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Glen Murray, Ontario Minister of Infrastructure and Minister of Transportation, takes questions on Dec. 12 2013. Murray has harshly criticized the federal government’s plan for carbon emission regulations.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Ontario Environment Minister Glen Murray is turning the tables on the Harper government, slamming its plan for carbon regulations as economically damaging compared with the market-based plans being pursued by provinces.

Mr. Murray is preparing to welcome state and provincial leaders from across the Americas to a summit on climate change in Toronto, as a lead-up to the Pan Am Games that start on Friday. In an interview, the Ontario minister said provinces and states are looking to link carbon markets throughout the hemisphere and could achieve greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions far beyond what Ottawa or Washington are pledging.

He said Prime Minister Stephen Harper is pursuing the worst possible approach to carbon regulation by sticking with inflexible regulations, while provinces such as Ontario and Quebec are implementing a cap-and-trade plan that promotes the most efficient means available to achieve emission reduction targets. For his part, Mr. Harper has consistently attacked opposition plans for national cap-and-trade schemes as proposals for job-killing taxes.

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The Toronto meeting is part of the broader international effort by the state and local governments – so-called subnational jurisdictions – to create grassroots momentum heading into the United Nations summit in December in Paris, where world leaders hope to conclude an agreement that would limit global warming and avert the worst impacts of a rapidly changing climate.

In an interview Monday, former Mexican president Felipe Calderon said provinces and cities in Canada are clearly picking up the slack from a federal government that is no longer playing a leadership role. Once Ontario's planned cap-and-trade plan is operating, 80 per cent of Canadian emissions will be covered by some type of carbon pricing, he noted.

"It is clear that Canada has an incredible positive tradition of leadership in global warming and other environmental issues," said Mr. Calderon, who will attend the Toronto summit as chair for the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate. "I hope that, with the action that local governments and cities are demonstrating, Canada could take again that kind of leadership at the global level."

The commission is set to release a report Tuesday that lays out a number of recommendations to increase global ambition for reducing emissions. It rejects the view that there is a tradeoff between economic growth and climate action. Instead, it suggests that co-operation in carbon markets among regions can speed up the pace of technological innovation, expand markets, lower costs and address concerns about international competitiveness.

Mr. Murray said the province's cap-and-trade system will boost productivity even as it reduces GHG emissions. The Ontario minister cited work done by the Ecofiscal Commission – an independent group of leading economists – that concludes a flexible, interprovincial, market-based approach would boost gross domestic product by 3.7 per cent more than the economic impact of direct regulations. To put that in perspective, the Canadian economy declined by 2.8 per cent in the 2008-09 recession.

"We see the federal government's regulatory approach as economically damaging and the Prime Minister obviously sees the price on carbon as something he is opposed to for economic reasons," Mr. Murray said.

He said Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and now Alberta are working together to link their carbon markets through some form of carbon pricing. He said Ottawa should support provincial efforts by eliminating subsidies on fossil fuel production and consumption, ensuring the tax system does not penalize companies that get provincial credit for early action, allocating infrastructure spending to support a transition to a low-carbon economy and aiding Canadian clean-tech businesses in international markets.

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Ted Laking, a spokesman for federal Environmental Minister Leona Aglukkaq, noted that GHG emissions have fallen under the Conservative watch. However, according to Environment Canada, the reduction was largely due to the recession and Ontario's phase-out of coal-fired power.

With a federal election approaching, Mr. Laking attacked Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau for his support for carbon pricing. "We are the first government in Canadian history to achieve a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and we've done so without implementing carbon taxes or carbon-pricing schemes that burden Canadian families with higher grocery and electricity bills," he said in an e-mail.

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