Carbon tax wrangling center stage at Canada climate change talks

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Image: Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada, February 24, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

 

By Julie Gordon

VANCOUVER (Reuters) – Strains over stalled Canadian oil pipeline projects and Ottawa’s push to impose a national carbon price hung over talks on Thursday between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the country’s 10 provinces on how to tackle global warming.

Trudeau’s Liberal Party won an election last October on a pledge to do much more than the previous administration to curb emissions of greenhouse gases, which are climbing as firms exploit Canada’s vast crude-rich oil sands.

Behind the scenes, Trudeau officials have been pointing out to the premiers that introducing a national price on carbon was also a key element of the Liberal platform as they swept to power, knocking Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper from office after almost a decade in power.

But the provinces, which enjoy significant jurisdiction over the environment, are wary of Ottawa’s intentions and say they should be allowed to cut carbon emissions their own way.

The federal government can unilaterally impose a tax, though Trudeau has been pushing hard for a pan-Canadian solution.

“I think we need to respect that other premiers have issues with this carbon tax proposal that we’ve seen so far and think about the things we can do together,” Brit’sh Columbia Premier Christy Clark told reporters ahead of talks Thursday morning.

Brit’sh Columbia is one the few provinces that already has a carbon tax.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has come out fiercely against the idea, which he says would cripple industry in his energy-rich province. He admits Canada needs to do more to combat emissions, but suggests a province-by-province solution.

“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,” Wall told reporters. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be a carbon price.”

The political wrangling over the best way to cut emissions nationwide is playing out along side the other major point of contention among Trudeau and provincial leaders – the construction of new crude oil pipelines.

Environmentalists are putting pressure on the Canadian leader to shift away from fossil fuels and focus on green energy, while energy-producing provinces say he needs to push through new pipelines to take crude to coastal ports.

For his part, Trudeau says Canada needs the energy industry to help fuel and fund its transition to a greener economy.

The Vancouver meeting was initially intended to create a firm plan for cutting emissions.

Instead, in a sign of the challenges, that date has been pushed back by six months.

(Additional reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Alan Crosby)

Copyright 2015 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.

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