VANCOUVER – Several premiers are pushing back against federal resolve to put a price on carbon emissions as they sit down with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday to discuss climate policy.
However, the dissent didn’t appear to dampen the mood, with all the participants agreeing the talks are necessary and more collective policy action is required.
“Listen, I don’t think anyone has done enough,” said Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil on the way into the scheduled five-hour meeting.
“But I think we need to recognize that there’s more than one way to deal with the carbon issue.”
NcNeil said that after spending heavily on hydro-electric transmission, Atlantic Canada has effectively built a carbon price into electricity rates that are the highest in Canada.
Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski is also against imposing any additional costs on fossil fuel consumers in Canada’s North, as are his counterparts in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
“Our position now is more aligned with Yukon and Nunavut in being against any carbon pricing scheme that would penalize northerners by raising our cost of living,” Shaun Best, a spokesman for Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod, said in an email from Yellowknife.
Brad Wall, the Saskatchewan premier who’s been leading a lonely charge against a federally imposed carbon tax, strolled into the meeting almost unmolested by the media horde camped in the halls of the Vancouver Convention Centre.
Wall cleared the air late Wednesday by saying Saskatchewan would participate “constructively” in proposed working groups that will examine four policy areas — including carbon pricing — over the next six months.
The federal government has been quietly insisting for weeks that a national carbon price, as promised in the Liberal election platform, will be imposed from above if provinces are unable to agree on their own system for pricing greenhouse gas emissions.
That unwavering stance could provide some drama in a first ministers’ meeting that is now clearly focused on process rather than immediate results.
Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger, who like Wall faces re-election this spring, said there’s a common understanding among the premiers that action on climate change can and should take many paths.
“The do-nothing option is not there,” said Selinger, citing floods and other impacts of a changing climate already underway.
“It costs you billions of dollars to do nothing. So you might as well make a decision to do things that are going to grow your economy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and do it in a way that’s flexible.”
The first ministers meeting has taken on a fractious atmosphere amid squabbling over who was invited to the table, pipeline politics and a dispute over carbon pricing.
Expectations for the meeting — Trudeau’s second with the premiers since taking office in November — have been repeatedly lowered and the goal now is to find a common front in continuing a process toward a national policy framework.