Newly minted Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is expected to attend her first international climate meeting next week in Paris, as a new poll suggests Canadians worry the country has lost its credibility on the world stage and want Ottawa to show leadership in the fight against global warming.
Ms. McKenna – a rookie member of Parliament who was sworn in Wednesday – is doing a crash course in climate summitry with less than a month before a critical United Nations session at which countries intend to reach agreement to slow the rising global temperature and avert the worst impacts of a changing climate. She is due to lead the government's delegation at a ministerial meeting in Paris next week, though government spokesmen on Thursday could not confirm her attendance.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has appointed a high-profile team to meet his climate agenda, which will require close co-ordination with the provinces, the adoption of ambitious international commitments and, most important, setting out a plan to meet those new targets while protecting the competitiveness of energy-intensive industries, including the hard-hit oil sector.
While Ms. McKenna will often take centre stage, she will share it with Mr. Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion, a former environment minister and scarred veteran of climate-change wars who will have a hand in international negotiations. He will also chair a cabinet committee on environment, climate change and energy that will steer the government's approach. Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr, a former Winnipeg business leader, will also play a prominent role in working with energy industries.
A former Liberal leader, Mr. Dion has an international reputation for his commitment to the climate battle – he once had a dog he named after the Kyoto Protocol – but lost the 2008 federal election after campaigning on a national carbon tax.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said the Liberal cabinet team is a strong one, with plenty of experience and apparent commitment to increase Canada's climate ambitions. She was particularly pleased with the appointment of Mr. Dion, saying he has international credibility and appears eager to place climate change at the centre of the country's foreign policy, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has done in the U.S.
International negotiators are headed toward a "disastrous treaty" that will fall well short of what is needed to address global warming, Ms. May said in an interview. Under the previous Conservative government, Ottawa committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, a target that was decried as one of the weakest among industrialized countries.
"We need a significant signal that this is not our target any more, but I have sympathy for the fact we are talking about three weeks, and the federal government needs to have provincial support to take a target on behalf of Canada," Ms. May said.
According to a poll by Nanos Research Inc., Canadians want the country's international reputation restored and federal leadership on climate change, but are somewhat less keen to pay higher taxes for fuel and other energy goods. The poll – to be released Friday – was conducted for the University of Ottawa's Positive Energy project, which is convening business, aboriginal and environmental leaders on energy strategy.
Only 13 per cent of respondents said Canada had a "high" or "somewhat high" level of credibility on the world stage when it comes to climate change, while 78 per cent expressed a desire for federal leadership in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The survey of 1,000 adults was conducted on Oct. 15 and 16, and has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
At the same time, there was less support – though still a majority – for the higher prices that would come as the Liberal government works with provinces to adopt a national system of carbon pricing. Some 55 per cent of respondents said they would support higher taxes on gasoline, heating oil and natural gas to reduce emissions, though that number jumps to 64 per cent if the tax revenue was to go to "projects related to a greener economy."
Ottawa University political studies professor Monica Gattinger noted the poll also shows that the majority of Canadians want more resource development – a figure that jumps to 77 per cent when asked whether they would support resource development "if Canada had a more environmentally pro-active climate-change policy."