for the Honourable Jim Prentice, PC, QC, MP
Minister of the Environment
to Members of the Conseil Patronal de l’environnement du Quebec
Montréal, Quebec December 4, 2009
It’s always a great personal pleasure for me to be in Montreal. And today, thanks to your invitation, I get the opportunity to combine that pleasure with business. Today is the 100th anniversary of the Montreal Canadians. I like the Canadians, but I also note that my father is the youngest player of the Maple Leafs in the history. But I like the Canadians, absolutely.
Of the many things I’ve learned during my time as Environment Minister, it’s that business – and the economy – are always at the top of every list of priorities.
It’s heartening for me to encounter a business group as diverse as yours, bound together by a shared vision of environmental sustainability.
Like all members of your organization, I share a deep commitment to addressing issues such as climate change, sustainability and the many other environmental challenges that we face as a nation and as members of the community of nations.
But the desire to implement the measures required to achieve our shared goals has to be balanced against the economic reality of our situation.
Ultimately, the only effective environmental policy is one that takes into account the competitiveness of the Canadian economy – and the preservation of Canadian jobs – now and also in the future.
As business leaders you know a great deal about the tough choices that leadership entails. To be blunt: it’s difficult to tell people what they absolutely do not want to hear, however strong the conviction that you’re doing it for all the right reasons.
Exactly a week from today, I will be leaving for the UN summit on climate change in Copenhagen. These are going to be very tough negotiations for Canada – but we are well prepared for what lies ahead.
Canadahas a seasoned team and speaking personally, I’ve spent 25 years of my career as a lawyer specializing in negotiating.
Over the past few months leading up to Copenhagen, we’ve faced increasingly strident criticism and pressure. We have listened and we respect the views and the concerns of all stakeholders, but taking leadership means taking a stand – popular or otherwise.
At the negotiating table – as everywhere else – we must do everything in our power to serve the best interests of Canadians in the long-run.
That means protecting their jobs AND also their environment.
For that reason, we are determined to align our policy with that of the United States. This is a consistent position from which we have not once wavered. Ahead of Copenhagen, President Obama has announced provisional targets for the U.S. that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent by 2020 over the base year of 2005. Given the integration of our two economies it is essential our targets be in line – not more, not less.
It’s a position that’s based entirely on the reality of Canada’s situation.
As business leaders, you know the reality as well as I do: our economy is entirely integrated with that of the United States. They are our single biggest trading partner and our single largest market.
Furthermore, Canada plays a major role in the North American energy equation, both as a supplier, and a partner. We are not just the single largest supplier to the American market of oil, natural gas, hydroelectricity and uranium - we are an indispensable supplier to the land-locked northern tier states.
We co-manage and co-own pipelines and power grids that transcend the border. Through our membership in the North American Electricity Reliability Corporation, or NERC, we are committed “24/7” to maintaining a reliable source of power both in Canada and the United States.
Through the International Energy Program of 1974, as reaffirmed through NAFTA, we are committed to sharing oil with the United States in times of emergency short supply and energy insecurity.
So our environmental, our economic and our energy independence is one reason why it makes sense for the countries of North America to make common cause and to implement aligned climate change policies. But there is another reason to do so – a very practical reason.
If we do more than the US, we will suffer economic pain for no real environmental gain – economic pain that could impede our ability to invest in new, clean technologies and other innovative solutions to climate change.
If we do less, we will risk facing new border barriers into the American market.
In short, we must create an effective North American climate change regime with national policies that are aligned, consistent and free from conflict. A continental system composed of national policies and regulations that are equal in value and of similar effect, so we foster fair competition and maintain free trade in the integrated North American market.
If we are going to return Canada’s domestic economy to a solid footing as quickly and firmly as possible, we do not have the luxury of self-deception. We must do what is necessary with the tools we have. And aligning our climate change policy with that of the U.S. is an important step on the journey forward of our country.
Because of the diversity of the countries involved – and their different stages of economic development - we’re going to be facing some tough negotiations at Copenhagen, in Denmark.
A few weeks ago, I was part of a small circle of international Environment Ministers who were asked by the COP 15 summit chair, Connie Hedegaard, to gather for a final session before the two-week event gets underway. This was the last ministerial session before the Copenhagen conference.
It was a constructive exchange and we agreed that when we re-convene, our intent will be to conclude a political agreement that can generate the momentum required to forge a broader, more specific and comprehensive document over the course of 2010.
There has been quite a bit of confusion around Copenhagen, but our policy is, in fact, very very simple: To enter into an agreement with major emitters and to align our targets and regulations with our partner, the United States, while establishing a carbon trading system.
Make no mistake: We absolutely understand the urgency around environmental issues – and I make a practice of meeting regularly with Canadian companies, associations and ENGOs who share that desire to move forward boldly.
But we refuse to repeat the mistakes of the past.
That is why it’s imperative that we not rush into a deal just for the sake of saying we’ve taken action. There’s always a lot of hype and drama that gets built into this sort of international event, much of it intended to force the hand of participants.
We are not going to panic. We are confident about the actions we are taking on the domestic and the continental fronts. And the framework that results from the Copenhagen process will not take effect until 2012, when the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol expires.
My friends, Canadians have already seen with the Kyoto Accord, what happens when a country signs an agreement without full consideration of the consequences. Unlike previous governments, we will not sign something which is unrealistic that we have no intention of following through.
From that past experience, we’ve learned two simple but important lessons.
First, an effective multilateral agreement on climate change requires the engagement of all major emitters.
Second, it is essential for us to do exactly what we have consistently said we would do: ensure Canada is aligned with U.S. efforts.
We will go to Copenhagen fully determined to succeed in our mission: to negotiate the best international climate change deal for Canada, its’ environment and also its’ economy.
We’ve got all the ingredients for that success
We will pursue this through the Clean Energy Dialogue with the United States and our ongoing commitment to realign and to align our respective policies and regulations.
We will support clean energy initiatives and continue to invest in research development and deployment.
We will also continue to be take bold steps in the area of conservation, an area where we’ve already done things like expand Nahanni National Park to six times its original size and invest tens of millions in parks like Parc Forillon in Gaspe and many others across the country.
Above all else, we will champion and support the efforts of individual businesses and citizens – like you – who are determined to act together and make a positive difference for the future of Canada and all Canadians. Thanks my friens for you attention
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