January 28, 2016 6:14 pm
Updated: January 28, 2016 7:16 pm

The Ministers: Catherine McKenna on tackling Canada’s new climate goals

WATCH: Minister of Environment and Climate Change is a title that never would have existed under Canada's previous Conservative government, but the Liberals are making the environment, and our impact on it, a priority and Catherine McKenna is the woman in charge of it. Mike Le Couteur reports.

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Global News correspondents are sitting down with the new cabinet ministers who will shape policy in this country, to find out where they came from and where they want to take this country. Global National will air their stories in a new series called The Ministers.

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OTTAWA — Under the former Conservative government, Canada was seen as a “laggard” in the fight against climate change. So, there was pressure on Catherine McKenna to make a good first impression at the Paris Climate Conference in December.

“I don’t think they really believed in climate change,” McKenna, the Minister of Environment and Climate change in Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government, says with a laugh.

But the fact is, some considered Canada a joke when it came to protecting the environment.

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In some ways, McKenna faces a stiff challenge in showing the world Canada is taking steps towards reducing Green House gas emissions.

Quoting France’s Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, McKenna says Canada’s new attitude created a new momentum.

“For a decade, (Canada was) seen as a laggard and now you’re back saying, ‘We believe in the science behind climate change,” McKenna quoted Fabius saying.

Part of that new attitude are new regulations for pipeline projects the Liberals introduced Thursday.

There again, the minister of Environment and Climate Change was front and centre at the announcement.

“Unfortunately, under the previous government… this is why we’re standing here, there was not trust by Canadians,” McKenna said at the news conference, as the Liberals clearly try to distinguish themselves from the Harper Conservatives.

Further to that, McKenna is holding meetings with her provincial counterparts over the next two days and laying the groundwork for a pan-Canadian plan to fight climate change.

She expects that plan to be made public in the first week of March, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau means with premiers and territorial leaders.

“We’re going to have a pan-Canadian plan and we’re going to be working together with them to reduce emissions in a while variety of ways.”

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One of those ways starts right in her own department. The ministerial car McKenna uses to get around town is a hybrid but she believes her department can do better.

“I would like to see an electric vehicle,” McKenna says. “I think we need to lead by example. I see that I need to be doing that, my ministry needs to be doing that and our government needs to be doing that.”

The former human rights and social justice lawyer admits being thrust onto the world stage just weeks into her job, at the climate summit in Paris, was like being tossed in the deep end of the pool.

That’s where her proficiency in the pool came in handy.

McKenna was part of three championship-winning swim teams at the University of Toronto, between 1990 and 1993.

Despite it being seen as an individual sport, McKenna says you have to work as a team — just like in cabinet.

“It was how well did everyone does collectively,” she says. “That’s how you win and that’s how I approach this. It really has to be a team effort.”

McKenna still swims in her spare time to escape the daily stress of life on Parliament Hill.

“It’s really important for me to have the time alone where no one can get you, no one can get you on your iPhone or your Blackberry.”

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Taking those mental breaks is so important to the new minister that she leaves her office around supper time each day to go home and be with her three young children, who are 11, 9 and 7 years old.

“I’ve set some pretty hard rules about making sure that I get home for dinner whenever I can… check in with my family, see how the kids are doing make sure they get through their homework.”

McKenna admits her busy schedule won’t always permit those breaks, but she believes stepping away from work helps her be a more effective minister.

“If you’re going to make a difference, you need to sit back and think. You have to be thoughtful about how you’re going to approach problems. Otherwise, you can just be running but making bad decisions that aren’t thought out.”

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