04/15/2015 08:03 EDT | Updated 06/15/2015 05:59 EDT

Liberals Are Leading the Debate on Climate Change and the Economy


In February, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau went to the Petroleum Club in Calgary and said to his audience: "You know Canada needs to have a price on carbon." Pretty gutsy. This is an audience that collectively had just lost multiple billions of dollars with the collapse of oil prices, but the speech was well received by just about everyone (except for the banshees in the Conservative government).

At the event, he announced his Medicare Approach to Fight Climate Change in which the federal government would coordinate with the provinces and territories to establish a real plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Subsequently, the Ecofiscal Commission headed by McGill Economics Professor Chris Ragan released a report endorsing a policy framework remarkably similar to Trudeau's suggested model.

Advisers to the Commission include notable Canadian leaders from diverse ideological backgrounds, including Preston Manning, former leader of the Reform Party; Bob Rae, former NDP Premier of Ontario; Jean Charest, former Liberal Premier of Quebec; and Paul Martin, a former Liberal prime minister. This, in addition to a team of the best economists in the country and CEOs from major companies and organizations.

Trudeau's plan has already earned the kudos of Charest who said: "I think there's no reason the Harper government and NDP should not be in the same place." Instead, the Harper government has abdicated its responsibility, while the NDP seems intent on a federal-provincial showdown with its promise to impose a national cap-and-trade program.

In a major step forward, Premier Kathleen Wynne this week announced that Ontario was joining Quebec and California in a cap-and-trade system. With the announcement, over 80 per cent of the Canadian population will be under some form of carbon pricing.

Meanwhile, federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq has been chirping on the sidelines, complaining that most provinces fall short on making cuts to their greenhouse gas emissions. Ministers living in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. The Conservative record on climate change is an international disgrace. Offering nothing but immature ridicule of environmentalists, they have taken no serious action to reduce emissions.

Predictably, Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford whines that carbon pricing is a "tax on everything," neatly ignoring that over 80 per cent of the population is already subject to some form of carbon pricing. Moreover, B.C.'s carbon price has led to lower corporate and income tax rates. The Conservatives have unwittingly put themselves in the position of being against tax cuts. Not exactly serious leadership.

As the provinces' experience with carbon pricing proves, we don't need to choose between our environment and our economy. In fact, they go together. Indeed, Canada must be able to take advantage of the billions of dollars in investment that will be made in green technologies.

Not to be outdone, the Prime Minister contradicts his own ministers by saying that Canada will announce its targets prior to Paris. How one does that without pricing carbon is a mystery but hope springs eternal.

Having missed his own Copenhagen targets by a country mile and having blown Keystone XL, Harper may have had a Damascus road experience and is now prepared to fall in line with President Obama and the rest of the world's serious and mature leaders. His credibility would have been enhanced had he not missed the March 31st deadline to produce an emissions reduction plan for the UN climate summit in Paris like everyone else who is serious about climate change.

So will the Conservative government do its best imitation of the Keystone Cops (pun noted) while the provinces meet in Quebec City and try to grapple with the existential issue of the 21st century? The model most likely to be adopted is the one suggested by Trudeau in Calgary in February.

Liberals are leading the debate on climate change and the economy. Justin Trudeau is already doing the important work that needs to be done. In the next election Liberals will present a clear choice between the serious and responsible leadership of Mr. Trudeau and the immaturity and inaction of the Conservatives.

John McKay is the Liberal Party's Environment Critic and the Member of Parliament for Scarborough-Guildwood