Ontario, Quebec unveil carbon cap-and-trade plan

The governments of Quebec and Ontario have formally agreed to work together to cut greenhouse gas emissions and further integrate their economies.

The governments of Quebec and Ontario have formally agreed to work together to cut greenhouse gas emissions, set up a high-speed train service and further integrate their economies.

In the first significant move in the new initiative, Premier Jean Charest and his Ontario counterpart, Dalton McGuinty, on Monday unveiled a cap-and-trade protocol for atmospheric carbon in Quebec City after holding their first joint provincial cabinet meeting.

McGuinty said he would like to see a carbon trading program in place by 2010.
Jean Charest and Dalton McGuinty said their provinces should be working together more to harmonize rules on energy and transportation. ((CBC))

Charest called tackling the issue of climate change a "tremendous challenge for humanity."

He said whoever becomes the next U.S. president will be doing a "180-degree turn" on climate change policy, and the two provinces shouldn’t wait for that to happen before making changes of their own.

"Why wait for the Americans? We want to subscribe to everything that is being done on the European level and the North American level," Charest told reporters.

Trading system proposed to cap emissions

Ontario and Quebec are proposing a trading system that would put caps on greenhouse gas emissions. Big polluters that exceed those limits would have to buy credits from companies that come in under the cap, making it pay to go green.

The aim is to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide to 1990 levels, near the target provided by the Kyoto Protocol.

McGuinty said Quebec and Ontario have both been guilty of "going it alone" when they should have been working more closely together to harmonize rules on energy, transportation and professional qualifications.

Charest pointed out their provinces are home to two-thirds of Canada's population and make up the fourth-largest regional economy in North America, so it only makes sense for them to implement common strategies.

Before the joint cabinet meeting, McGuinty said the federal government suffers from a lack of imagination, while Charest said the rest of the world is moving toward a similar cap-and-trade system and he wants Canada to be at the forefront.

Both governments have been critical of the federal government's climate change strategy, which they say is too timid.

'Just talk,' Baird says

Federal Environment Minister John Baird said the talks between Charest and McGuinty are more about "political posturing" than cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

"I saw a great press conference," Baird told the CBC's Don Newman on Monday in Ottawa. "What the premiers are talking about is much in the line of what we're doing, but it's just talk."

The minister said that while the federal government has introduced "aggressive" intensity targets to make a 20-per-cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions from 2006 levels by 2020, the two premiers have been in government for five years and haven’t anything to require big polluters to reduce emissions.

"The bottom line is our numbers will be more aggressive and they'll be underway much sooner," Baird said.

The two premiers said one way to help the environment and build trade corridors is to push ahead with plans to build a high-speed rail link between Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Windsor, Ont.

"It want this to see the light of day," McGuinty said, adding that there is a "very strong will" on both sides to move forward with the service, an idea that has sat on the drawing board for years.

He said a slate of new studies will be carried out, and he's hoping to see results by the end of 2009.

Harper says climate plan falls short

In the House of Commons on Monday, NDP Leader Jack Layton said the two Liberal premiers are filling a "vacuum of leadership" on the issue of cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

In response, Prime Minister Stephen Harper criticized the plan for not establishing a regulatory mechanism and suggested the new Montreal Climate Exchange will have to fill that void.

Canada's first carbon trading market, a joint venture between the Montreal Exchange and Chicago Climate Exchange, was launched last Friday.

Harper also said the two premiers don't seem to favour the federal Liberal proposal to tax carbon emissions, adding he found no support for the idea during his recent climate talks in Europe.