Canada’s premiers struck a mostly positive tone on Monday as they prepared to enter their first sit-down with Canada’s prime minister in nearly seven years.
While each province and territory will come to the table with its own priorities and concerns, the leaders were all squarely focused on two major issues: climate change and the refugee crisis.
“Obviously we want to talk about climate change, and how we can work together and sort of bring the idea of ‘Team Canada back together’ to the international stage,” said Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger.
“The provinces have been working on it for quite a while, but the federal government has a role to play.”
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and B.C. Premier Christy Clark, meanwhile, both took the opportunity to congratulate Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, who announced plans over the weekend to impose a carbon tax, phase out coal-fired power plants and cap emissions from her province’s controversial oil sands.
Notley has successfully moved away from “the notion of intensity” toward an absolute reduction in carbon-based emissions, Couillard explained, adding that Alberta’s choice to eliminate coal mirrors the one already made in Ontario.
Quebec’s premier said he wants to see Ottawa lead the way on climate change, but not dictate exactly what each province should be doing to reduce emissions.
“Fundamental here should be carbon pricing … but how you get it should be left entirely to the initiative of the provinces,” Couillard said. “If we attempt to make it uniform from sea to sea to sea it will fail, obviously.”
WATCH: Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall concerned job losses in the Canadian energy sector are not getting proper attention
Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall agreed. He called any attempt by Ottawa to implement a national carbon-tax strategy that doesn’t keep the proceeds from those taxes in the province where they were collected “a non-starter.”
“We need to do better in terms of our record on climate change … but we can’t forget the economy,” Wall said. “We cannot forget the jobs that are at stake.”
Wall said Canada’s delegation to the Paris climate change conference next month needs to show up with a coherent message and plan, but it should take into account the economies of the western provinces, which rely heavily on the oil and gas sector and have seen significant job losses in recent months.
A contentious deadline
Wall may also be pushing back against Ottawa’s current plans for refugee resettlement during this week’s meeting. Saskatchewan’s premier recently called publicly for the new federal government to scrap its deadline for bringing 25,000 Syrian and other refugees into the country by the end of 2015. While some of his concerns have been addressed in recent days, Wall said, he still believes a looming deadline is ill-advised.
“My counsel would still be to the prime minister … that we would not be driven by a deadline,” he said. “Let’s continue to be driven by results.”
Wall said many Canadians agree with him, and “I don’t think those Canadians should be accused of xenophobia.”
Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna confirmed that given the challenges already being faced by residents of his territory, Nunavut will not be taking in any refugees. Tapuna said his focus will therefore largely be on infrastructure and climate change during the meeting with his fellow provincial leaders and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“Nunavut’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions is very negligible,” Taptuna said.