Politics

MPs vote 207 to 81 to back Paris climate change agreement

MPs have voted 207 to 81 to endorse the Paris agreement on climate change tonight, after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau outlined a national carbon price plan Monday that will begin in 2018.

Opposition parties slam government's plan to meet Canada's emission reduction targets

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna: 'It's about the future of our kids and grandkids.' (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The House of Commons voted 207 to 81 to endorse the Paris agreement on climate change tonight, after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau outlined a national carbon price plan Monday that will begin in 2018.

Liberal, NDP and Bloc Quebecois MPs backed the government motion, while Conservative MPs voted against. Not all MPs were in the House Wednesday. 

Calling it a "really great day," Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said earlier Wednesday that formally backing the deal marks a significant step forward after 10 years of "inaction." She called on partisan critics to stop "playing politics" with an accord that is crucial to the environment.

"We're going to take practical action to tackle climate change, to grow our economy," she said. "And it's about the future of our kids and grandkids."

Canada is among the 191 signatories to the international climate agreement, but countries must individually ratify the deal. Wednesday night's vote was on a government motion and therefore not binding, but its passage is seen as symbolically significant in the ratification process.

The cabinet has already approved ratification of the agreement.

The Paris accord commits to keep global warming "well below" two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures.

Today it cleared a final hurdle for ratification. The agreement required 55 countries that make up 55 per cent of global emissions to take effect, and formal ratification by the EU pushed it past that threshold.

Carbon pricing plan

Under the accord, Canada agrees to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030. 

To meet that goal, Trudeau served notice Monday that the proposed price on carbon dioxide pollution will start at a minimum of $10 a tonne in 2018, rising by $10 each year to $50 a tonne by 2022. He provoked anger from some provinces, particularly Saskatchewan, by warning the federal government will impose a price for those provinces that don't.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna tells the opposition to stop playing politics with the environment in advance of today's vote to endorse the government’s plan to ratify the Paris accord on climate change. 2:18

Speaking after meeting his caucus in Ottawa, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said the Liberal carbon-pricing scheme fails to measure actual reductions and does not include an "economy-wide plan" to meet targets as required by the Paris deal.

He said his party will back ratification "in principle," but accused the Liberals of signing up to the international agreement without a clear plan to cut emissions.

"I think Canadians are getting suspicious of governments that come up with dates that are so far down the road," he said. "They know that by the next electoral rendezvous that nothing will have been decided."

The NDP tabled an amendment to include First Nations in the agreement, but it was defeated in a vote by 240 to 45.

The Conservatives also tabled an amendment calling for a plan to combat climate change that "does not encroach on provincial or territorial jurisdiction or impose a tax increase on Canadians." It failed by a vote of 207 to 78.

'Simplistic policy'

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel said the Paris agreement is an improvement over the Kyoto protocol because it includes high-emitting nations. But she will not support tonight's motion because it is a "tacit endorsement" of the Liberal carbon pricing plan.

She criticized that plan because it lacks data on projected emissions, and ignores the diverse regional and sectoral nature of Canada's economy.

"I think that this is such a simplistic policy instrument that it's actually going to stifle innovation," she said.

"It's going to stifle a multi-faceted approach that involves new technology development and adoption, conservation methods, sector-by-sector regulatory …. all of these things that would be a made-in-Canada approach to climate change, which would acknowledge the fact that we're not a European country."

But McKenna defended the approach during an interview with CBC News Network's Power & Politics, insisting the federal government is moving forward in a "measured" way that gives provinces much flexibility.

Delegations from Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador walked out of Monday's environment ministers' meeting early out of frustration. But McKenna said they should not have been surprised by the carbon pricing announcement, as it had been long discussed in principle by the working groups.

"All the provinces and territories had been working weeks and weeks and weeks with their officials. So to say that it was a huge surprise, when we were actually discussing that exact issue, is a bit much," she told host Rosemary Barton.

McKenna insisted carbon pricing is just one part of a sweeping national climate change strategy, which will include green infrustructure and public transit. An accelerated phase-out of coal could also help meet Canada's emission reduction targets, she said, noting that Alberta is phasing out coal by 2030.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau trips on his own words by calling his imposed carbon-pricing plan a "tax". 1:14

with files from Peter Zimonjic and Margo McDiarmid

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