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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives to Parliament Hill in Ottawa on April 9.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

One of the best things Justin Trudeau could do to show how wrong the premiers are on carbon pricing is call a meeting and put it all out in the open.

Yes, he should absolutely make them explain what they would enact as climate policies, and ask for detailed plans. Like Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, provincial leaders have been playing fast and loose with what could be the alternatives. A prime example: One year after Premier Danielle Smith introduced her own made-in-Alberta emissions reduction plan, there are still few details and no interim targets.

But the Prime Minister would also be forced to confront his own distortions on federal plans – a tangled web of policies that go much further than the carbon levy he has spent months characterizing as benign, neutral and existing alone in a sane-world vacuum. Understanding the breadth of the premiers’ concerns is key to understanding why some of them have become so heated about all of this.

For as much as Mr. Trudeau has spent months defending his signature climate policy in the wake of the completely predictable pushback to his politically driven carve-out for home-heating oil last fall, he has also spent some time railing against the regulations that he said would have to be alternatives to carbon pricing. “I prefer a cleaner solution – a market-based solution,” he told reporters in Calgary last month, while pooh-poohing the use of the “heavy hand of government” to force people to do things to fight climate change.

This is baffling to anyone paying the slightest bit of attention. His government doesn’t just employ the carbon pricing system – it also deploys a wide array of sector-specific regulations, including the Clean Energy Regulations, the Electric Vehicle Availability Standard and the Clean Fuel Standard, to name a few. All of this must be viewed in conjunction with arguments around the vices and virtues of the carbon pricing system.

In an honest moment, the premiers might say they’re more concerned about these other policies. But campaigning against the carbon tax is great retail politics at a time when Canadians are still grappling with stultifying inflation.

When the Prime Minister spoke to a small group of business leaders in Calgary last week, the main clash was the planned federal emissions cap on the oil and natural gas sector, a much less-discussed policy. Most in the room said that the timelines and goals set out by Ottawa aren’t realistic, and will hurt the oil export-focused economy of Alberta, specifically.

Some would even call the cap heavy-handed, and not market-based. But it was clear to those in attendance that there would be no move away from that policy under Mr. Trudeau.

In the province next door, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe’s complaints have been vigorously portrayed by the federal government as the concerns of a hayseed with no Greek. Eighteen months ago, he released a white paper saying that nine federal environmental policies would cost Saskatchewan’s economy $111-billion by 2035, and was lambasted for the math: Numerous economists said the forecast was exaggerated.

But however imperfect the analysis, what if Mr. Moe was half right, or even a quarter correct, about the consequences of numerous federal policies (and not just the carbon price) on Saskatchewan? Do you expect the Premier to do or say nothing about the potential loss of tens of billions of dollars in his province’s economy?

Unless you live in a province that produces these fossil fuels and has an economy partially dependent on this production, you really don’t care about all of this. But that doesn’t mean the potential chilling effect on provincial (or national) economies is any less real. Alberta, for instance, doesn’t want to cede market space to the United States, Canada’s biggest fossil-fuel customer, competitor and now the biggest crude-oil producer and natural gas exporter in the world; it also enacts its own green policies with no oil and gas cap and no national carbon pricing.

Climate change is indeed a problem that has been pushed off for decades, as the Prime Minister says. But a coherent climate plan requires people to be on board. He hasn’t brought the disparate regions of the country along with him, and that’s coming back to bite him.

Even Mark Carney, the former Bank of Canada governor and a potential Liberal Party leader in waiting, said Tuesday the Prime Minister should meet with premiers. But with Mr. Poilievre requesting the same, Mr. Trudeau again threw cold water on the idea, saying he had consulted with all the premiers in 2016.

But the world has changed considerably since then. And most would say that it’s not okay to only discuss these matters every eight years and just call it a day.

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