The federal government is hoping to emerge from next month's first minister's conference in Vancouver with an agreement from the provinces and territories to spend the next six months consulting on key areas of climate change the, CBC has learned.

But after 10 years of dealing with climate change on their own, some provinces are bristling at the federal government's attempt to insert itself at the centre of the environmental conversation happening March 3 in Vancouver.

Sources say the federal government's idea is to set up four working groups to look at the following key areas:

  • Clean technology and Innovation
  • Carbon pricing
  • Mitigation (reducing GHG emissions)
  • Adaptation

Carbon pricing and mitigation are the crucial issues the federal government wants to focus on in the effort to close the gap between Canada's rising carbon emissions and the country's pledge to reduce them by 30 per cent by 2030. The adaptation and clean technology groups will be tasked with longer term measures.

Each of the four working groups would come up with concrete proposals by this fall, which would be presented to another meeting of the first ministers sometime after that.  

Intergovernmental affairs officials from across the country were in Toronto Friday going over the proposal in detail in preparation for the meeting in Vancouver. The federal government hopes the working groups are the first step towards a national climate strategy.

Mixed reaction

Since the working group proposal was sent to provincial and territorial leaders the reaction has been mixed. CBC has talked with people across the country who are involved in these discussions at a provincial level, and it's clear there is a "real touchiness" over how the whole process is going to work.

That is partly because under the former Conservative government there was no federal presence in the discussions on  climate in the past decade. Provinces have been doing all the heavy lifting and coming up their own climate plans. There is now a real concern over jurisdiction.

'Its worse than negotiating a pre-nup.' - Official

Provinces want to know who will be in the driver's seat in those discussion groups. For example, who will chair the working groups and what role non-governmental groups and other experts might play in the discussion?

Even officials in Ontario, which supports the federal approach, have questions.

"It's great to have the feds engaged and we need to give them some breathing space," said one source who is involved in the talks. "But we need to be focusing on the gap and how to fill it and not reinventing the wheel. There could be a lot of talk without much happening — there is a danger of this," the source said.

"Hopefully we won't get bogged down in process and jurisdiction."

Other provincial sources complain that it is exactly what is happening. They say the federal government is far too hung up on process with a flurry of paper going back and forth across the country all week. One official described it as being worse than negotiating a pre-nup.

But the federal official said the country is embarking on an extremely complex task of taking a "patchwork system" and turning it into a national one, adding that at least all the premiers and territorial leaders are coming to Vancouver and are prepared to roll up their sleeves and get down to work. "It's a refreshing to have this level of good will. They are willing to engage. We have to give it try."

Carbon pricing

A federal official who spoke with the CBC on background says there will be a discussion about putting a national price on carbon but there is no concrete number being proposed by Ottawa at this point because it's simply too early in the process.

"You don't want to show up on a first date with a fait accompli," said the source. "There has to be a national price on carbon, but it's not the only tool."

The Saskatchewan government said it's happy to be part of more consultations, especially in the area of clean technology. But when it comes to a price on carbon, Premier Brad Wall told reporters Friday that he is heading the first minister's conference with his own proposals.

"I'm going to be suggesting to the country, and my fellow premiers, that before we pursue any sort of a carbon tax or any sort of a national pan-Canadian environmental initiative, let's do an economic impact," Wall said. "Let's find out for sure how it will, in fact, impact the economy."

Wall, who faces an election this spring, says a carbon tax is not right for his province or the country right now.

Brad Wall wants economic assessments1:15