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There were ill omens from both sides heading into the meeting. So it was a pleasant surprise that a consensus was reached when the prime minister and premiers ended a meeting on climate change and the environment this week in Vancouver.
Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall declared - just days before the meeting opened - that he wouldn’t agree to any carbon tax on emissions. Mr. Wall is heading into an election next month and he had to act tough with Ottawa.
Then Quebec tried its best to scuttle talks by invoking a court injunction to force TransCanada to submit to provincial hearings to show its Energy East pipeline meets the province's environmental standards. It was sure to anger Alberta, irritate New Brunswick and irk Ottawa.
Then Ottawa decided to play a little hardball of its own. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hinted that if the provinces didn’t agree to a carbon tax, he would impose one unilaterally. There were red flags fluttering in at least three jurisdictions. Other federal-provincial conferences failed with fewer obstacles.
It was a frosty start in Vancouver, far different from the happy get-together by the prime minister and premiers in late November before heading to Paris for a landmark UN conference on climate change.
As the Vancouver conference opened, there was a feeling the honeymoon might be over. But Mr. Trudeau offered a compromise and relieved premiers made concessions. Surprise, surprise - there was an agreement.
It wasn’t the outcome that ardent environmentalists had hoped for, but at least there is a common will to take this issue to the next level.
Several premiers were quick to note it was a major accomplishment having the prime minister sit down with premiers on issues important to the nation. This is how federal-provincial relations are supposed to work.
The agreement in Vancouver is a recognition by political leaders that many Canadians are concerned with climate change and see the need for a clean, healthy environment. Industry can adapt to greener methods and that transition is an economic generator itself in terms of more jobs, new science and improved technologies.
P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan is working on his own provincial energy strategy. That plan will likely be guided in part by both Vancouver and Paris conferences.
Premier MacLauchlan said the Vancouver conference achieved what he had hoped for in building towards a low-carbon future. He will be part of a premier’s working group that will meet over the next six months to determine carbon price mechanisms, a recognition of the P.E.I.’s advances in wind and biomass technologies.
No doubt, the premier is hopeful that P.E.I. could benefit from the upcoming federal budget that will contain significant investments, particularly in green technology.
All sides deserve credit for showing statesmanship in Vancouver by compromising and addressing the climate change issue.
Governments should also expect that continued public support for environmental policy would likely depend on convincing Canadians that fighting climate change is not going to hurt them in the pocketbook.