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Cooperation on GHG emissions? Uh-uh — Feds’ knickers in a knot over pact between Ontario and Quebec

Ontario and Québec signed a memorandum of understanding on climate change during Canadian Environment Week, on June 2. Premiers McGuinty and Charest propose that an inter-provincial carbon-trading system be established “as early as” January 1, 2010. They plan to work cooperatively with other provinces, territories and states. [Link to full-text of the MOU].

At this stage, the MOU is very general in terms. It appears to be just a gentlemen’s agreement, as opposed to a contract that binds the parties to take action. As per the old Kyoto protocol that Harper’s Tories refused to implement, the Ontario-Québec system will use 1990 baseline emissions levels. The reductions will be real (i.e., based on absolute reductions), as opposed to the intensity-based federal plan that uses 2006 as the baseline year.

The MOU includes a commitment to collaborate to design and implement the cap-and-trade system “in conjunction with broader regional trading systems already under development”. This likely means efforts like the Western Climate Initiative, in which British Columbia, Manitoba and Québec are full partners, and Ontario and Saskatchewan are observers (link: http://www.westernclimateinitiative.org/ ) The WCI, is a collaborative effort started by US governors in order to develop regional strategies that address climate change; it identifies, evaluates and implements ways in which regional GHG can be reduced. Their Work Plan (Oct 07-Aug 08) is impressive and they have published draft design recommendations for a cap-and-trade program .

Federal Environment Minister Baird attacked the pact right away, saying that it will let big polluters off the hook as it lacks enforcement provisions (which is true), and is “political smoke and mirrors” (which we hope is not true). Baird says that fighting global warming is a job for the feds – not the provinces. This is not quite true.

While environmental issues were not contemplated when Canada’s Constitution was drafted, the federal and provincial governments each have powers to legislate with respect to climate change, which has both national and local components. The feds have the general power to legislate for the “peace, order and good government of Canada” for all matters that are not exclusively assigned to the provinces. This includes, for example, trade and commerce (one aspect of regulating trade and commerce would include to regulate air emissions). Provinces have powers to regulate “local works and undertakings”, with some exceptions (like rail or ship lines that cross provincial borders): this would include emissions from local industries. As well, provinces have jurisdiction over “property and civil rights”, which would include matters affecting property, as well as “matters of a merely local or private nature in the province”, which would include industry emissions.

Unfortunately, there is nothing in the Constitution that talks about how legislative powers should be shared between the feds and provinces. However, in 1999, the Canada-Wide Accord on Environmental Harmonization was signed by all provinces and territories (except Quebec) as well as the federal government. As stated by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME), its goal was “to find better and more efficient ways of co-operating in fulfilling governments’ role as environmental stewards.” Obviously, this has not worked! For an amusing overview of the results government initiatives over the past couple of decades, i.e., “…two programs, four plans, a process, two strategies, and a project” that resulted in GHG emissions rising to almost 27% above the 1990 baseline, see Andrew Coyne’s article.

We agree that a cross-Canada strategy that is realistic and acceptable to environmentalists and industry alike is needed. However, in the absence of leadership from the federal government, and as the nature of emissions varies widely on a regional basis, it seems logical that the provinces identify real efforts that can be initiated to tackle climate change.

Instead of sneering at the Ontario-Quebec initiative, Environment Minister Baird could have applauded the accord and taken it a step further by bringing all the provincial governments together to make a difference.






Several links to Canada-wide Accord on Environmental Harmonization – http://www.ccme.ca/initiatives/environment.html?category_id=25

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