Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is facing stout provincial opposition to his proposal for a national floor price for carbon as premiers urge him to focus on areas of agreement in his effort to forge a climate strategy.
Provincial and territorial premiers met Wednesday ahead of their climate summit with Mr. Trudeau, and found no support for a federally mandated minimum carbon price.
"There's no consensus on that," British Columbia Premier Christy Clark said after the meeting.
"We need to focus on the things we do agree on – funding for green infrastructure and transit," she said "Canadians expect us to come out of this meeting with some agreement on things we can do to reduce emissions."
The premiers are urging Ottawa to broaden the scope of discussions beyond an explicit pricing mechanism to include "carbon management" strategies, which include support for carbon capture and storage, increased renewable electricity generation and other regulatory approaches that don't involve a direct levy on greenhouse-gas emissions, said Dwight Ball, Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, who is chairing the provincial/territorial Council of the Federation. However, carbon pricing would be discussed over the coming months as Ottawa attempts to work out a far-reaching deal with the provinces, he said.
Mr. Trudeau promised during last fall's election campaign to work with provinces to establish a pan-Canadian climate strategy that would include a minimum price on carbon. Provinces could create their own systems – either a direct tax like the one in B.C., or the cap-and-trade approach that Ontario and Quebec have chosen.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall says his government will never agree to a plan that imposes carbon pricing on his province. And even some provinces that have carbon levies are reluctant to see Ottawa impose a minimum carbon price. Quebec, for example, is arguing that energy is clearly an area of provincial jurisdiction, sources said Wednesday.
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said any federal-provincial strategy should allow "flexibility" and noted that Canada's four largest provinces – representing 80 per cent of the population – already have or are implementing carbon pricing.
Mr. Trudeau met with aboriginal leaders on Wednesday and then had a private dinner with provincial and territorial premiers, whom he will join for a day-long session on climate strategy Thursday. Ottawa is looking to set a tight timeline for a final deal that would include a minimum carbon price, measures to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in the resource sector, and financing for green infrastructure and clean technology innovation.
In a speech earlier Wednesday, the Prime Minister offered a solid defence of Canada's oil industry. At a conference on sustainability, he delivered a rousing call for society-wide effort to confront climate change and insisted the country could meet its commitments even as it builds pipelines and pursues resource development.
"The choice between pipelines and wind turbines is a false one," the Prime Minster said at the GLOBE series event that drew more than 2,000 delegates from 50 countries. "We need both to reach our goals."
He said governments in Canada will work with the private sector to develop and deploy the technologies that will position the country for leadership in a low-carbon global economy. But he added the country needs to tap its natural-resource wealth to finance the transition in a way that is more efficient and produces fewer greenhouse-gas emissions.
Mr. Trudeau's comment drew criticism from some environmentalists who say the country must discourage further investment in fossil fuel development if it is going to meet its obligations as part of the world effort to hold global warming to no more than 2-degrees above pre-industrial levels.
"Growth in oil sands development is inconsistent with our long-term climate protection goals and does nothing to position Canada for rapid de-carbonization as long as oil sands products are simply burned in vehicles," said Louise Comeau, executive director from the Climate Action Network Canada.