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Environment Minister to pitch Canada’s low-carbon economy in U.S. visit

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna stands in the House of Commons during Question Period in Ottawa, Monday, March 7, 2016. Ms. McKenna heads to New York on Monday as part of her effort to attract investment to finance the country’s shift to a low-carbon economy.

FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Armed with a budget promising billions of dollars in climate change-related spending, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna heads to New York on Monday as part of her effort to attract investment to finance the country's shift to a low-carbon economy.

Ms. McKenna has adopted an unusual role for a federal environment minister – meeting investors from Wall Street, going on trade missions to China, huddling with executives from companies such as Exxon Mobil Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

On Monday, the Minister will speak at the Wall Street Green Summit, billed as the longest running and most comprehensive sustainable finance conference in the industry.

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"My focus is now attracting investment to Canada to show that we're open for business," she said in an interview Friday. "And I think we've got good things to say about how we're open: on free trade and immigration, we believe in science, we're investing in cleaner technologies and we're serious about it."

The Liberal government is eager to give credence to its claim that action on climate change is not just an environmental imperative but an important job-creation strategy. To do so, it needs to attract private-sector capital into the growing clean-technology sector and create employment across the country.

That strategy is being challenged by conservative politicians and some members of the business community. They worry the federal carbon-pricing plan and a host of planned regulatory actions will hobble the economy as U.S. President Donald Trump pursues an agenda of lower corporate taxes and deregulation.

In contrast, the New Democratic Party Leader accuses the Liberals of cutting spending for climate action even as they claim green credentials. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair noted spending on some key climate-related programs this year will drop from what had been planned and called the reduction "scandalous."

Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced that a $2-billion "low-carbon economy fund," which had targeted over two years, will now be spread over five years. The budget documents showed a $750-million reduction in planned spending in the current fiscal quarter as a result.

Similarly, there is little or no spending in 2017-18 on a host of programs that flow from the recent pan-Canadian climate agreement that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau concluded with 11 of 13 provincial and territorial premiers in December. Measures to be funded in future years include joint efforts with provinces on green infrastructure, support for electric-vehicles charging stations, and investing in research and development for low-carbon transportation.

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Ms. McKenna said the federal government needs to consult with provinces and business before deciding how to allocate the money in various programs. It is better to take the time to do it right rather than rush money out the door, she said.

The budget "positions us extraordinarily well," she said. "This is a long-term process. We're not going to get everything done this year. We're moving as quickly as we can to do it in consultation with industry."

Over five years, Mr. Morneau's budget promises spending of more than $6-billion on emission-reduction efforts and development and commercialization of clean technology.

While in New York, Ms. McKenna will also meet with Michael Bloomberg, who led a blue-chip task force on climate-related financial disclosure. Mr. Bloomberg and Bank of England Governor Mark Carney are urging governments of the leading industrialized countries to work with the financial sector to promote standardized reporting on carbon risks.

Institutional investors and global money managers are calling for better accounting of the risks that corporations face as a result of a changing climate, a move supporters say will help drive capital to the most carbon-efficient companies in various sectors and into clean technology.

The Trump administration has signalled it will resist any effort to push the climate-change agenda at the international forum. Despite the President's determination to reverse climate-change policies of his predecessor, Barack Obama, Ms. McKenna says she remains confident the global business community will continue to drive the transition to a lower-carbon economy.

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"We want to be positioning ourselves for the economy of the future and we know people are going to want cleaner technologies across the board," she said. "No one is moving back on this because governments come and go, but this is where the future is going."

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About the Author
Global Energy Reporter

Shawn McCarthy is an Ottawa-based, national business correspondent for The Globe and Mail, covering a global energy beat. He writes on various aspects of the international energy industry, from oil and gas production and refining, to the development of new technologies, to the business implications of climate-change regulations. More

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