TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada’s new environment minister said he plans to work closely with the United States where possible on new policies and that no new legislation is needed to carry out the Conservative government’s environmental plan.
Peter Kent, in his first speech since being named environment minister earlier this month, said the government would continue with a sector-by-sector regulatory approach on the environment, aligning its policies with those of the United States where appropriate.
“Canadians tend to get their hackles up whenever they hear terms like ‘harmonize’ or ‘align’ in the same sentence as United States,” he said at a luncheon hosted by the Economic Club of Canada in Toronto.
“But, however much we may growl about it, when it comes to meaningful work on the environment -- and climate change in particular -- there is no practical alternative.”
On Tuesday, a federal panel urged the government to push ahead with a cap-and-trade system, which would put a price on carbon emissions, to help meet its goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.
The panel said Canada should develop its own rules because U.S. climate-change policies are caught up in political uncertainty.
Kent said that a North American cap-and-trade system is nlikely in the near term, and the Conservatives have argued that it would be too costly for Canada to go it alone.
Gerard Kennedy, environmental critic for the Liberals, the biggest opposition party, said that it would be impossible for Ottawa to meet even what he said are its modest greenhouse gas reduction targets without a cap-and-trade system.
Kent said the government already has all the tools it needs to meet its goals. “It requires no new legislation.”
Kent, a former news anchor and media executive, is the fifth environment minister in the past five years under the Conservative government, which has been criticized both at home and abroad for not doing enough to fight climate change.
“Just weeks into this job, let me say how especially frustrating I find the constant, critical refrain that this government has no environmental plan. Not only do we have one, we are one of the very few countries that does.”
Kent outlined steps that the government has taken over the past five years, which he said “strike the right balance between economic renewal and sustainable development”.
Those steps included new standards for emissions from passenger vehicles, strengthening energy efficiency standards for buildings, toughening enforcement rules, and signing on to the Copenhagen Accord on climate change.
Little mention was made of Canada’s oil sands, which the Conservatives have labeled an “ethical” supply of oil for the United States, but which environmentalists criticize as a huge source of greenhouse gases and toxic waste.
Editing by Peter Galloway