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Trudeau, premiers weigh climate change

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OTTAWA—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the country’s premiers will take the first steps today toward reversing Canada’s reputation as an environmental laggard in the international fight against climate change.

A gathering of first ministers—the first such meeting in nearly seven years—is not expected to produce new national targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions or any new concrete measures for achieving them.

Rather, it is designed more as a demonstration of the fledgling Liberal government’s good intentions as Trudeau prepares for next week’s United Nations summit on climate change, known as COP21, in Paris.

Trudeau wants to signal to the international community that Canada finally is taking the climate change challenge seriously—a task made much easier yesterday when Alberta Premier Rachel Notley unveiled plans to impose a carbon tax, phase out coal-fired power plants, and cap emissions from the province’s controversial oilsands—the largest emitter in the country.

Indeed, today’s meeting deliberately was timed to give Notley a national stage from which to tout her plan and to receive hosannas from fellow first ministers across the country.

At the same time, Trudeau wants to signal to Canadians that his government intends to live up to his promises to develop policy based on scientific evidence, not politics, and work collaboratively with the provinces and territories.

All those good intentions might not exactly be paving a road to hell, but the devil certainly will be in the details that will follow after Paris, when Trudeau will have to mediate conflicting provincial interests to hammer out a national climate change strategy.

He’s promised to do so within 90 days following the Paris summit.

“It’s tricky, there’s no question about it,” Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said last week when asked if it’s possible for Ottawa and the provinces to unite behind a common plan to reduce Canada’s carbon footprint.

“We live in a country with disparate interests,” he noted. “Some parts of Canada have a lot of hydro and so it’s easier for them to hit their [emission reduction] targets.

“Some provinces have very little hydro and a lot of coal, and it’s harder for them to hit their targets without immediately moving to shut down the industry.”

Last spring, the previous Conservative government committed to reducing greenhouse gases 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030—a target that remains a “floor” for Trudeau’s newly-minted government.

Wall has called the target “onerous” for Saskatchewan and is worried about even steeper cuts that Trudeau may have in mind.

However, most provinces, now including the biggest fossil fuel producer, Alberta, have bought into the need to buckle down on emission reductions.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard frankly acknowledged last week federal-provincial haggling over climate change is “only going to be about the money at the end of the day.”

Wall is likely to argue that the western producing provinces deserve the most financial help because they have the steepest cuts to make.

But Couillard, whose province already has made considerable headway reducing emissions, said measures taken by provinces in the past must be rewarded, too.

“Whatever comes out of it needs to be taking into account what has been achieved and not pushing them aside as if nothing was done before,” he stressed.

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