Canadian provinces bypass Harper to make climate a “priority”

Quebec and Ontario plan joint action to cut carbon emissions

Pic: I am I.A.M./Flickr

Pic: I am I.A.M./Flickr

By Ed King

The leaders of Canada’s two most populous provinces have decided to bypass the federal government in a bid to enforce tougher climate laws.

In a statement released at the end of August the premiers of Québec and Ontario said they planned to enhance bilateral cooperation on cutting carbon emissions.

All sub-federal decisions on future energy needs must consider climate change, they said.

In a new development, ministers from both provinces, which account for 20 million people and over half of the country’s GDP, will meet in a new dialogue responsible for the environment and climate change.

The move comes at a time when Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper stands accused of ripping up the country’s climate laws, and encouraging more oil and gas drilling in the state of Alberta and the Arctic.

Earlier this year Harper was heavily criticised by environmentalists for not including one mention of climate change in the country’s 427-page budget.

The Ottowa government has also sought an alliance with fellow conservatives in Australia against UN efforts to develop a global emissions reduction treaty.

State action

Describing climate change as “one of the most urgent environmental challenges of our time”, Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne said she was proud of her provinces’s climate “leadership”.

In 2003 coal made up 25% of the electricity supply in Ontario, a figure that has been reduced to zero, making it the first North American state to cut it completely from its energy systems.

According to the provincial government’s energy website that’s equal to removing seven million cars from the road.

Coal’s share has been replaced by a mixture of nuclear, hydropower, gas, biomass, wind and solar, with half of Ontario’s installed capacity expected to be low carbon by 2025.

Quebec sources nearly 100% of its electricity from hydropower, which it also exports to neighbouring states and the US, generating dividends of $1.96 billion in 2011.

In contrast to Harper, who has vigorously opposed any international moves to impose a price on carbon, Quebec premier Philippe Couillard said he supported the expansion of emissions trading across the region.

Quebec and Ontario are already part of the Western Climate Initiative carbon trading scheme, which involves British Columbia, Manitoba and the US state of California.

“As stated by the UN, any successful strategy aimed at reducing emissions of greenhouse gases should include determining a price for carbon,” Couillard said.

“Québec strongly believes that a cap-and-trade system is an efficient and economically viable response to this global challenge. We are looking forward to recruiting new partners among our neighbours, thus joining forces in the necessary transition to a low carbon economy.”

Liberal MP David McGuinty, who has long campaigned for the Harper government to take a more progressive stance towards climate change, told RTCC he welcomed the news.

“It does show up the complete abdication of responsibility and refusal to bring in a comprehensive climate change plan by the governing right wing regime in power,” he said.

“It is one of the reasons our energy relationship with the Obama administration has been so badly soured, and, of course, a chief reason for Canada’s lack of credibility in this area on the global stage.”

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