QUEBEC — Most of Canada’s provincial and territorial premiers met to discuss climate change Tuesday, a day after Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced her province would join Quebec and California in a cap-and-trade system.
The goal of the get-together was to show Canadians how their leaders were uniting to fight the effects of climate change, but the meeting also served to highlight their differences.
While provinces such as Ontario and Quebec are working on cap-and-trade carbon emissions, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall told his peers Tuesday that Canada, as a whole, should be focusing on creating clean coal technology.
He suggested that focusing on reducing man-made greenhouse gas emissions – the cause of climate change and rising world temperatures according to scientists – is “playing on the margins.”
He noted that Canada accounts for less than two per cent of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.
“One-third of the world’s emissions come from coal,” Wall said after his brief presentation to fellow premiers.
“And coal is expanding. As citizens of the world, if we’re not committed to finding the technological solutions to clean up coal, then we’re kind of playing on the margins.”
Wynne responded to Wall’s comments by saying Canadians, on a per-capita basis, are “high emitters and we have an added responsibility to develop technologies” along with reducing emissions.
Wall replied that “showing leadership matters, signals matter, examples matter, but the numbers are the numbers. Less than two per cent of world emissions come from Canada.”
Tuesday’s meeting included all leaders except British Columbia’s Christy Clark, Alberta’s Jim Prentice, Nova Scotia’s Stephen McNeil and Prince Edward Island’s Wade MacLauchlan.
Those four provinces are represented by other officials.
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard was asked whether the provinces should do more to pressure Ottawa to act on climate change.
The Conservative government, which ran on a platform in 2008 that included a cap-and-trade policy, argues that any effort to price carbon is an economy killer.
“It’s not the provinces, it’s the population, the population demands that action should be taken,” Couillard replied.
“The only way forward to Paris (a worldwide conference on climate change this coming December) is consultation and collaboration. The provinces’ actions need to be quantifiable.”
His environment minister was more forthcoming in criticizing Ottawa.
“We’re still waiting for a partnership with Ottawa,” said David Heurtel.
“We’ve sent many different types of messages to Ottawa to sit down and work on this issue.
“We’re still waiting for a response.”
Couillard said he understands why Prentice, the premier of the province that represents the majority of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, did not attend the meeting.
“I know Jim Prentice is very serious about this issue,” he said.
“After the (May 5 Alberta) election, I’m sure we’ll do some great work with him, or whoever is the next premier of Alberta.”
Paul Kovacs, executive-director of the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction at Western University, said climate change is having a profound impact on the country.
“The scientific literature indicates that the main impact on Canada of climate change is that it will be warmer, wetter and stormier,” he said after addressing the meeting.
“Regional implications of climate change include permafrost thaw in the north, wildfires in many parts of the country, coastal erosion and droughts.
“The idea of Canada’s leaders coming together and coming with a plan to address climate change is incredibly important.”
“Today is an important step in that direction.”