Liberals won't rule out imposing a national carbon price, Catherine McKenna says

Canada's environment minister says all jurisdictions in Canada need a price on carbon, and she won't rule out imposing a national price if some leaders drag their heels.

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Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna says she will not rule out imposing a national price on carbon if the provinces do not move ahead with plans of their own. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Canada's environment minister says all jurisdictions in Canada need a price on carbon, and she won't rule out imposing a national price if provincial leaders drag their heels.

"What is really clear … is that every jurisdiction needs to have a price on carbon, and the premiers have all recognized that a price on carbon is part of the solution [to fight climate change]," Catherine McKenna said in an interview with Chris Hall on CBC Radio's The House.

Trudeau and the provincial premiers announced after their meeting in Vancouver Thursday that they are working toward a national climate change plan that includes an agreement in principle for a carbon pricing mechanism — although they did not offer specifics on how it would work.

Trudeau said a price on carbon is an essential tool in the effort to fight climate change and the leaders would continue to work toward that end, taking into consideration the unique challenges of the different provinces and territories.

"The fact that we've been talking about a price on carbon, I think, is a huge advance," McKenna said. "But I think it's important that we do this in a thoughtful way, you do need experts to weigh in on this."

CBC News reported Wednesday that the federal government is prepared to impose a national price on carbon if Canada's premiers fail to come to an agreement on their own. 

"We have said — and the premiers have agreed — that a price on carbon is part of the solution," McKenna said when pressed if Ottawa was willing to impose a national price.

Brad Wall, the premier of Saskatchewan, has been a particularly vocal opponent of carbon pricing. He argues that his government's move to make coal plants cleaner, through a carbon capture scheme, should qualify as a provincial effort to reduce emissions.

"I think this is part of the discussion, that we have models out there already," McKenna said, pointing to B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Quebec's initiatives, which include a carbon tax and a cap-and-trade regime.

Federal, provincial and territorial officials will work over the next six months to draft a national climate plan that the leaders hope to endorse at another summit in October. They will concentrate on four key areas:

  • Clean technology, innovation and jobs.
  • Carbon pricing mechanisms. 
  • Specific opportunities to slash emissions. 
  • Adaptations to changing climate and severe weather.

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"We will have a [new emissions] target at the end of the six-month process," McKenna said. "We need the actions first. I have said this and I keep on repeating it. You can put up a target, but if you don't have actions to get there, there's no point — and I want this to be an ambitious target."

The Harper government set a target of a 30 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases from 2005 levels by 2030. The Trudeau government has said its reduction targets will be much more ambitious, something McKenna reaffirmed in her interview with Hall.

"We know there are a lot of emissions coming from transportation — how do we reduce emissions there? Buildings, how do we make those more energy efficient? So, we're going to go through that exercise and then we will know where we can be with our target, which I've said is a floor … not a ceiling."

Climate deal with Obama

McKenna will be part of the official Canadian delegation travelling to Washington, D.C., for the state dinner between Trudeau and U.S. President Barack Obama.

The two leaders are expected to unveil a North American climate deal that will better harmonize Canada-U.S. efforts to cap global warming at a maximum of two degrees warmer than it was before the Industrial Revolution 150 years ago — the target established at the Paris climate talks last fall.

"This is going to be the first state dinner in I think 19 years. I was actually in Washington last week to set the stage for some of the discussions, and it's amazing to see how committed the Obama administration is to take real action on climate change," McKenna said.

"You'll have to stay tuned, but I think you'll see some good news coming out of next week," she said.

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