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simon doyle

Simon Doyle.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Simon Doyle is a reporter based in Ottawa who specializes in lobbying and public affairs. Follow him on Twitter @sdoyle333.

Lobby groups are using Ontario's cap-and-trade announcement this week as a springboard to pressure other provincial governments on the environment as first ministers develop a new energy strategy.

Environmental and industry lobby groups have been quietly talking to premiers and provincial cabinet ministers about the strategy for well over a year, and Ontario's decision to join California and Quebec's cap-and-trade emissions reduction program is creating an opportunity to harden some positions.

Canada's premiers met in Quebec City for a climate change summit Tuesday as part of their development of a Canadian energy strategy that could touch on pipeline projects or putting a price on carbon.

The premiers are to meet again in July and plan to release the strategy in advance of a key United Nations climate change summit in Paris in December.

"It makes sense for the provinces to move together on these issues for a whole slew of reasons, including competition issues, the economic health of Canada," said Sidney Ribaux, executive director of Équiterre, an environmental group that has been discussing the energy strategy with the Quebec government. "What we're asking for is a price on carbon, a significant price on carbon."

Since Alberta began calling for a Canadian energy strategy in 2011, environmental lobbyists have turned their attention to the provinces, particularly after making little progress lobbying federally on climate change.

"It's certainly difficult to have 13 premiers all agree to a given approach," said Dale Marshall, energy program manager at Environmental Defence. "Where we're coming from is trying to come up with a broad vision and a roadmap for where the provinces and the federal government should go on energy development."

Environmental groups like Équiterre, Pembina and Environmental Defence, as well as coalitions of industry and environmentalists like Switch and the Clean Economy Alliance, have been providing input to premiers and their staff about the energy strategy.

The strategy's contents are unclear, though it could set emissions reduction targets, apply environmental principles to oil pipeline projects, or recommend carbon pricing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr. Marshall said the policy discussions with provincial governments are not "overly prescriptive or overly detailed."

Industry associations including the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, and Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, among others, are also playing a key role in informal provincial government consultations.

The Canadian Electricity Association's members have also been lobbying provincially. The group supports putting a North American price on carbon and is urging industry-specific measures such as electricity infrastructure expansions and upgrades.

Some sticking points in the discussions are positions on major pipeline projects like TransCanada Corp.'s Energy East pipeline from the Alberta tar sands to the East Coast. Most environmental groups oppose the pipeline, saying it will expand oil sands development when they support halting their growth.

Industry has been encouraging pipeline expansions to diversify Canada's export markets. The oil industry aims to wean Canada off reliance on exports to a U.S. market that is increasing its energy production.

Another sticking point is emissions targets in advance of the UN Paris Summit. There is some discussion about absolute emissions reduction targets versus intensity targets, which are set relative to a measure of output or input, such as Gross Domestic Product. CAPP, which emphasizes the use of technology to reduce oil sector emissions, urges the Alberta government to continue to support intensity targets.

Lobbyists said they expect the energy strategy to include broad statements or principles and actions that the provinces could support voluntarily.

"It's not a hard and fast legal process coming from a national or federal perspective," said Alex Ferguson, vice-president of policy and performance for CAPP.

"Maybe the best way to suggest it is this is a national topic, not a federal topic. The provinces have a strong role to play in how aspirations, goals, objectives are manifest to their particular resource development scenarios in each province. Every province is going to be different," Mr. Ferguson said.

Finance Minister Joe Oliver said this week the Conservative federal government doesn't support the California, Quebec and Ontario cap-and-trade system. "We think this would be negative for the economy. It would be negative for consumers and for taxpayers," he said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said this month that Canada will release its greenhouse gas emissions targets in advance of G7 meetings in June.