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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada convention on March 2, 2020.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government is asking business and Indigenous leaders for advice as it crafts a plan for achieving its 2030 and 2050 emissions targets.

Mr. Trudeau said in his speech Monday to a mining conference in Toronto that the government will be seeking input “in the coming year” on how Canada should transition to a low-carbon economy.

Business and environmental groups alike have taken issue with the slow pace the Prime Minister has set for overhauling his government’s climate-change plans, but Mr. Trudeau’s speech did not indicate a desire to move any faster.

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During last year’s campaign, the Liberals acknowledged they didn’t have the full plan for reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, saying they first needed to win the election. More than four months after their re-election, they are just starting to decide on the consultation framework that will lead to an updated climate plan.

Mr. Trudeau’s speech Monday addressed the broad theme of an economy in transition, pointing out that Larry Fink, CEO of the world’s largest asset manager, BlackRock Inc., announced this year that the company will be placing climate change as a key factor in its investment decisions.

“Larry acknowledged that climate change is fundamentally reshaping finance, just as it is causing companies, sectors and entire countries to reassess their core assumptions about what tomorrow holds,” Mr. Trudeau said.

“Our government recognizes that moving towards a low-carbon economy is a big adjustment for many industries, including yours. This transformation won’t happen overnight,” Mr. Trudeau said, adding Ottawa will help the industry through the changes.

The Prime Minister delivered his speech only three days after the House of Commons finance committee called for action on sustainable finance as a key pre-budget recommendation.

The committee called on the government to act on recommendations from last year’s Expert Panel on Sustainable Finance, led by former Bank of Canada deputy governor Tiff Macklem. The panel said sustainable finance – in which business leaders incorporate environmental and social factors into their decisions – can help accelerate the move to a low-carbon economy.

The panel urged the federal government to establish that the fiduciary duty of money managers to their clients includes a review of climate-change risks. It also called for climate-change factors to be incorporated into the regulation of Canada’s financial system.

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During the federal election, the Liberals promised to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The plan included striking an expert panel, legislating interim five-year emissions targets and surpassing Canada’s 2030 emission-reduction targets.

In an open letter to Finance Minister Bill Morneau on Monday, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce again called on Ottawa to act urgently and said the government should use the coming budget to outline a balance between climate policy and economic development.

Teck Resources Ltd. put a spotlight on the lack of a plan last week when it pulled its proposed Frontier oil sands mine, citing a lack of clarity from Ottawa on how resource development will fit into the country’s climate change plan. A recent wave of protests in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who oppose a pipeline through their traditional territory in northern British Columbia has also highlighted tensions between resource development and unresolved Indigenous land claims.

Pierre Gratton, president of the Mining Association of Canada, said Mr. Trudeau’s speech sent a “positive message” to the mining sector. Mr. Gratton noted that many of his group’s members are committing to net-zero “knowing they don’t have all the answers.”

Not everyone wants Ottawa to move faster, though. Felix Lee, president of PDAC, said he was encouraged by Mr. Trudeau’s speech but called the government’s climate goals “quite aggressive.”

“You might argue that perhaps we’re charging along too quickly.”

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Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson recently acknowledged the mounting pressure on his government to provide more information on climate policy so businesses can adequately plan. But he said the consultations for the new climate plan will only start by the summer and likely continue into next year.

Last week, the Business Council of Canada and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce both said those consultations should start sooner.

Including Indigenous people in the process must go beyond consultation and include Indigenous people in the eventual plan’s execution, said JP Gladu, the chief executive of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business. He noted that Indigenous people are engaged on all sides of the issue. For example, some groups are considering buying a stake in the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion while others are managing natural carbon sinks.

Ryan Riordan, director of research at Queen’s University’s Institute for Sustainable Finance, said he found Mr. Trudeau’s comments “heartening” and said the government should act on sustainable finance, including requiring companies to disclose how they are addressing climate change.

Prof. Riordan acknowledged that while there is political debate about how to proceed, corporate leaders are generally supportive of clear environmental rules.

“I think the best way to address that is to listen to the actual people that are running large energy firms in Canada,” he said.

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Some specific environmental measures are expected to be announced in the 2020 federal budget, which the Finance Minister has said will focus on climate change.

The finance committee’s pre-budget recommendations hint at Liberal priorities. In addition to action on sustainable finance, the report calls for increased spending on rapid charging stations for electric vehicles.

Liberal MP and finance committee member Julie Dzerowicz said she views the call for action on sustainable finance as the most important of the pre-budget recommendations.

"I think we’re very serious as a government in terms of moving to net-zero by 2050 and achieving our Paris accord targets,” she said.

With a report from Laura Stone

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