Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach was defiant about his province's controversial climate change plan Monday, saying that Canada's economy relies on oil from Alberta.
Stelmach made the comments on the opening day of a Council of the Federation conference in Vancouver, which will see provincial and territorial leaders search for common ground on climate change.
Stelmach said Alberta's plan to cut emissions by 14 per cent by 2050 is a fair and reasonable target. Alberta's oilsands developments, which have provided fuel for the province's economic boom, are also responsible for a substantial amount of greenhouse gas emissions.
"Our plan is one that will deliver. It's a real plan for a real problem," he said. "Albertans are buying it."
Critics say the Alberta plan, announced Thursday, is insufficient, especially considering that the one set forth by neighbouring British Columbia aims to cut carbon emissions 80 per cent by 2050.
But Canada's dependence on Alberta's oil-rich economy means that the province will need extra time to pursue its climate change plan, Stelmach said Monday, warning that too much pressure on the oil industry could result in job losses.
The conference was slated to open Monday with a meeting to discuss climate change and internal trade chaired by New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham. B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell will host a special forum on climate change adaptation on Tuesday, the conference's final day.
Stelmach will not attend Tuesday's forum, officials have confirmed. Alberta Environment Minister Rob Renner will stand in his place.
Despite deep disparities between their provinces' climate change plans, Campbell said the meetings will not dissolve into an argument over emissions targets.
"Premiers will decide for themselves whether that's the route they want to go or not," he said.
Manitoba Premier Gary Doer praised Alberta's plan, saying he remembered a time when the province wouldn't even acknowledge climate change as a problem.
"Having a plan and trying to deal with it is a step in the right direction," Doer said about Alberta. "We've gone from denial to acceptance."
Protesters gathered Monday outside the Pan Pacific hotel where the conference was being held were less supportive. About two dozen people, some dressed in polar bear costumes, condemned Alberta's oilsands developments as "dirty oil."
"It takes three times as much energy from the tarsands than it does to produce conventional oil," said protester Tzeporah Berman.
"This is dirty, dirty oil at a time when the world knows we have to clean up our act to address global warming."
In a joint news conference Monday, provincial leaders from Ontario and Quebec reiterated a call for help for floundering manufacturing and forestry sectors in both provinces.
Industries in Quebec and Ontario have been hurt by the rising loonie, declining American economy and increased global competition.
"We have done much in order to ensure we can go through a transition period and emerge stronger," said Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty. "But we can do even more with the help of the federal government."
He and Quebec Premier Jean Charest called on Ottawa to help establish new economic opportunities for affected companies, as well as more employment assistance for laid-off workers.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper unveiled a billion-dollar aid package earlier this month aimed at supporting Canadian communities hit by economic upheaval.
Both premiers have criticized the funding announcement for being tied to the passage of the federal budget, which will require support from at least one of the opposition parties.
"I am urging the prime minister to do as much as he possibly can by way of providing supports to Ontario and Quebec that are not dependent upon the outcome of the next federal election," McGuinty said.With files from the Canadian Press