Canada's Trudeau Pledges to Be ‘Positive Actor' on Climate

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By Peter Menyasz and Jeremy Hainsworth

Oct. 20 — Canada's newly elected prime minister said Oct. 20 that his government will be a “positive actor” in seeking action on climate change at the international summit in Paris in December.

Prime Minister-elect Justin Trudeau said at an Oct. 20 news conference, a day after his Liberal Party won a stunning majority in the Canadian Parliament, that he would continue to discuss the issue with the premiers of Canada's provinces and that he had spoken to several of them about their participation in Paris.

Canada will demonstrate with a “clear voice” that it plans to take a more active role in international climate change efforts going forward, he said. “Canada's years of being a less-than-enthusiastic actor on the climate change file are behind us.”

The Liberals won 184 of the 338 seats in the House of Commons, a remarkable feat after winning only 37 seats in the 2011 election.

Earlier in the day, at a rally for supporters in Ottawa, Trudeau pledged to Canada's “friends around the world” a return to Canada's “compassionate and constructive voice in the world,” which he said had been lost under former prime minister Stephen Harper's Conservative Party government.

“I have a simple message for you. On behalf of 35 million Canadians—we're back,” he said.

Trudeau said he had spoken to President Barack Obama earlier in the day, including about the Keystone XL pipeline, but only in general terms. He said he told the president that it was important for Canada going forward to show “positive engagement” on environmental issues on the international stage.

Trudeau would not comment on suggestions that Obama could announce soon a final decision on the proposed pipeline project, noting only that a relationship like the one between Canada and the U.S. is larger than any individual project and that his government would “work constructively” with the U.S. on any areas of disagreement.

Like Harper, Trudeau has publicly backed the plan for the pipeline from the Canadian oil sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Environment Groups Applaud Change

The new government swept into power with a clear majority after the 78-day campaign, holding an unofficial 184 seats in the 338-seat House of Commons, after Canadian voters strongly rejected Harper's Conservative government.

John McKay, re-elected as a member of Parliament for the Toronto area constituency of Scarborough-Guildwood and the Liberals' environment critic when the election was called, said Trudeau's government won't have “any choice but to make [the environment] a priority.”

Trudeau has promised to attend the Paris climate change talks in person, and will likely take at least Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard with him, and possibly several other premiers, he said. “Canada will be back.”

McKay said he couldn't speculate on what Canada's position might be in Paris, but said he believes there is enough time for the prime minister-elect to work with the provincial premiers to develop a unified, workable Canadian approach.

Platform Details Planned Changes

Trudeau's platform pledged that the new government would “immediately review Canada's environmental assessment processes and introduce new, fair processes” that would restore robust oversight and thorough environmental assessments of areas under federal jurisdiction, while also working with provinces and territories to avoid duplication; ensure decisions are based on science, facts, and evidence, and serve the public's interest; provide ways for Canadians to express their views and opportunities for experts to meaningfully participate; and require project advocates to choose the best technologies available to reduce environmental impacts.

The party has pledge to modernize the National Energy Board to ensure it reflects regional views and environmental science.

Initial Challenges 

The first challenge for the Trudeau government will be finding a cohesive position for the climate change talks in Paris, Tim Gray, executive director of Environmental Defence, said Oct. 20. The prime minister needs to meet quickly with the provincial premiers to find a common target, as Canada can't get away with only broad promises of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Gray told Bloomberg BNA in a telephone interview.

“I don't think that's going to help Canada reposition itself on that issue,” he said.

Gray said there will be a transition period for the government to take the reins of power, including appointment of a new Cabinet, but a meeting with the provincial premiers should be feasible in early November and that should provide sufficient time to develop a unified Canadian position in Paris, he said, where the UN will try to broker the world's first broad international agreement to fight climate change.

Joanna Kerr, executive director of Greenpeace Canada, said: “Bottom line, we're cautiously optimistic. It's definitely goodbye to the politics of fear and environmental degradation.”

Kerr warned, however, that Canada's new prime minister is “no environmental hero,” having “gotten himself into a bit of a quagmire” by publicly supporting the Keystone XL pipeline despite strong public opposition.

Oil Interests 

Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) president Tim McMillan told Bloomberg BNA that CAPP's priorities “include enhanced market access by all means in all directions; maintaining a timely, efficient regulatory and environmental review processes; engaging with aboriginal communities on industry-wide issues; and balanced and realistic solutions to address climate change.”

Merran Smith, executive director of Clean Energy Canada, said that the election result is “good news for Canada's clean energy sector and all Canadians who expect climate leadership and clean energy solutions.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Jeremy Hainsworth in Vancouver at Peter Menyasz in Ottawa at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at

The Liberal Party of Canada environmental platform is available at