Ontario and Quebec have seized the leadership of a long-promised Canadian energy strategy, shifting the focus to climate change and clean energy from the pipeline agenda.
At the closing session of their annual conference on Prince Edward Island, premiers released the outline of the Canadian Energy Strategy, which every one of them, including Quebec, has endorsed.
For Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Quebec's Philippe Couillard this is a victory – the plan puts as much emphasis on addressing climate change as it does on the transport and transmission of energy.
Mr. Couillard had indicated he would support the strategy only if climate change and clean energy were included. At the closing news conference, he thanked his colleagues for their collaboration, noting they "made the essential link between environment and energy strategy."
He also announced he will play host to a climate-change summit next spring in Quebec and all of the premiers are invited.
For several years, the premiers were at odds over the strategy, which was being led by then-Alberta premier Alison Redford, who emphasized the oil sands and transporting oil and gas along pipelines.
At the premiers' meeting in Halifax two years ago, British Columbia's Christy Clark refused to participate in a national strategy because of a dispute with Ms. Redford over the Northern Gateway pipeline project. That was eventually resolved – but Pauline Marois, then Quebec's separatist premier, had refused to sign on.
Change in leadership – Ms. Marois and Ms. Redford are both gone now – has dramatically altered the dynamic around the premiers' table.
For Ms. Wynne, the agreement reached Friday is "probably the most significant thing that came out of this meeting."
"I think the fact of having a federalist premier [from Quebec] at the table to take part in something as significant as an energy strategy is a huge step forward," she said.
The document accompanying the announcement outlines the vision and principles of the Canadian Energy Strategy, stating that it should "reflect the shared values of Canadians; strengthen our economy and create jobs; identify opportunities to develop, transport, and transmit energy … and maintain the highest degree of environmental safeguards and protection, including by addressing climate change, climate resilience and reducing greenhouse gas emissions globally."
The two premiers, both armed with new majority government mandates, laid the groundwork for a renewed push for a national energy strategy, with the climate change focus, last week at a bilateral meeting in Quebec City.
At that time they agreed to form a central Canadian alliance to push issues, including the energy strategy, with the other premiers – Mr. Couillard said the new alliance signalled the two provinces are "back as a very important bloc of influence in the country."
It was not clear whether they would be able to achieve their climate-change agenda given that the premiers from Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador, the country's energy powerhouses, are only interim leaders. Also, New Brunswick's David Alward appeared only briefly because he is in the middle of an election campaign.
Ms. Wynne acknowledged there will be tensions between those provinces that want to focus on achieving progress on climate change, and western provinces that are eager to expand oil exports.
"I think that is tension that will continue to exist but the reason it is important to have a Canadian energy strategy is that we've got to manage that tension – it exists and we've got to deal with the realities of the oil sands, and we've got to deal with the realities of transporting that fuel, and we've got to deal with the realities of climate change," she told The Globe.
Each province will have to pursue its own climate-reduction strategies, she said. But she also acknowledged that rising emissions from rapidly expanding oil sands will put more pressure on other industries and other provinces if the country is going to set and meet national targets.
"But the oil sands are very important to the economic well-being of this country; there's no question about that," she said. "At this point in our history, we have businesses all across the country, we have businesses in Ontario that are dependent on the oil sands."
The Ontario Premier said she is convinced the industry is committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions on a per-barrel basis.