Are you ready for the revolution?
There is a reason Justin Trudeau received rock-star treatment in Davos, where the rich and brainy gathered at the World Economic Forum to talk about all that ails this planet. Mr. Trudeau speaks the language of the future but, unlike many of the others who gathered in the Swiss Alps last month to discuss humankind's greatest problems, he's in a position to do something about it. And he will.
There's not a file on Mr. Trudeau's desk more important than climate change. And a generation of Canadians is relieved that, finally, someone in Ottawa is prepared to do something about the issue. When it came to fossil fuels, Stephen Harper's philosophy was: Burn, baby, burn. Not so his young successor; nor the coterie of eco-warriors with whom he's surrounded himself. (Top adviser Gerald Butts was head of World Wildlife Fund Canada not that long ago.)
If Mr. Trudeau can't make meaningful moves on the climate file, no one can. At the moment, his popularity is as high as ever. And he will use some of that political capital to usher in the most substantive measures the nation has yet known to combat rising greenhouse gas emissions. This is a subject you'll be hearing him talk a lot about it in the next while.
While not announced officially, Mr. Trudeau will convene a first ministers meeting in Vancouver in the first week of March to discuss a national climate strategy. This is a follow-up to the non-binding commitments made by Canada in Paris last December, where Environment Minister Catherine McKenna endorsed a call to hold global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. (This was bolder than the U.S., which has maintained a 2 C target).
While in Vancouver, Mr. Trudeau will give a keynote speech at the Globe 2016 conference on sustainability, which will be taking place at the same time. This is no accident. Vancouver is a favourite rendezvous for gatherings of the enlightened; it embodies what many believe the future will look like – bike lanes rivalling roadways, electricity supplied by low-carbon generators. Mr. Trudeau would love to Vancouverize the entire country if he could. Meantime, he'll have to make do with seeking input from those key players in Mayor Gregor Robertson's office who have helped make the city the eco-dream it's becoming.
Before all that happens, there will be a February TED conference in Vancouver, billed as a week to "stare hard at humanity's toughest challenges." There is a heavy push being made to get global philanthropist Bill Gates to come and talk about the Breakthrough Energy Coalition he is part of with a group of like-minded billionaires. The coalition has committed $2-billion to fund early-stage, clean-energy companies. What it is hoping for is a moon shot – that single revelation that solves the climate change predicament.
Mr. Trudeau has been so impressed by Mr. Gates' idea that he has asked his staff to investigate the idea of Canada joining in to help fund research that might one day find a solution for this planetary scourge.
In March, the Prime Minister will visit the White House. Again, the agenda will be dominated by climate.
By summer, it should be evident to all that the Liberal government is not going to be content to merely talk a good game on climate, but it will take action too. The billions of dollars it will soon commit nationally to transit-related infrastructure is part of this.
Mr. Trudeau's ambitions will not be realized without some fights. By the first ministers meeting next month, for instance, the provinces will not likely have agreed to a national price on carbon. The Prime Minister's Office is getting major push-back from some provinces, including British Columbia, which has had a modest carbon tax in place for some time and feels it has done its part.
Mr. Trudeau has been heartened by the radical environmental transformation that Rachel Notley is bringing to Alberta, of all places. If it can happen there, it can happen anywhere. If the provinces don't want to play along, however, Mr. Trudeau will have to take the gloves off. There is already talk of imposing a national carbon tax if that's what it takes.
Don't think he's serious? Just watch him.