Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's challenge at his meeting of first ministers in Vancouver this week is forging a Canadian consensus on the climate file. His government wants a national carbon pricing policy to help deliver on his lofty commitments in Paris. Before the concept made it past the back-of-a-napkin design stage, however, some premiers were getting ready to tear it down.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, who faces an election this spring, rejects the notion of any kind of carbon tax. Other provincial leaders view the notion of a national tax policy as infringing on their jurisdiction.
What if, instead of prescribing national measures to reduce Canada's greenhouse gas emissions, the first ministers turned their attention to what the green economy of the future should look like?
The proposal comes from Merran Smith, executive director of Clean Energy Canada. She is supportive of a national climate plan, and very much wants to see Canada adopt a minimum price on carbon. But she thinks the way to avoid a stalemate is to flip the equation around: Start with an agreement on the outcomes, then work your way back.
"It's a way to be clear about what we are going to do, instead of arguing about targets and reductions," she said in an interview.
Her proposal, which has been thoughtfully reviewed at both the federal and provincial levels, would be to ask the leaders who gather in Vancouver on Thursday to sign off on incentive-oriented targets that would have the effect of reducing greenhouse gases.
"We can probably come to agreement on goals around more efficient buildings, about how many electric vehicles should be on the road – visual, concrete things that people can understand, that paint a picture what Canada's new clean energy economy will look like," Ms. Smith said.
"So let's move on them and not let the argument about carbon pricing stall that."
The B.C. government would embrace a minimum national price on carbon – it went out on a limb in 2008 with the country's first carbon tax, but the rates have been frozen since 2012, waiting for the rest of Canada to catch up.
More than a victory on a national price on carbon, B.C. Premier Christy Clark needs progress on the climate file of any kind, and a share of the federal green infrastructure funds.
Last week, she set out her agenda for the first ministers' meeting. She said she will be encouraging the other leaders not to fear a climate-change agenda. It's a soft-sell approach rather than a demand for a national carbon price.
"One of the things I'm going to emphasize is that environmental concern and economic growth go hand in hand – in British Columbia, they haven't worked in opposition to one another," she told reporters. "We have a growing economy at the same time we have the highest carbon tax, by a long shot, across the country."
Here is where two sets of policy, the national climate plan and the Canadian energy strategy, could be brought together.
Ms. Smith has some advice on that as well. On Monday, Clean Energy Canada will release a report called A Year for the Record Books, showing that investment in clean energy is more lucrative than ever, drawing $367-billion (U.S.) around the globe last year.
But Canada is being left behind, with its share of that investment declining rather than growing.
"Investment in clean energy is up, exceeding for the first time the investment in fossil fuels," Ms. Smith noted. With the oil and gas sector struggling, she's urging Canada to pivot to embrace renewables – and all the potential investment dollars they can bring.
British Columbia has done little to encourage such investment in the past four years – in fact, the Canadian Wind Energy Association just shut down its operations in the province because it doesn't see any prospects for new clean energy contracts for the next decade.
Ms. Clark has coasted too long on the climate action plan launched in 2008. After meeting initial targets to reduce GHGs, emissions are increasing again in British Columbia While Mr. Wall seems to have calculated that opposition to a price on carbon will help his electoral chances, Ms. Clark will do better in her province to stand behind the Prime Minister and feed the momentum, in whatever form it takes, for a national climate plan.