Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the provincial premiers emerged from their meeting in Vancouver to announce a framework for clean growth and climate change, including agreement in principle to a carbon-pricing mechanism — although they did not offer specifics on pricing carbon.
"The agreement as spelled out in the declaration that the transition to a low carbon economy will happen by a broad suite of measures that will include pricing carbon, that is something that we have all committed to," said Trudeau
"The working group that we have put together will dig into the mechanisms that will be most effective, and most appropriate, for each jurisdiction, recognizing that there are areas that face greater challenges," he added.
Trudeau said the discussions with Canada's premiers were "tremendously productive" and that the framework developed would see the federal government invest in green infrastructure, public transit and the electrification of transportation.
Trudeau said a price on carbon is an essential tool in the effort to fight climate change and said the leaders would continue to work together to meet that end, taking into consideration the varying challenges of the different provinces and territories.
Trudeau said that for the past 10 years there was no federal leadership on the climate change file and in that vacuum the provinces "stepped up" and took a leadership role. He said 80 per cent of Canadians live under some sort of carbon pricing now and the "federal government will not undo what the provinces have done, we will add to it."
Other key commitments include:
- Supporting climate change mitigation and adaptation through investments in green infrastructure, public transit infrastructure and energy-efficiency.
- Working with the provinces and territories on leveraging federal investments in the Low Carbon Economy Fund to bring incremental emission reductions.
- Advancing the electrification of vehicle transportation.
- The development of regional plans for clean electricity transmission to reduce emissions.
- Efforts to eliminate the dependence on diesel in Indigenous, remote and Northern communities with renewable, clean energy.
- Double investments in clean energy, research and development over five years.
This is a breaking news story. An earlier version appears below.
A logjam between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the premiers over how to put a price on carbon, which was threatening to derail agreement toward a national climate plan, appears to have been broken.
Trudeau is meeting with his provincial and territorial counterparts today in Vancouver at the first ministers meeting on climate change and the environment. A closing press conference is expected shortly — CBCNews.ca will be carrying it live.
Sources told CBC News earlier Thursday that Trudeau was digging in his heels on the need for a national price on carbon. Premiers were said to be balking at that demand. The government had signalled going into the talks that it wouldn't allow carbon price talks to drag on indefinitely.
But word out of the meeting Thursday afternoon is that the gathering's final declaration will contain a much broader definition of a price on carbon, so individual provinces could interpret it how they want.
There is also expected to be an agreement to conduct an economic assessment of carbon pricing and a section for northern and remote communities who are facing unique circumstances with climate change.
A federal source confirmed the movement in the talks, saying they were in a bad spot, but have ended in a good place.
This shift in tone happened when, as one source put it, the federal government finally agreed to put "water in its wine."
A draft of the final Vancouver declaration from Feb. 24, obtained by CBC News, contains a section that would commit provinces to move to adopt a price on carbon.
Sources said that section was causing much disagreement Thursday, as the leaders went over the final declaration line by line. The sources point to a document the premiers agreed to last summer, which would allow each jurisdiction to lower emissions in the way it sees fit.
There was some surprise in Vancouver that Trudeau was seemingly "entrenched" in his demands for a national carbon price. A few sources described it as an almost "religious" view of what is right and wrong in addressing climate change, rather than what is right for different areas across the country.
But the apparent movement by Trudeau later Thursday was seen by some provinces as a positive shift.
Earlier in the day, on their way into the talks, many premiers were optimistic ahead of their meeting with Trudeau, but they were not budging from their position that he needs to be flexible in his position. Few premiers have emerged from the meeting since going in this morning.
Wall leads opposition to carbon price
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has been the most outspoken opponent of a carbon price, but even he had conciliatory words ahead of the meeting.
"I think we're going to have a good discussion this morning. I think there are concerns around the table about a national carbon tax that go beyond Saskatchewan," Wall told reporters.
"There's also a lot of resolve in the room that Canada needs to do better in terms of its own emissions, and I think we're going to focus on how we can do better, frankly, and it doesn't necessarily have to be a carbon price."
Other premiers argued they have already invested a lot of money cutting greenhouse gas emissions and they should be allowed to continue.
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said his province has invested in hydroelectricity.
"We believe our carbon tax is actually in our power rates," he said. "We lead Canada in the highest power rates. We don't want to add another tax on top of that or a cap-and-trade system that will put more cost on Nova Scotia families."
CBC News has learned the provinces have compiled a list of projects that would lower greenhouse gas emissions, but require some federal investment.
They argue this is a better approach than a national carbon price, because it also shows action instead of just more consultation through the federal government's proposed working groups.
Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski used the example of retrofitting buildings in his territory.
"Buildings is one of our largest emitters. Not only would we reduce our greenhouse gases by making more efficiency with the buildings, but we would create an economy. We would have a bunch of contractors working, doing this work. And I think that's a positive, as opposed to adding a cost in the North where it's already an expensive place to live," Pasloski said before the meeting.
Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger said he was worried that a fight over whether or not to bring in a carbon price will overshadow what should be the real discussion — which is finding a way to create green jobs and lower emissions.
"Those two objectives should never be lost sight of and we get sidetracked into the classic federalism of whose jurisdiction, who's in charge, who will tell who what to do. That becomes a sideshow as opposed to getting to the objectives of jobs and reducing greenhouse gas emissions."
British Columbia Premier Christy Clark said she would push both sides to focus on what they do agree on, rather than what they don't. And she's optimistic the federal government will be open-minded.
"The federal government has been really clear that they want to have a good relationship with the premiers. And I think trying to find a way to be open-minded about what we can do is a great way to ensure we are open minded in that and we build a good relationship. I think that's where it will start," Clark said as the meeting got underway.