Environment ministers from British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec signed what they're calling a compact in Lima, Peru, where an international climate conference is underway.
They've joined with 12 other sub-national governments — ranging from New South Wales in Australia to Scotland — in recognition that their national governments may not be prepared to move with the urgency required.
"All of us are signed on to an agreement to set targets together, to set common disclosures and to build co-operation to get deep reductions," Glen Murray, Ontario's minister of environment and climate change, said in an interview from Lima.
Most of the signatories to the compact have agreed to reduce GHG emissions by 80 per cent or more by 2050, and are already meeting or exceeding more current targets.
The deal was signed on the sidelines of a United Nations climate conference where the international community is negotiating a new post-2020 global agreement on curbing greenhouse gas emissions. It's hoped that agreement will be finalized next December in Paris.
In Ottawa, meanwhile, the prime minister was flatly ruling out regulations to curb Canada's biggest greenhouse gas emitting sector, seven years after his Conservative government first promised the sector-by-sector, "made-in-Canada" regulatory approach.
"Under the current circumstances of the oil and gas sector, it would be crazy — it would be crazy economic policy to do unilateral penalties on that sector; we're clearly not going to do that," Harper told the House as Conservative MPs roared their approval.
"In fact, nobody in the world is regulating their oil and gas sector. I'd be delighted if they did. Canada will be there with them."
An Environment Canada briefing memo revealed last month by the Globe and Mail shows that the United States, in fact, placed what were called "significant" limits on its oil and gas sector in 2012.
"For oil and gas, recent air pollution regulations are expected to result in significant GHG reduction co-benefits, comparable to the reductions that would result from the approach being developed for this sector in Canada," states the June 2013 memo obtained by Greenpeace under the Access to Information Act.
Harper was responding to questions about Canada's poor record in meeting its previous Copenhagen emissions targets, which a government report this week showed are far off track.
The Environment Canada report shows that increasing GHG emissions from the oil and gas sector — principally the oilsands — will almost completely offset major reductions in the electricity sector by the year 2020.
In fact, the report says Canadian emission reductions flatlined over 2010, 2011 and 2012 and are set to begin rising again in absolute terms to 2020.
Nonetheless, the prime minister maintains his government is cutting emissions.
"Our commitment to Canadians is that we are going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while preserving, protecting and growing Canadian jobs," Harper told the Commons.
"That's our commitment, that's what we'll continue to do."
Harper's comments came at almost the same moment his minister for the environment, Leona Aglukkaq, was delivering a speech to the Lima conference.
"Our record speaks for itself," Aglukkaq told the gathering. "We have shown that it is possible to protect the environment while supporting economic growth."
Aglukkaq noted that as the country looks beyond 2020, it is depending heavily on provinces and territories, "who hold many levers for taking substantive and innovative action on climate change."
B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak acknowledged, in an interview from Lima, that in a country as big and diverse as Canada, "it's very challenging to try to form a pan-Canadian approach."
Polak said even within British Columbia, local municipal governments have jurisdiction over some 40 per cent of provincial GHG emissions.
The compact, said Polak is "absolutely not" a rebuke of the federal government.
"If you look at the range of jurisdictions that have signed on, their motivation is not to take a poke at their national government. It's because we have decided that if we're serious about this as jurisdictions, we need to take it on."
Ontario's Murray, who had just been elected to the new compact's steering committee, was far less diplomatic.
"Everyone seems to be on board. There's a strong consensus when we meet as sub-national governments that Canadians are united," he said.
"There's just one government that's just not usually in the conversation or is trying to shut it down. If you don't want to be part of this conversation, that's fine, then get out of the way."
Ontario will host a summit of sub-national governments next July 7-9 to coincide with the start of the Pan-Am Games in Toronto, said Murray.
"We're hoping that by end of those three days in Toronto we will have a very strong message going into Paris that most of the Americas are on board for deep GHG reductions."
The contrast between the prime minister's uncompromising talk in Ottawa and the collectivist efforts of the provinces is not going unnoticed by the international community, Green party Leader Elizabeth May said in an interview from Peru.
"The provinces that are here on the ground are talking seriously about going further and doing more," May said.
"That's encouraging because otherwise the only impression that world delegates would have of Canada would be Leona Aglukkaq and Harper's policies."
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Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version carried an incorrect spelling of Mary Polak's last name.
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