Justin Trudeau, premiers seek to unify Canada's message on climate change

With a first ministers meeting set to take place today just one week before the start of the Paris climate talks, a number of premiers are reminding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau he's not swooping in at the 11th hour to save the day.

For the 1st time in 7 years, Canada's prime minister will meet with provincial, territorial leaders

Will Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listen to the premiers on climate change? The premiers say they don't want to start over from scratch. (Bullit Marquez/Associated Press)

With a first ministers meeting set to take place in Ottawa today just one week before the start of the Paris climate talks, a number of premiers are reminding Justin Trudeau he's not swooping in at the 11th hour to save the day.

In fact, some are voicing concern the new prime minister may "fiddle around" with plans already in place.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna reiterated a key Liberal campaign pledge on Friday: "We promise to provide national leadership to take action on climate change, put a price on carbon and reduce carbon pollution," she told attendees of the Canada 2020 conference on Friday.

Earlier in the day, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard reminded journalists at the same conference that the provinces have been showing leadership on this file for years.

"I am very happy to be working with the federal government and colleagues around the table, but let's resist the temptation to start from scratch."

Cap and trade

Quebec and Ontario formally joined with California this year to participate in a cap-and-trade market. That's where jurisdictions put quotas on emissions and companies that wish to exceed theirs must purchase credits from companies not fully utilizing theirs. The intention is to create a financial penalty for emissions-intensive companies and a corresponding reward for those finding more environmentally friendly ways of doing business.
Premier Rachel Notley on Sunday unveiled Alberta's climate strategy, which includes a carbon tax and a cap on oilsands emissions. (Amber Bracken/Canadian Press)

On Sunday, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley announced her province would introduce a carbon tax. Starting in 2017, the price will be $20 a tonne of carbon emissions, rising to $30 a tonne in 2018.

That cost will be borne by industry and consumers alike.

"This is the day we stop denying there is a problem and this is the day we do our part," Notley said as part of her announcement outlining how Albertans will pay for and benefit from the policy.

British Columbia introduced a carbon tax in 2008, and that province's premier, Christy Clark, hopes the federal government isn't going to now start "fiddling around" with it. 

"We have what the World Bank says is the most effective carbon pricing anywhere in the world," she said in an interview with CBC News.

Many options

Clark also acknowledges that what works for her province may not for others.

"Every province has a very different economy so we're going to need to find answers to those environmental questions, and I wouldn't argue for a second that everybody do what British Columbia is doing."

During the election campaign, Trudeau said to address climate change his government would cut greenhouse gas emissions, put a price on carbon and eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels.

Clark suggests not all of that needs to be accomplished this week. 

"It would be a lot to expect that the prime minister would be able to set out a detailed, coherent national policy, you know, in Paris," Clark said. "Because... he just got elected."

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, arguably set to be Trudeau's closest ally around the table on Monday, is cautioning against a one-size-fit-all approach.

"We are not looking to the federal government for some kind of unilateral imposition of a particular standardized regime across the country," she said on Friday. "What we are looking for is support for the initiatives that we are taking province by province and territory by territory."

Concerns about economy

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has been among those most resistant to putting a price on carbon for his province, expressing concern that the harm to the economy would outweigh environmental benefits.

That said, he is expected to unveil a plan later on Monday to have his province get at least half of its electricity supplied by renewable resources.

New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant says he also intends to make sure economic considerations remain front and centre at the meeting.

"We are all very much focused on creating jobs and growing the economy so we have to have these subjects come up in the same conversation to make sure we are growing the economy in a sustainable way," he said Saturday.