OTTAWA — Ontario's environment minister says no one expects that a highly anticipated meeting next month between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the premiers will conclude a new climate plan for the country.
"You're seeing the federal government trying to build a pan-Canadian framework," Glen Murray, Ontario's minister for environment and climate change, told The Canadian Press in a recent interview.
"That's going to take many months, that's not going to happen in a week or two."
Ontario Environment Minister Glen Murray unveils legislation to protect the Great Lakes last February in Toronto. (Photo: CP)
Trudeau's promise to convene a first minister's meeting to work out a climate plan within 90 days of December's Paris climate conference set high expectations.
"Central to this would be the creation of national emissions-reduction targets," said the Liberal election platform.
But Murray says a meeting two weeks ago of the provincial and territorial environment ministers and their federal counterpart, Catherine McKenna, directed officials to spend the next six months establishing a common framework of key elements that all parties agree upon, as well as a list of issues that still need to be resolved.
Those unresolved issues, he said, include matters such as trade and capital outflows resulting from climate-change policies and how common carbon pricing can be approached, given the various models already established by provinces including British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba.
"The previous government in 10 years couldn't produce a paragraph, never mind a framework."
"I don't think the pan-Canadian framework will be ready by March. I don't think anyone imagined that," said Murray.
"The previous government in 10 years couldn't produce a paragraph, never mind a framework, so there's a lot of work going on."
The Prime Minister's Office's has confirmed Trudeau will attend a clean-tech business conference in Vancouver March 2-4, setting the stage for the first ministers to meet in the city that week.
Conservative target a 'floor'
The Liberal government attracted a lot of criticism for going to the Paris climate summit with national carbon-reduction targets set by the previous Conservative government. Depending on who you ask, the 2030 target of cutting emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels is either wildly ambitious or woefully inadequate.
McKenna has said the Conservative target is a "floor." But she has also conceded the country is currently not anywhere close to being on track to meet the existing national emissions target.
Murray says the recent environment ministers meeting in Ottawa agreed that setting a new national target is not currently the priority.
"The sense among all the ministers is let's actually get everything else sorted out before we start setting targets," he said.
"Getting this together is going to take a while."
Nonetheless, Murray said there's a great deal of optimism among the country's environment ministers, who have been working together on a national energy and climate strategy in the absence of an active federal government partner for several years.
"Most of the authority for climate change," actually rests with the provinces anyway, he said, citing things such as building standards and transportation.
"Now we're able to look at other options as a result of the change in the federal government."
Murray, a former Winnipeg mayor, says he's been attending municipal and provincial conferences for many years and he's never seen the level of casual, informal and collaborative planning that's going on among the various jurisdictions.
"I think the next few years are going to see major progress," he said. "We're not putting up fights. We're finding solutions to things like pipelines that work for everybody, including Alberta."