The House

The fine print of Canada's new climate change deal

This week on The House, what did Justin Trudeau and the country's premiers manage to agree on when it comes to fighting climate change? Will it allow Canada to meet its Paris Accord commitments? We talk to federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna, British Columbia Premier Christy Clark, Manitoba's Brian Pallister, Kathleen Wynne of Ontario, and Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, centre, talks as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left to right, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil, Prince Edward Island Premier Wade MacLauchlan and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley look on during the closing press conference of the Meeting of First Ministers and National Indigenous Leaders in Ottawa on Friday. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and Pallister did not sign the pan-Canadian climate framework. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

It's called the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, but after a day of negotiations the Liberal government's national plan to fight climate change and meet the country's 2030 emissions reduction targets doesn't have pan-Canadian agreement.

The glaring discord: Saskatchewan and Manitoba both left their signatures off, citing different reasons.

But there are even disagreements amongst the provinces who signed on to the framework.

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark, who at one point on Friday resisted the deal, said B.C. signed on only after receiving assurances the provinces' various carbon-pricing plans were equitable.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall gestures past B.C. Premier Christy Clark during the closing news conference at the First Ministers Meeting in Ottawa, Friday. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Clark also said the framework includes a mechanism allowing her province to forgo a $10 increase in carbon pricing once the rest of the country catches up with B.C. in 2020.

"Maybe it's an increase but we're not going to have that forced on us by the federal government," she said.

But Environment Minister Catherine McKenna disputes that.

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett looks on as Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna, right, responds to a question during a media availability at the First Ministers' Meeting in Ottawa. (The Canadian Press)

"In 2020 there will be a review to look at comparability to make sure that everyone is doing their fair share... But we have been very clear, the prime minister has been very clear, that we have a system where the price increases," she said.

"Maybe what she's trying to say is that the federal government can do whatever it wants," Clark added. "There will be arguments on either side of the constitutional court around that.. But it's irrelevant for British Columbia, we are going to stay in the lead."

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne supports the federal government's plan, but disagreed with Clark's assessment that British Columbians will pay more under the climate change plan than Ontarians.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne takes part in the Meeting of First Ministers. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The EcoFiscal Commission, a group of Canadian economists who study carbon pricing, estimates Ontario's plan will have a price of roughly $19.40 per tonne by 2020 — lower than B.C.'s existing $30-a-tonne carbon tax.

Wynne said it's a "red herring" to focus solely on the dollar amount of a province's carbon price.

"You know, you might have heard about this: electricity prices are higher because we have shut down the coal-fired plants, because we jump-started a renewable energy. There are inherent costs in a capping of emissions from businesses," she told host Chris Hall.

At the meeting's closing press conference Friday, Saskatchewan's Brad Wall said it would be foolish to impose a levy with the arrival of president-elect Donald Trump.

Wynne, whose province's cap-and-trade system is linking to California in the new year, disagrees.

"We have a responsibility to work with the rest of the globe. I mean there are jurisdictions all over the world who are tackling climate change," she said. "Subnationals, so states, provinces, have taken the lead on tackling climate change. That's not going to change no matter who the president of the United States is."

While Wall has steadfastly opposed any sort of carbon pricing, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister refused to sign the framework for other reasons.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister listens to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's opening remarks at the Meeting of First Ministers in Ottawa on Friday. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The Progressive Conservative premier said his first priority is convincing Ottawa to increase the health escalator.

"I've used my opportunity here to make sure that we make progress on this file because we are in the midst of budget preparations all over the country and of course health care is the major part of our budget," he explained.

"I'm discouraged I must say by the relative intransigence of the federal government on this front. We've had months and months of requests and they've been sitting there."

The premiers did talk about health over a working dinner with the prime minister on Friday.

The rate at which health transfers increase is set to decline next year to three per cent a year, from six per cent. But the Liberals have been promising to spend $3 billion over four years on home care and have said that better mental health care is a priority.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said some of the ads will focus on the Liberal position, and others on government policy. (Canadian Press)

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said his province is open to targeted money, especially in fields like mental health.

"I don't think we should just step back because there's been a simple protocol in the country that the federal government just hands over money and the provinces spend it," he said.

"Mental health is an issue in every province and the fact that the federal government is now actually talking about mental health in a way that we're going to target a certain amount of funding for it should be good news for Canadians."