By Dale Marshall, Climate Change Policy Analyst

Three years ago in Moncton, Canadian premiers decided to make climate change a "central and ongoing" agenda item at their annual meetings because of the importance of the issue to all provinces and territories. As the premiers wrap up this year's meeting in Winnipeg, it is clear that they are no longer fulfilling this commitment.

That was evident in both the lack of any real outcomes on climate change and in the statements made by Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger at the closing news conference. When asked what the provinces and territories agreed to do on global warming at this meeting, the host premier said that each province would move forward in its own way.

Sorry, but premiers do not need to travel from all corners of the country and sit in the same room for three days to decide to not collaborate. Figuring out a way to move forward on issues as urgent as climate change is required.

No one said it would be easy. I'm sure that premiers did not suffer under that illusion when they agreed to put climate change permanently on the agenda. Governments across Canada have different views about the importance of this challenge and therefore on how much effort should be made to tackle it.

However, we need provincial and territorial leaders to work through those differences—to have tough and combative discussions and debates, and to reach agreement on how to collaborate on expanding clean-energy and energy-efficiency opportunities and on reducing greenhouse gas pollution.

Otherwise, differences will increase tension and make climate change an even more divisive issue than it already is. It matters that some provinces—like Ontario, Manitoba, and New Brunswick—are closing dirty, polluting power plants and other provinces such as Alberta are building them. It matters that an increasing number of provinces are regulating significant decreases in emissions and others are regulating increases. At some point, tension and animosity will mount between different regions of the country as some government leaders use significant political capital to put into place new measures and policies while other leaders sit on their hands and let their pollution increases undo all the good efforts elsewhere.

I'm sympathetic to the provincial and territorial situation. They've been abandoned by a federal government that has done nothing to address Canada's growing greenhouse gas emissions, that is in fact cutting clean-energy and energy-efficiency programs. The federal Conservatives appear to want to divest all power to the provinces—on this issue and most others—to the point that the federal government will become so small that it can be drowned in the bathtub, to quote a famous U.S. Republican mantra.

But many provinces—British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and possibly others—do seem to be taking this issue seriously, and they need to insist publicly and to other leaders at these kinds of important meetings that serious collaboration, commitment, and ambition is required.

August 6, 2010

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