MONTREAL – Canada’s environment minister says it won’t take much work to build his government’s credibility with the United States when it comes to climate change.
Peter Kent made the remark in Montreal on Friday — a couple of days after the Obama administration challenged Canada to act more aggressively on climate change.
His comment also came as Canada desperately tries to find ways to get Alberta’s oilsands bitumen to markets, including the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project to pump oil though the U.S.
The future success of Canada’s oil industry may hang in the balance, pushing climate change to the political front-burner in Ottawa.
“Certainly, I don’t think we have to go very far to build that credibility,” Kent said when asked by a reporter how far his government was prepared to go to build credibility with the Obama administration on climate change.
“We’re doing a lot. Our American friends know that.”
He said Canada has worked closely with the U.S. on many joint projects, including international initiatives.
“We work aggressively with the United States on climate change to encourage some of the foot-draggers, the major emitters in the developing world, to step up to their responsibilities,” Kent said.
Canada has also been regulating sector by sector, like in the U.S., he added.
“We’re deep into finalizing new regulations for the oil and gas industry, including the oilsands, which is an area of particular misrepresented and exaggerated impact in the United States,” he said.
U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson indicated earlier this week that President Barack Obama’s state-of-the-union call to act swiftly on climate change should also be interpreted as a challenge to Ottawa.
While the Harper government has remained in lockstep with the Americans on climate change for years, Kent declined to discuss whether he was prepared to follow the U.S. into a carbon tax.
“We congratulate President Obama on his state-of-the-union address, his commitment to the environment, but I think it’s premature to read between lines,” he said.
“We have no plans for a carbon tax in Canada. We believe that the regulatory process is the way to get down (reduce) climate-changing gases.”
When asked whether Canada would ever follow the U.S. into a cap-and-trade system, Kent called such talk hypothetical.
“There are no plans for cap and trade at the moment, there are no plans for carbon tax,” he said.
Kent made the remarks at a joint news conference with Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, part of a government-wide push to emphasize Ottawa’s environmental credentials. The ministers announced 23 clean-technology projects, many of which focus on clean air and climate change.
The $61.8-million initiative will be paid for through Sustainable Development Technology Canada’s SD Tech Fund.
At the same time Friday, the federal government tabled draft regulations to make good on a budget promise to increase penalties on unsafe operation of pipelines and nuclear facilities. The new rules would impose fines of up to $25,000 for individuals and $100,000 for corporations if they do not comply with federal safety rules.
Environment Canada also released an update on its pollution-fighting measures, stressing its record in controlling greenhouse gas emissions and improving air quality.
Earlier this month, Canada’s commissioner of the environment and sustainable development warned that the country’s aggressive pursuit of resource development was exposing it to heightened environmental and financial risks.
Those risks, Scott Vaughan wrote in his final report to Parliament, were not being properly handled by government regulators.
Vaughan said the situation has put Canada’s reputation as an exporter at stake.
Obama did not mention the Keystone pipeline in Tuesday’s address, but he faced calls from organized labour and the petroleum industry to approve the project immediately.
Protesters in the U.S., meanwhile, are preparing for a weekend demonstration against the pipeline.
Kent and Oliver insisted it was merely a coincidence that Friday’s clean-technology announcement was made so soon after Obama’s climate-change challenge.
Oliver said “intensive due diligence” was undertaken in respect to every single project announced Friday.
“The suggestion that we somehow gathered together at the last second in order to respond politically is completely at variance with the facts,” the natural resources minister said.