Justin Trudeau pitches a medicare approach to fight climate change in Canada

February 7, 2015

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Thank you so much for inviting me to be back with you today.

I’d like to start off with an acknowledgment. It was exactly nine years ago today that Mr. Harper was sworn in as Canada’s 22nd Prime Minister.

Now, as I’m sure you can expect, I’m going to have some critical things to say about what he has – and hasn’t – accomplished in those nine years. But like many of you, I have a great deal of respect for the office he holds, and for the institution he leads, and I’d like to thank him for his many years of public service.

Mr. Harper built on a political movement that put the concerns of Western Canadians at the centre of our national political life. The West got in and will remain in, regardless of who forms the next government.

There are some local congratulations in order as well.

You know Canada needs to have a price on carbon. The good news is that we’re already on our way.

This week the world acknowledged something that Calgarians already knew – that Naheed Nenshi really is one of the world’s best mayors.

And last fall, you also welcomed a new Premier – a former parliamentary colleague of mine, and someone I hope to work with again, as a partner, if I am elected Prime Minister.

At the same time, I know that the news isn’t all good.

The decline in oil prices is going to hit the Canadian economy hard – it already has – and nowhere more so than here in Alberta.

We still don’t have any progress on the Keystone XL Pipeline. It’s no closer to approval today than it was when I last spoke at the Petroleum Club, in 2013. If anything, a presidential veto looks more and more likely.

We’re still struggling – those of you who work in the energy sector know this better than most – to repair our reputation at home and abroad when it comes to the environment. The Harper Conservatives’ inaction is drawing more and more negative attention from the international community, including important trading partners.

And those last two things – the lack of progress on Keystone, and our still-damaged reputation – are squarely the result of the other thing the federal government has failed to deliver: a sensible, credible approach to the environment and the economy.

The simple fact is that in 2015, pretending that we have to choose between the economy and the environment is as harmful as it is wrong.

Premier Prentice made a similar argument when he said that “Focusing on environmental policy isn’t exclusively a question of morality. Increasingly, it’s an economic imperative.”

Especially in an increasingly competitive, world market for natural resources.

You don’t have to be Prime Minister for nine years to know that such uncertainty calls for greater diplomacy, not less. Calling people names and issuing ultimatums does nothing – in practical, meaningful, measurable terms – to advance the interests of Canada’s resource sector.

All it does is further alienate people of goodwill, at home and abroad. And without their support, it becomes difficult to acquire the social license needed to get projects past the planning stages.

I understand that appeals to social license can seem to you like an excuse to prevent projects from getting built. I also understand that companies alone can not achieve social license to create the growth and jobs we need. And make no mistake, Canadians want that growth and need those jobs.

What many call “social license” I think is better understood as “public trust” – for that’s what it is, at its core.

From one project to the next, credibility has been compromised, and Canadians no longer feel that they can trust their federal government to protect their best interests.

They don’t trust that we’re living up to our international obligations to cut greenhouse gas emissions. And they’re right – with five years to go, we’re nowhere near meeting the emissions-reduction targets that Mr. Harper committed us to in Copenhagen.

Canadians don’t trust that we’re respecting the rights of Aboriginal Peoples.

As key players and partners in development, Aboriginal Canadians have a legal – and constitutionally protected – right to be consulted on major projects that impact on their rights, yet the current government treats this serious responsibility as an afterthought. Again, your Premier made that point himself when he was Vice-Chair of CIBC.

And Canadians also don’t trust that there is adequate oversight in the approvals process. It’s hard to argue with that perspective, when you have a government that buries significant changes to environmental protection laws inside budget bills, and loudly proclaims their support for a project before hearings have been completed.

These efforts to avoid debate and circumvent a fair review undermine public trust in government. And once there’s a deficit of public trust, it’s hard to get anything accomplished. In short, a lack of environmental stewardship is paralyzing major resource projects.

So where does that leave us?

If we want to restore our international reputation – something we need to do to create jobs and spur investment – we must take action and we must do it now.

If we want to get our resources moving, the federal government must also act to regain the public trust here at home.

And that starts with a mature and honest conversation about carbon pricing.

Many in this room believe that a price on carbon is good for the environment, for the economy, and for Alberta’s oil and gas sector. Many companies already include a “shadow carbon price” in their financial and business modeling.

You know Canada needs to have a price on carbon. The good news is that we’re already on our way.

In spite of Mr. Harper’s hostility to the idea, British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec – and soon, Ontario – have all committed, in various forms, to a price on carbon. Combined, those jurisdictions represent over 85 percent of the Canadian economy.

They are doing this because they know that climate change is real; that our children’s future requires us to reduce carbon emissions; and that carbon pricing is an effective way to get us there.

The problem is that the provincial approaches are uncoordinated, and limited by a lack of federal leadership. There’s no way to ensure that all regions of the country are doing their part. It makes it difficult for the federal government to speak confidently and proudly for all Canadians about our environmental efforts when we talk to U.S. legislators or at international negotiations.

These diverse provincial approaches do have one thing going for them, though – they reveal the genius of Canadian federalism. The efforts in Canadian provinces show once again that regional leadership can move Canada forward.

But one example that touches all Canadians, in a profound and personal way, is medicare.

Today, I want to share with you one of the most important things I have learned during my time in public life.

Which is: the federal government does not have all the answers.

The problems that Canada faces cannot be solved by Ottawa alone. Making progress on the things that matter to us requires real engagement with provincial, territorial, municipal, and Aboriginal governments – and a healthy respect for regional differences.

When the federal government ignores these regional distinctions, or discounts provincial and territorial perspectives, our country is weakened, not strengthened. This was the case when the federal government pushed the National Energy Program over the strong opposition of Western Canada generally and Alberta in particular.

Look, Canadians know we’re in this together. A federal program that harms one part of the country harms us all. And for those of you who think the National Energy Program was before my time, trust me, I get reminded of it every time I’m in Alberta. We have enough forces in this country that pull us apart; we need national leadership that brings us together.

Make no mistake: there is a clear need for federal leadership when it comes to energy and the environment.

Any serious plan to reduce carbon emissions in Canada requires a federal government that is open, engaged, and committed to partnering with provinces and territories.

Let’s not minimize what the provinces have already accomplished: Ontario shut down its coal plants; in British Columbia, there’s a successful and comprehensive revenue-neutral carbon tax; Quebec started with a form of carbon tax, and is shifting to a broader cap-and-trade solution – with California; and here in Alberta, you’ve pioneered a more flexible system that combines regulations on emissions with trading and payment options.

Though the methods vary, the provinces have chosen emissions-reduction programs that make sense for their own economic contexts and priorities.

That’s a good thing. The ball is rolling in Canada. Governments and industry are beginning to embrace the opportunities to be found in clean technology and renewable energy. We’ve seen provinces move to price carbon in ways that help, rather than hurt, their economies.

I intend to build on these provincial initiatives.

The New Democrats? They talk about a one size fits all solution from Ottawa.

And Mr. Harper’s Conservatives? Let’s be honest: they don’t seem interested in any solution at all.

We know that federal leadership goes beyond federal programs. That’s why we want to build on existing provincial initiatives, in the spirit of Canadian federalism.

Some of our greatest achievements as a country – the things that matter in the daily lives of Canadians – came about when federal, provincial, and territorial governments worked together to forge solutions to complex problems.

There are many examples.

There’s the Canada Pension Plan, which provides some peace of mind to Canadians as they face retirement, and the National Child Benefit, that gives low-income families the support they need to make sure their kids don’t go to bed hungry. There’s also the Gas Tax Fund, negotiated with the provinces, that sees two billion dollars a year transferred directly to municipalities to support local infrastructure projects.

But one example that touches all Canadians, in a profound and personal way, is medicare.

Our public health care system began as an ambitious and visionary experiment in Saskatchewan. Gradually, over time, other provinces and territories adopted similar models. And the federal government, at key moments, provided leadership.

What the federal government did was identify principles of care and enshrined them in the Canada Health Act. The federal government encouraged provinces and territories to experiment and design health care systems that met their own circumstances – so long as the principles of the Canada Health Act were respected. And the federal government became a significant financial partner in the achievement of this national health care vision.

Our health care system isn’t perfect, but it represents the best of Canadian federalism. It’s flexible enough to respond to the different regional needs, while protecting the national principles Canadians hold dear.

That’s the approach that I would bring to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.

As it stands, the provinces and territories have their own carbon reduction targets, which added together are very similar to the targets that the Prime Minister committed Canada to. But as I mentioned, we’re not collectively on track to meet those targets – not even close.

As many of you know, the United Nations Climate Change Conference is scheduled for early December in Paris. If I have the privilege of forming a government in the fall, I will go to the Paris conference with two messages for our international partners:

Number one: Canada takes its environmental responsibilities seriously, and we will do more in the fight against climate change. We will lead on climate change because it’s the right thing to do and because it’s good for our economy.

Number two: Getting our resources to market is a priority for Canada, and we know that our economic success depends on keeping our word on the environment.

In Copenhagen, we endured the spectacle of Canadian Premiers attacking the Canadian government. We should go to Paris together, with a common purpose.
When we get home, I will meet with provincial and territorial leaders within 90 days to implement a pan-Canadian framework to reduce carbon emissions across Canada.

Make no mistake: nothing is more important to the Canadian economy than getting this right.

Canada will establish emissions-reduction targets, informed by the best economic and scientific analysis. All provinces and territories will have to do their share. But let’s be honest: targets aren’t enough – we need effective policies to be put in place so we can meet them.

So we will set a national standard in partnership with provinces and territories, one that gives them the flexibility to design their own policies to achieve those targets, including their own carbon pricing policies.

And we will provide targeted federal funding to help the provinces and territories achieve their goals, in the same way that federal funding through the Canada Health Transfer is designed to support provinces and territories in achieving the goals of the Canada Health Act.

We all know there are huge opportunities across Canada for investment in cleaner energy, efficiency, public transit, and more — but it’s provinces, territories, municipalities, and communities that are best placed to identify the top priorities where they live.

We need to start a new conversation in Canada: one that represents a respectful dialogue between governments and Canadians; one that positions Canada to be competitive in a global economy focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions; one that reflects the best of who we are, and shows it to the world.

On an issue as challenging as climate change, in a country as diverse as Canada, we need a practical and pragmatic solution. I’m proud of the one we’re putting forward today.

The simple fact is that in 2015, pretending that we have to choose between the economy and the environment is as harmful as it is wrong.

History shows that Canada works best when all orders of government get together to solve the problems that matter to Canadians.

Reducing carbon emissions and fighting climate change matter to me, they matter to Canadians, and they matter to the world.

It’s time we stepped up.

I’m the Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, my last name is Trudeau, and I’m standing here at the Petroleum Club in Calgary. I understand how energy issues can divide the country. But I also know that strong leadership can see us through the challenges we face. Not leadership by fiat, but leadership that listens, that respects our differences while bringing people together, and keeps the door open to new and innovative ideas.

I’m optimistic about Canada’s future, and you should be too.

If we commit to the plan I’ve outlined today, we can repair our broken relationships and regain public trust. I’ve spent a lot of time in Alberta; I know people here want what all Canadians want. You want your children and your grandchildren to grow up healthy and prosperous. You want to leave a better country to your children than you inherited from your parents. Canadians have solved bigger problems than this and we’ll solve this one too, in the way we always have – together.

Thank you.