Saying "Canada is Back" and touching his heart to show he means it was the easy part for Justin Trudeau at the Paris climate summit. Developing a national strategy to dramatically reduce greenhouse-gas emissions will be decidedly more difficult.
While Mr. Trudeau and the handful of Canadian premiers who accompanied him to the COP21 talks were all smiles in photo opportunities, it was a little different in private meetings, I'm told. Not surprisingly, there is some resistance to any federal plan that imposes hard emission targets on the provinces.
Some jurisdictions, such as British Columbia, feel they have more than done their part over the last several years to confront the challenge of climate change. Now Alberta, too, feels it has put together an ambitious and credible program to address the province's tawdry environmental record. But herein lies the problem: As progressive as B.C.'s carbon tax may be, and as promising as Alberta's scheme to introduce its own wide-scale price on carbon and cap oil-sands emissions is also, neither program is aggressive enough to fulfill the bold promise Mr. Trudeau made to the world in Paris.
The Prime Minister went to the climate conference, remember, with the same emission targets set out by the Conservatives: 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. And they were only a floor; the Liberals are, in fact, promising to do better than that.
This at the same time that the Liberal government in B.C. is sure to miss its own 2020 targets and Premier Christy Clark is saying she is no longer confident that meeting the province's 2030 target of 40-per-cent lower emissions than 2007 is achievable. Meantime, Ms. Clark is balking at raising the $30-a-tonne price on carbon that she froze in 2012, at the same time her own climate leadership advisory group is recommending that hiking it, annually, is the only way to make meaningful inroads on emission levels.
And in a perverse irony, while the climate talks were underway in Paris, Port Metro Vancouver, in the absence of any objection from the B.C. government, was approving an amendment to a thermal coal project approved last year that will see as much as four million tonnes of the high-CO2-emitting product shipped to coal-fired plants in Asia. It's almost a terrible joke.
In Alberta, despite everything the new NDP government has promised to do to reverse years of inaction on the climate file, emissions are still going to grow. In fact, even in 2030, emission levels are expected to be higher than they are now. Needless to say, Alberta's plan fails to meet even the existing federal targets for cutting GHG emissions. Meantime, in Saskatchewan, Premier Brad Wall is urging extreme caution as it pertains to any discussion of a pan-Canadian climate strategy that might hurt the economy.
And it's against this backdrop that Mr. Trudeau will attempt to forge, in less than three months, a national climate strategy that includes an across-the-board price on carbon. Good luck.
The harsh reality is the only way the Prime Minister can make good on his Paris pledges is by asking the provinces to do more, including B.C. and Alberta. And that is just to meet the goals set out by the Conservatives; the sacrifices and commitments would have to be greater still to move into the emissions target zone that the Liberals are contemplating and that climate experts agree need to be met soon.
For the provinces, this could be a textbook example of: Be careful what you wish for. For years, the premiers grumbled about the lack of federal involvement in their mutual issues. Stephen Harper was not a fan of first ministers' conferences. He preferred to let the provinces deal with pressing problems like health care and a national energy strategy on their own. The premiers often complained that the absence of Ottawa at the table made dealing with these matters more difficult.
Now they have a prime minister who is more than happy to sit down with them; and all too happy to make grandiose promises that aren't backed by a concrete plan. Now the premiers seem to have their backs up over the possibility that a climate solution might be foisted on them against their wills.
Mr. Trudeau's father, Pierre, had a few showdowns with the provinces himself over the years. Maybe it's something that runs in the family blood. We may soon find out.
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Eds Note: An earlier version of this column incorrectly said that up to eight million tonnes of coal would be shipped to Asia.