integral part of the national framework that you are in the process of developing, from both a fairness and an efficacy perspective," staff counsel Andrew Gage wrote in the letter.
He asked Ms. McKenna to confirm that Ottawa is working toward a national climate-change framework in which "provincial plans will actually achieve their fair share."
Concerns about a B.C. climate-change plan released earlier this summer underpin the organization's position. Speaking for the group, Mr. Gage noted that the provincial Liberal government did not accept the full suite of recommendations from a government-appointed climate leadership team that considered various options.
While Premier Christy Clark faced criticism for not raising B.C's carbon tax – which has been frozen since 2012 – as recommended by the leadership team, West Coast Environmental Law said the "real story" is that the government did not provide a "concrete plan" to achieve interim targets or a 2050 target.
Looking ahead, Mr. Gage said the provinces and territories will each have their own ideas on reducing climate change, but warned of "very uneven and inequitable action between provinces" without mandated "public accountability."
Ms. McKenna's office issued a statement, but it did not directly respond to the pointed arguments in the letter. "Everyone has a role to play in addressing climate change, and we all need to be working together to achieve our 2030 target," said a statement attributed to the minister.
"That's why we continue our work with all provinces and territories to develop our Canadian plan to address climate change and create new jobs and opportunities in clean technology and innovation as we prepare for our first ministers to meet this fall."
Ms. Clark, who released the B.C. plan in August, shed some light on how talks on a carbon price were progressing between Ottawa and the provinces after a March meeting of first ministers.
"I think it has been a little bit slow to get going," the Premier told a news conference last month. "I know everybody is working really hard, but it did get off to a bit of a slow start. I think it's speeding up a bit, though."
James Tansey, a member of the climate leadership team in B.C., said the letter presented an "interesting concept" worth considering.
The professor at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia said the federal government is able to introduce measures that would get the job done. For example, he said, it could enact a national carbon tax – using the existing, tested mechanism for collecting the goods and services tax.
"There's no question about their jurisdiction to be able to impose a national taxation system and a carbon price," he said.
Mr. Tansey, who is also chief executive officer of NatureBank Asset Management Inc. – a carbon management and agroforestry solutions company – said the law group's letter raises a valid point, underlining Ottawa's mandate to "create a level playing field" in terms of policy.
"It's certainly not a bad idea to highlight those responsibilities," he said, although he acknowledged that carbon-reduction measures would be politically difficult to impose.
Mark Jaccard, a professor of sustainable energy at Simon Fraser University who said he declined to serve on the B.C. climate panel, said the federal government has plenty of opportunity to unilaterally take pan-Canadian action.
"The federal government has been trying to do this in a co-operative way," he said, referring to reaching consensus on climate-change action. "But that implies every province would agree to the same level of intensity."