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Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, seen here speaking to the media on Parliament Hill on Feb. 25, 2020, acknowledged Wednesday that there is an 'enhanced urgency' in particular to provide clarity for the oil and gas sector.

BLAIR GABLE/Reuters

The government has no timeline to finalize its net-zero emissions policies, but it plans to establish a consultation panel for the target before the summer – a pace that is too slow for business and environmental groups alike.

Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson acknowledged Wednesday that there is an “enhanced urgency” in particular for the oil and gas sector to provide clarity on how it will fit into plans to hit net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. He said the government is discussing how it can expedite the work needed to explain how Canada will reach its emissions goals.

Canadians, Mr. Wilkinson said, expect the government to do its work in a “thoughtful way” and the final timelines will be released when the panel is unveiled. Business leaders agreed the emphasis should be on getting it right, but took issue with just how much time it’s taking.

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“Lets get on with it,” said Goldy Hyder, chief executive officer at the Business Council of Canada, adding talks should start before the summer.

The debate around the Frontier oil sands mine highlighted the lack of clarity from Ottawa on whether fossil fuel production can continue to expand at the same time as the country aims to dramatically restrict emissions. Teck Resources Ltd. cited that lack of clarity Sunday when it pulled the mine’s application.

Days after that decision roiled the oil patch, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland sought to confirm her government’s commitment to it.

Having the cleanest and most sustainable oil and gas “can be and must be an essential part of Canada’s climate strategy,” Ms. Freeland said.

Talks with the provinces and energy sector will start “very soon," Mr. Wilkinson said. But consultations on the overall plan to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 will only start midyear and likely continue into 2021.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the new goal during the fall election, with very few details. Four months after their re-election, and three months after Mr. Wilkinson was sworn in as Environment Minister, the government says there’s still no timeline for when the plan will be unveiled.

Mr. Hyder called for an “all hands on deck” approach where business, labour and political parties “lay down the arms on this issue and find a way forward.” The policy is as important as the renegotiation of the new North American free-trade deal, Mr. Hyder said, and should be treated in the same way.

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The Canadian Chamber of Commerce also said consultations should start sooner, noting 2050 is not far off in the context of the business cycle. What’s missing right now is how the government plans to reach the target and what rules will govern the transition, CEO Perrin Beatty said.

He called for an “adult conversation" on climate change that starts by acknowledging it’s real, existential and needs to be addressed.

The Liberals also promised to legislate the 2050 target and set legally binding interim targets every five years. Mr. Wilkinson said the government will introduce enabling legislation with placeholders for the targets, which will eventually be set by the panel.

That legislation should come immediately, said Catherine Abreu, executive director of Climate Action Network Canada. She said that Canada is further ahead than ever before, but still “very much behind the ball.”

“As we articulate these new levels of ambition, the extent to which our policy ambition is out of step with the emissions-reduction ambition becomes even clearer,” she said.

The cancelled mine application again dominated Question Period Wednesday, with Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer blaming Ottawa for Teck’s decision and Tory MP Shannon Stubbs calling Mr. Trudeau the “puppet of anti-everything activists.”

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Mr. Trudeau said international investors, including pension funds, are showing the “way forward" is to invest in jurisdictions that have plans to fight climate change. He then contrasted that with Alberta and the federal Conservative party, which he said “continue to politically resist any action on climate change.”

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