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'No one else has done this on the planet': Guilbeault insists emissions cap delay is due to novelty

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Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault says the delay in announcing the details of his government’s proposed oil and gas sector emissions cap is due to the singularity of the scheme and wanting to get it right.

Guilbeault also points the finger at Opposition leader Pierre Poilievre, warning that the Conservatives would reverse the Liberals’ progress on fighting climate change.

On Thursday, the federal government announced its framework to cap oil and gas sector emissions at 35 to 38 per cent below 2019 levels by 2030, using a national cap-and-trade system starting in 2026.

There will also be some compliance flexibility to emit up to 20 to 23 per cent below 2019 levels if emitters buy carbon offsets or pay into a fund that promotes decarbonisation.

The federal government is expected to release the draft regulations for the cap next spring, with final regulations to follow in 2025.

But the Liberals first announced they planned to implement an emissions cap in 2021, with the federal government setting a target in its Emissions Reduction Plan last year of 42 per cent below 2019 levels.

Guilbeault told CTV’s Question Period host Vassy Kapelos — in an interview airing Sunday from the COP28 climate conference in Dubai — that the wait was because of the uniqueness of the program.

“It did take a bit more time to prepare this than we had initially anticipated, because it's a first in Canadian history,” Guilbeault said. “No government has ever put in place regulations to ensure that the oil and gas sector reduces its overall pollution. It's never been done.”

The announcement also comes on the heels of two recent court decisions that went against Liberal climate policies.

And when pressed on whether those decisions were a factor in taking more time to announce the emissions cap, or whether the risk of a 2025 election happening before the cap’s implementation was taken into consideration, Guilbeault insisted the delay was only to get the plan right.

“It did take more time because it's novel,” he said. “Because no one else has done this on the planet.

“We wanted to take the time that was needed to ensure that we had all our ducks in a row,” Guilbeault added, pointing to consultations with experts, industry and other players.

However, the federal government is “not impervious” to the consequences of those recent court decisions, according to Guilbeault.

The premiers of Alberta and Saskatchewan have both said they plan to challenge the emissions cap.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith told reporters on Thursday the cap is, “in (her) view,” “a clear violation of the Constitution,” that steps on provincial jurisdiction, and she is “prepared to fight this one out in court.”

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe also told Kapelos, in a CTV’s Question Period interview airing Sunday, that the oil and gas sector doesn’t need more “layering on” of climate policy and regulations, and he believes it should be left to find its own ways to reach emissions targets.

Guilbeault, in his interview, specifically cited the 2021 Supreme Court ruling that the federal government’s carbon pricing system is constitutional, because the significant threat of climate change merits a coordinated national plan.

“We followed very closely the letter of that of that Supreme Court decision, which is why we feel that we're on very solid, legal and constitutional grounds,” he said. “Alberta and Saskatchewan challenge just about everything we've done when it comes to fighting climate change in the courts. We can anticipate that this will be no exception.”

Guilbeault also took aim at Poilievre in his interview, saying the Conservative leader is a threat to progress on fighting climate change.

“The only way we get to meet our 2030 targets is if we continue systematically, every day, working to fight climate change pollution, which won't happen under a Pierre Poilievre government,” he said. “Clearly we’ll go back decades in terms of investment in public transit, in clean technologies, in home energy retrofits, all of these things fly out the door.”

Guilbeault added he thinks the federal government has “a shot” at meeting its targets if it continues on its current path.

“The last thing we need is for a government to come in place and throw all of that out the door,” he said. “Then of course we'll never get there.”

But, he added, he’s “confident” the federal government can achieve its targets if it stays on course.

“We have is a good plan, and it brings us closer to our 2030 targets,” he said. “But we're not there yet. And the cap is an important element of this.”

With files from CTV’s Question Period Senior Producer Stephanie Ha

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