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Drastic emissions cuts would hurt nation, Stelmach warns premiers conference

Posted by mhudema on January 29, 2008

Jason Fekete
Calgary Herald; Canwest News Service
A protester dressed as a polar bear holds a sign outside the premiers and territorial leaders meeting on Monday.
CREDIT: Reuters
A protester dressed as a polar bear holds a sign outside the premiers and territorial leaders meeting on Monday.

VANCOUVER – Premier Ed Stelmach went on a climate-change offensive Monday at a premiers meeting in Vancouver, warning provincial leaders and critics of his new greenhouse gas strategy that more aggressive targets would cripple the Canadian economy.

Stelmach stole the show on the first of two days of talks, as the embattled Alberta premier fended off criticism over his government’s new climate-change strategy that won’t result in absolute greenhouse gas reductions until 2020.

He also was the target of environmental groups that protested outside the conference, and came under fire for leaving the two-day meeting early to return to Alberta.

Stelmach warned that implementing dramatic emissions reductions in Alberta similar to those called for by the Kyoto Protocol and some provinces would have a devastating domino effect across Canada.

“The economy of Canada is dependent, in large part, on the economy in the province of Alberta. So if we were to race everyone and immediately reduce greenhouse gas emissions, that would mean a total shutdown — a total shutdown — of the oilsands,” Stelmach told the media.

“If that happens, not only will it be significant job losses across the country, it’s jobs in the Maritimes, it’s contracts in Quebec and in Ontario — and that is what (premiers) talked about. I’m not saying this in a boastful way, it’s fact.”

Whether they like it or not, his provincial and territorial colleagues seem to agree with Stelmach’s economic assessment and were hesitant to take a shot at Alberta’s greenhouse gas targets.

“It has to be a balanced approach towards the growth of the economy,” said New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham, the current chairman of group of premiers, known as the Council of the Federation. “This wasn’t a meeting that centred around a number of premiers ganging up on other premiers with different points of view.”

Yukon Premier Dennis Fentie agreed, noting economic spinoffs from Alberta benefit all of Canada.

“This is a climate-change conference, not a beat-up-Alberta conference,” Fentie said. “But this issue is of great concern to northerners.”

Nevertheless, a handful of premiers have urged Stelmach to pursue more aggressive short-term targets considering Alberta is Canada’s largest greenhouse gas emitter.

Quebec Premier Jean Charest said all provinces must do more to fight climate change, but argued there’s inherent obligations that should go with Alberta and Canada being one of the world’s great energy superpowers.

“There’s a reverse side to that coin,” Charest said. “If Canada is one of the world’s energy superpowers, then we should also be one of the world’s energy efficiency superpowers.”

A handful of premiers — including Newfoundland’s Danny Williams and Manitoba’s Gary Doer — said they would prefer to see more aggressive short-term targets from Alberta. Williams said premiers must be careful not to slay the “golden goose” of the Canadian economy, but noted “the Alberta government is going to have to come around” and accelerate its targets.

Stelmach flew into Vancouver on Monday for a day of meetings and jetted back home the same day. He decided against attending today’s climate-change forum hosted by B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell. Instead, Environment Minister Rob Renner will represent Alberta at the meeting, which will focus on adapting to climate-change challenges.

Stelmach’s climate-change policy, released last week, would allow Alberta’s emissions to continue rising until 2020 and strives for emissions reductions of 14 per cent (below 2005 levels) by 2050.

B.C.’s premier — whose plan calls for emissions to be cut 33 per cent below current levels by 2020 — said each province will tackle climate change in its own way, but noted some plans will prove more successful than others.

“If we wait for unanimity, we paralyze ourselves into inaction,” Campbell said. “You lead by example and others follow.”

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty urged the federal government to introduce national climate-change standards for such things as a cap-and-trade program and tailpipe emissions.

© The Edmonton Journal 2008

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