British Columbia Premier Christy Clark is telling Ottawa to refrain from imposing any carbon emissions regulations that would hinder growth in the energy sector, and to leave leadership on climate policy to the provinces.
In a speech to a conservative gathering in Ottawa, the Premier said on Friday that resource development is crucial to Canada's economic success, but must be accompanied by credible environmental protection to win public support.
Ms. Clark told reporters that Ottawa's role should be limited, particularly as it faces increasing pressure to adopt new rules for greenhouse gas emissions in the months before the United Nations climate summit in Paris later this year. National governments are expected to indicate to the UN what targets their countries will set for emission reductions after 2020.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper faces calls to show greater leadership on climate change, particularly to adopt regulations that would impose emission reduction targets on the energy sector.
In a survey released this week, 77 per cent of respondents said the federal government should take the lead in climate-related carbon pricing. The poll was done by Nanos Research for The Globe and Mail.
But the B.C. Premier rejected that view.
"Nobody benefits in Canada from a fiddling, interventionist federal government that wants to start telling provinces how to manage the economy and the environment," Ms. Clark said.
"Economic growth and environmental impact are inextricably linked. And so those two areas of policy should properly rest primarily with provincial governments."
B.C. has adopted North America's first economy-wide carbon tax, but is also hoping to see dramatic growth in a liquefied natural gas industry that would extract and process gas for export to Asian markets.
Ms. Clark shared the stage with Alberta Premier Jim Prentice during a conference held by the Manning Centre, the conservative think tank founded by former Reform Party leader Preston Manning.
Mr. Prentice insisted the province has been "the victim of unfair perceptions with regards to our environmental standards and performance." He said Alberta is one of the few oil-producing jurisdictions in the world that has carbon regulations, although critics argue the rules have done little to slow the growth of GHG emissions from the oil sands.
The Alberta Premier reiterated his stand that Alberta – and Ottawa – should adopt tougher rules for the oil sector only when the United States is prepared to adopt GHG regulations for its industry.
He rejected the argument made by Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and others that the Keystone XL pipeline has failed to get the approval of the Obama administration because of a lack of federal carbon regulations in Canada. But at a town hall in South Carolina on Friday, Mr. Obama said environmentalists worry about the proposed Alberta-to-Texas pipeline because the oil sands industry is "an extraordinarily dirty way" of extracting crude.
While Ms. Clark and Mr. Prentice endorsed the need for broad public acceptance of resource projects, federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver warned against the frequently heard argument that companies must obtain "social licence" to proceed with projects. He said that "licence" is too often used by a small minority of activists to block projects that have been approved by regulatory agencies, endorsed by elected governments and supported by a majority of Canadians.
But Ms. Clark said project proponents do need social licence – which is not unanimous support for projects, but consensus from those most directly affected. "I think the danger is when people assume social licence is something that is impossible to get and they stop trying," she said.