Stephen Harper is criticizing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s climate-change policy for unfairly singling out “certain parts of the country,” as the Liberal government proceeds with a hard cap on oil-and-gas emissions that are expected to particularly affect provinces such as Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Mr. Harper was speaking Tuesday at a virtual event held by the Canada West Foundation, an Alberta-based think tank. The event was closed to media but The Globe and Mail obtained a recording of his remarks.
The former prime minister did not identify Mr. Trudeau by name but spoke about the need for “fair treatment” by the federal government and avoiding conflict with provinces. “I made it a habit not to go to war with provinces,” he said.
Mr. Harper said if he were in charge of mitigating climate change in Canada in 2021, he would not be taking measures to “shut down” an industry in a region that didn’t generate political returns for him.
The former Conservative Leader used a hypothetical analogy to make his point, speaking about the aerospace industry in Montreal, where the Conservatives performed relatively poorly during elections when he headed the party.
“If I were today handling the climate-change issue, I wouldn’t be saying to myself, ‘You know, I have had three national elections, three governments [and] never won a seat in Montreal,’ ” he told the Canada West Foundation (CWF) event.
“ ‘And one of the biggest growth of global emissions is the aerospace industry,’ ” he continued. “ ‘Therefore, I am going to shut down Montreal’s aerospace industry because I don’t need to care about it because I don’t have any political interests there.’ ”
Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal Party, which won 35 seats in Quebec in the September, 2021, federal election, only secured two in Alberta and was shut out of Saskatchewan.
Mr. Harper said that in his opinion, the federal government under his tenure treated all regions fairly “whether they voted for us or not.”
He said that is not happening today under Ottawa’s climate-change policy.
“Obviously, the way some things are being handled today – where certain parts of the country are singled out in ways that others aren’t – I think is really inexcusable.”
The former prime minister said he believes this approach to climate-change mitigation is unusual. “Frankly, I don’t see that happening in other parts of the world.”
Mr. Trudeau last week used an appearance at COP26, the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, to reiterate a contentious campaign promise to impose greenhouse-gas emissions caps on Canada’s oil-and-gas industry. It’s part of his bid to meet the country’s climate goals.
Calling the planned cap “a big step that’s absolutely necessary,” Mr. Trudeau acknowledged in his Nov. 1 speech that imposing limits will be “no small task for an oil-and-gas-producing country.”
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney later called it “peculiar” that Mr. Trudeau hadn’t discussed the issue with the province before the Prime Minister spoke at COP26. “We need to be partners in this,” Mr. Kenney said.
Mr. Harper told the CWF event that a transition to a carbon-free economy is harder than it seems. “If you look at COP26, it seems people [are] arguing this is all a matter of will. It’s not a matter of will. It’s a matter of actually having cost-effective real solutions in real time.”
He added: “So much of the energy transition that people are talking about depends on technological developments that simply have not occurred yet. Or in cases where they are occurring, they suffer from serious resource deficiency.”
He also said that in his opinion, Canada’s reputation as a good place for foreign investment is declining, including on resource development.
“When it comes to Canada, international investors simply do not believe that this country can get it done,” he said. “They just don’t believe it.”
Separately, Mr. Harper also criticized judicial activism in Canada as a driver of litigation and uncertainty, citing the Supreme Court’s recent decision that Ottawa has the authority to impose a minimum price on greenhouse-gas emissions across the country.
“I think the increasingly wide discretion used by courts in rendering judgments – whether it’s on the Charter, division of powers, or anything else, simply provides more uncertainty over the long term and more invitation to future litigation.”
He said he thought the Supreme Court’s March, 2021, majority decision on the carbon tax reference “was devoid of solid legal reasoning,” arguing that “if you can get the Constitution so radically interpreted differently than what it actually says on an issue like that, then you are going to invite all kinds of other challenges.”
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