The House

Provinces, feds aiming for national 'flexible' climate plan

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says the federal government is keeping all options on the table when it comes to tackling climate change -- and that kind of flexibility is exactly what the provinces want in a pan-Canadian climate strategy, says Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil.
French President Francois Hollande, right, French Foreign Minister and president of the COP21 Laurent Fabius, second, right, United Nations climate chief Christiana Figueres and United Nations Secretary General Ban ki-Moon hold their hands up after the final conference at the COP21, the United Nations conference on climate change, in Le Bourget, north of Paris, Saturday, Dec.12, 2015. Governments have adopted a global agreement that for the first time asks all countries to reduce or rein in their greenhouse gas emissions. (AP Photo/Francois Mori) (Francois Mori/Associated Press)

When it comes to offering incentives to fighting climate change, the federal government is keeping all options open, says Environment Minister Catherine McKenna.

"Basically, everything's on the table," she told host Chris Hall in an interview on CBC Radio's The House.

"We're going to be looking at a range of incentives, because we're seeing the impacts of climate change now. It's not something that's abstract anymore," she said, pointing to already existing Liberal commitments such as a $20 billion green infrastructure fund, a low carbon energy trust and investments in public transit. 

But although government has "a role to play" in creating the right incentives, McKenna said tackling climate change will be market-driven as well.

"The idea isn't to negatively impact the economy," she said. "We're going to see new technologies. This is a huge opportunity, and it's not just going to be government — it can't just be government, and in particular, we have to see businesses innovating."

Innovation from the provinces and territories is something else McKenna anticipates, conceding that the provinces are "already out ahead of us."

"It's clear we have to do more and we are playing catch-up, but what's really great is we see everyone coming together," she said. 

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"We are a federation, we work together with our provinces and territories, and we're only going to be able to tackle emissions if we do this together."

But with the provinces all taking different, tailored approaches to combating climate change, what shape a national plan may take remains to be seen. 

For now, McKenna said such a federal plan will be hashed out when the premiers meet with Prime Minister Trudeau within the first 90 days following the Paris climate talks. 

"We're going to be flexible, but the goal is that we have to reduce emissions," McKenna said.

​Provinces want flexibility in national plan

Flexibility is the key word Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil will be looking for in any pan-Canadian climate plan.

"We've been telling the national government that whatever form our approach takes across the federation, we need to have flexibility amongst the provinces," he said in a separate interview on The House

"Our message to the national government is that whatever you do, we want to be part of it and we'll continue to help, but there needs to be flexibility for each jurisdiction and really take into account what they've already achieved."

Nova Scotia will double their earlier commitment of 10 per cent below 1990 greenhouse gas levels by 2020 to 20 per cent, McNeil said. 

"As a province, we've been successful, but our power bills reflect that," he said. "Our gas prices are high based on the amount of fuel tax we pay, so we need some flexibility to continue on the path we've chosen to achieve our GHG levels."

That means a blanket tax across the country "wouldn't make sense," in McNeil's opinion, because it wouldn't take into account the measures individual provinces have adopted.

"We don't want to say to Nova Scotians, who are already paying high power rates and high fuel taxes, that you've got to pay twice now. We want to say to them, 'this is the beauty of this federation that we're flexible enough to take into account what people have already done.'"

Along with giving the provinces some latitude when it comes to drafting a national plan, McNeil would like to see more federal focus on developing — and sharing — hydroelectricity.

"If we focused on how to build a transmission network that moves our hydroelectricity across our country, to expose Canadians to a stable, secure, renewable energy source, I believe that allows us to reduce our carbon footprint," he said, pointing to "tremendous opportunities" in Manitoba, Newfoundland, Ontario and Quebec.

"If we can build a system that allows that energy to move across the country, that would be outstanding," McNeil said.

There's also the potential for selling that energy south of the border.

"Here in Atlantic Canada, we're sitting next door to the Massachusetts and New England market that's starving for energy," he said.

"Exporting that energy could help solve our problem when it comes to climate change, but also expose our natural resource of hydroelectricity to the marketplace."


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