All Liberal cabinet ministers have been charged with ensuring the success of the new government's commitments on climate change, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion said in an interview Wednesday as he prepares to engage the country's diplomatic corps in the international fight against global warming.
A veteran climate warrior, Mr. Dion will play a pivotal role in the Liberal government's climate agenda, both as minister for global affairs and as chair of the cabinet committee on environment, climate change and energy. He is expected to join Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna at the Paris climate summit at the end of the month, though he would not confirm his attendance on Wednesday.
Mr. Trudeau signalled a heightened commitment when he appointed his cabinet last week by adding the words "climate change" to the name of the Environment Ministry, a move that raised some concerns in Calgary's battered oil industry. But Mr. Dion said that the effort will be much broader, suggesting all major economic decisions will face a climate-change test.
"The old system was to give the file of the environment to the minister of environment and say to her or him, 'Deal with it, be the hero of the environmental groups but don't bother us because we have jobs to create and an economy to grow,'" he said. "That will not work. … [Ms. McKenna] will succeed only if all of us [in cabinet] have a green orientation and sensitivity."
Mr. Dion served as environment minister under former prime minister Paul Martin, and he controversially campaigned on a proposed carbon tax when he was Liberal leader in the 2008 election in which the Conservatives secured their second minority government. He is clearly thrilled to be back in a position where he can pursue an environmental agenda.
"The reason we worked so hard is because we have a plan for the country and we wanted an opportunity to implement it. And for that, we needed a mandate," he said. "Within this mandate, you have the ability for Canada to be part of the solution to climate change and not only part of the problem. And that's fantastic."
To succeed in a world battered by global warming, he said Canada needs to adopt more energy-efficient lifestyles and business approaches, switch from fossil fuels to renewables and adapt to more extreme weather events that cause flooding and other damage. And that requires not only a federal effort, he said, but provinces, municipalities, corporations and individuals taking action.
Mr. Dion pledged that Canada will work for an ambitious agreement in Paris, likely to be reviewed after five years to ensure the world is on track. He said Ottawa will pursue a North American climate and energy accord with the United States and Mexico. And he said the country's diplomatic and aid effort will focus on the instability and human tragedy that will result from the growing climate crisis.
Environmental groups are urging Mr. Trudeau to commit to an aggressive new target prior to the Paris meeting, arguing the Conservative goal of cutting emissions by 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030 is seriously deficient. During the election campaign, the New Democratic Party proposed a target of 34 per cent below 1990 levels by 2025.
The government plans to establish a new target after both the summit and a session with the premiers in which Mr. Trudeau hopes to hammer out a national strategy. Several provinces, including Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, are set to announce new climate plans that will feed into that pan-Canadian effort. Ms. McKenna has said the Conservatives' 2030 target will serve as a floor.
Mr. Dion sought to lower expectations that the Liberal government will aim substantially higher, noting the country is already well behind on meeting the 2020 target of 17 per cent below 2005 levels, adopted by former prime minister Stephen Harper at the Copenhagen summit in 2009.
"We need to be serious in Canada about the plan for the target and not only have a nice target that will look good," Mr. Dion said. He added that it is difficult to compare Canada's target with that of the United States because the United States has the relatively inexpensive option of switching from coal to low-cost natural gas to fuel its electricity system; Canada's cost per tonne of GHG reduction is generally higher than the U.S. figure.
"But we need to take into account the cost of not reducing emissions – the cost of not being perceived as good climate citizens of the world." he said. "It's not only a cost; it's a change we need to do in order to be a modern country. … We are a trading nation; we need to be well accepted around the world with our products and our goods."
Mr. Dion said the government will deliver on commitments to slash fossil-fuel subsidies to producers, which the industry regards as critical incentives that allow them to explore and replace depleting resources.
He said the Liberals have promised to spend billions of dollars on mass transit, green infrastructure and a green investment fund, but will insist that provinces demonstrate real greenhouse-gas (GHG) reductions before the money flows to them for specific projects. "Show us the tonnes [of GHG reductions] and we'll show you the money," he said.