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Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson answers a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson defended his government’s record on climate action Wednesday, but under pressure from opposition MPs over delays to key Liberal policies, he was unable to say when any of the promised plans would be released.

More than a year after the Liberals pledged to exceed Canada’s 2030 emissions reduction targets, legislate targets to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, and plant two billion trees by 2030, the government has yet to move ahead on any of those plans. Without providing details on how the minority government would still make good on its commitments, Mr. Wilkinson said “climate change is an enormous priority for this government.”

Environment and Climate Change Canada is “leading governmentwide work to develop further plans to ensure that we exceed Canada’s 2030 emissions reduction goal and firmly put the country on a path to net-zero by 2050," Mr. Wilkinson said.

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The federal government’s 2030 pledge is to cut emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels. But the environment department’s own numbers show Canada is still on track to significantly miss the goal, let alone exceed it. The government has laid blame for the delays with the coronavirus pandemic.

This time last year, the government’s deadline to release an updated plan for 2030 was the next international climate summit scheduled for this November in Glasgow, Scotland. But that conference was postponed in the early months of the pandemic and has been rescheduled to November, 2021.

The government’s promise to plant two billion trees by 2030 so far hasn’t been given a budget and no trees have been put in the ground. Conservative MP Dan Albas pointed out to Mr. Wilkinson that, in spite of the pandemic, their home province of British Columbia still managed to plant 314 million trees this year. He asked the minister why there was a discrepancy between the government’s promises and the plans in place.

“With due respect, I think the fact that it was actually in the Throne Speech is a measure of the commitment that this government has," Mr. Wilkinson replied.

The tree planting pledge is part of the Liberals' plan to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. As part of that, the Liberals promised to legislate interim five-year targets that would ensure the government is on the right track for the long term and appoint an advisory panel to help set those targets. Legislation for that still needs to be introduced and passed through the minority Parliament. At the same time, the government also needs to release its updated short-term plan to surpass its 2030 goals.

Asked by NDP MP Laurel Collins, who also represents B.C., when the government will release its “very important, much needed, long delayed plan to exceed our climate targets," Mr. Wilkinson said it would come out in the “very near term.”

In an interview with The Globe and Mail after the committee meeting, Ms. Collins called the minister’s comments to the committee disappointing. “He didn’t give an answer, he didn’t give a timeline," she said, adding that each time the Liberals make promises and set targets, “the follow through is missing.”

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As frustration rises among the opposition parties, the House of Commons started debate Wednesday evening on a Bloc Québécois proposal to force the federal government to follow through on its commitments set under the 2016 Paris Agreement. Bloc MP Kristina Michaud’s private member’s bill would force the federal government to set five-year emissions targets that will ensure Canada reaches net-zero emissions by 2050, legally bind the government to produce a plan to meet the targets Canada agreed to under the Paris Agreement, and allow the environment commissioner to vet the federal plan.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Ms. Michaud said the bill will “ensure that we pass from rhetoric to concrete action.”

Bill C-215, the Climate Change Accountability Act, echoes some of the promises made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the 2019 election campaign but the Liberals haven’t yet said whether they will support it.

“As we said in the Speech from the Throne, we are fully committed to legislating Canada’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. We look forward to reviewing and considering Bill C-215 in this context," Mr. Wilkinson’s spokesperson Moira Kelly said in a statement on Wednesday.

In an interview with The Globe, Ms. Michaud said it’s time for the Liberals to “do what they promised."

“It was their intention to table a bill like this, but they haven’t done it yet and I think it’s more than time for someone to do it, so it might as well be me.”

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