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Liberals ditch carbon tax in favour of cap-and-trade climate policy

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff speaks about the environment on Thursday, Nov. 26, 2009, at Laval University in Quebec City.

Jacques Boissinot

Michael Ignatieff is abandoning Stéphane Dion's consumer-focused carbon-tax for an industrial cap-and-trade system to tackle climate change.

He vowed, too that if he becomes Prime Minister he won't wait for Washington to act first - as the Tories are doing - to put it into place.

The Liberal Leader made his remarks today in a major speech at Laval University in Quebec City. It comes amid the criticism that Prime Minister Stephen Harper will not attend next month's major climate change summit in Copenhagen - this, after U.S. President Barack Obama announced that he would be going to Denmark.

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He did not directly criticize Mr. Harper for reluctance to attend. Rather he outlined what he would have done as a leader in Copenhagen.

"I would have hoped to see Canada accept our own responsibility to reduce carbon pollution, in line with other developed countries," he said.

And he congratulated Quebec Premier Jean Charest for leading North America in the climate change battle. Mr. Charest said Quebec is going its own way on the issue, breaking with the federal government. It will reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 20 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, a goal similar to the target adopted by the European Union.

Mr. Ignatieff said today his Liberals would set their greenhouse-gas reduction targets at 1990 levels as opposed to Harper government policy to set them at 2006 levels.

Still, Mr. Ignatieff did not name a specific target. Rather, he says in his speech that "a Liberal government will fight for ambitious targets to reduce carbon pollution."

This week, however, the Liberals supported a Bloc motion calling for a target of 25 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020.

Since becoming leader almost a year ago, Mr. Ignatieff has been widely criticized for not offering any substantive policy. In part, this speech is an effort to start addressing that criticism.

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As well, environmentalists have criticized the Liberals for voting with the Tories against an NDP bill that would have set deep greenhouse-gas emission targets for Canada in advance of the Copenhagen summit.

The Liberals lost badly in the last election, partly as a result of Mr. Dion's complicated Green Shift plan that would put a tax on carbon. It was not communicated well; Canadians did not understand it.

It appears now that the Liberals have totally abandoned a carbon tax.

This speech outlines specific programs the Liberals would develop if they formed government, including a new Clean Energy Act, a national freshwater strategy, which would begin with cleaning up the "Great Lakes down the St. Lawrence" and also Lake Winnipeg.

He also outlined a Northern strategy that would include helping Inuit adapt to climate change and a vigorous defence of Canada's sovereignty over the Northwest Passage.

(Photo: Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

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