'They don't have a climate plan': Catherine McKenna calls out new Ontario government

Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna comes out of her first meeting with Ontario's new government "disappointed," saying that Premier Doug Ford has no plan to fight climate change.
Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna says she is "disappointed" after meeting with the Ontario Progressive Conservatives who oppose the federal carbon tax plan. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)
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On Wednesday, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna had her first face-to-face with her new Ontario counterpart. It came after the Ontario Progressive Conservatives picked the cancellation of cap-and-trade as their first act in office.

It's a move that puts Ontario on a collision course with McKenna, whose carbon pricing is an essential plank in her government's commitment to fight climate change.

It also means that as the premiers convene for the Council of Federation in New Brunswick this week, the majority of provinces are now either fighting McKenna's policy, or are simply failing to fulfil the requirements the minister laid out. 

As It Happens guest host Laura Lynch spoke with McKenna about how the government plans to move forward without key provincial support. Here is part of their conversation.

Minister McKenna, without provincial help, how is your carbon pricing plan going to work?

We have a climate change plan and we've been really clear that we need to tackle climate change. We have an opportunity to save people money by being more energy efficient and also grow the economy and create jobs — and we've been able to do that.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and Ontario Premier Doug Ford met on the sidelines of the Council of the Federation talks in Saint Andrews, N.B. Wednesday evening. Both leaders oppose the federal government's plans to impose a carbon tax on provinces that don't meet the requirements of its climate change strategy. (Sarah Sears/CBC News)

Your carbon pricing plan, though, is an important part of that. I'm sure you would admit that and yet you are not getting the cooperation you need from the provinces. So how is it going to work?

Well, certainly. I mean, today I had a meeting with my provincial counterpart, and it was really disappointing to see that they don't have a climate plan. And if you don't have a climate plan, you don't have a plan for your economy, because we know that there is a trillion dollar economic opportunity.

Okay, you say disappointing, but I'm assuming it might have been even worse for you. Ontario [Environment] Minister Rod Phillips is saying there's no way that Ontario is going to participate. He's saying he'll go to court to fight any attempt to impose pricing on Ontarians. What options does that leave you?

We've been clear we've got a climate plan and what's really disappointing is that climate change shouldn't be a partisan issue. We should all be serious about how do we be smart? How do we tackle climate change? How do we create good jobs? How do we grow the economy?

The previous Liberal government, under that government, had the fastest growing economy while they were also reducing emissions. That's what people want. That's what Canadians expect.

But what do you? I mean you're not getting cooperation. You suggested, back in April, that you might go ahead and impose the tax anyway and then give the revenues back to the people who are living in the province rather than to the provincial governments. Is that still on the table?

Well, I mean, I want to understand what the Ontario government is doing in terms of climate change. They didn't have an answer. I'm sure that's what everyone wants to hear. We're certainly going to wait. Whatever we do, the goal is to make sure we support Canadians, that we support Ontarians.

You said you're going to wait, though. How long?

We've asked all provinces to tell us by September what their plan is so we're going to wait and see.

And then, what happens? I'm asking you again, you've floated this idea of perhaps directly taxing and giving revenue back to people in the provinces. Is that still an option?

Polluting isn't free. We want polluters to pay but we want to make sure we're supporting consumers. So yes, giving money directly back into the hands of Ontarians is an option. I think that that is something that makes sense. It allows people to invest in energy efficiency, to spend money which grows the economy, and that's great.

Look, I'm here to work with Canadians to find solutions to one of the biggest challenges we face, which is climate change. Unfortunately, it seems that Conservative governments are not committed to climate action. 

This is the most significant challenge we face. I've got three kids. We owe it to them to have a more sustainable future. We also owe it to them to make sure that we position ourselves to have a strong economy and good jobs. And that's why the environment and economy go together. In the 21st century, that's where we are going to have the good jobs. We need to be more efficient. As I say, we didn't get out of the Stone Age because we ran out of stones — we got smarter.

This Q&A was edited for length and clarity. Written by Kevin Robertson and John McGill. Interview produced by Kevin Robertson.  

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