OTTAWA — As U.S. President Donald Trump prepared to sign an executive order aimed at reviving the coal industry and rolling back efforts to curtail global warming, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau went for a hike.
Tuesday’s photo opportunity at Thousand Islands National Park in Gananoque, Ont., was meant to highlight government money for parks, conservation areas and the completion of the Trans Canada Trail outlined in the federal budget.
That includes $364 million over two years, starting in fiscal 2018-19, to support how Parks Canada manages national parks, marine conservation areas and historic sites. The government will also put $30 million over five years, starting in 2017-18, to stretch the trail to nearly 24,000 kilometres.
It would be no great surprise, however, if images of Trudeau — trudging on snow-dusted leaves or listening attentively as a guide points out wetlands on a map — ends up in one of those “Meanwhile in Canada…” Internet memes that now seem to be as often about Trump as they are about shovelling the driveway.
The prime minister was unwilling to talk about the contrast Tuesday. But Green party Leader Elizabeth May said Trudeau has lucked out on that front.
The Liberal government was widely pilloried for sticking with the national greenhouse gas reduction targets set by the previous Conservative government, and for approving pipeline projects that would make it that much harder to meet them.
Now, Trump is making them look like a bunch of tree-huggers.
“It’s a contrast, yes,” May said, “but the contrast itself is exaggerated by circumstances.”
Those circumstances now include an executive order that aims to suspend some policies brought in by former U.S. president Barack Obama, who made the global fight against climate change a key priority as he neared end of his time in the White House.
Earlier this month, the Trump administration also moved to take another look at federal regulations on the fuel efficiency of cars and trucks. Trump’s inaugural budget also proposed eliminating all federal funds for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
All this presents challenges for the Liberals. But in a statement, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna insisted they would carry on with their message that the environment and the economy go hand in hand.
Conservative MP Ed Fast disagreed, saying it’s high time the Liberals adapted to the changing political climate.
“There is just a lack of understanding how significant the Trump administration’s policies are and the negative impact those policies will have on Canada’s ability to compete,” Fast said.
Erin Flanagan, director of federal policy at the Pembina Institute, said she thinks the Liberal government should — and will — stay the course, especially since it reached a climate change deal with the provinces and territories, save Manitoba and Saskatchewan, last December.
“There was a moment where perhaps this government could have decided to go backwards and to be convinced by the arguments that we’re hearing in the U.S., and clearly that moment has passed,” Flanagan said.
Catherine Abreu, executive director of Climate Action Network Canada, said it is important to think beyond U.S. federal policy, as some states, such as California on the fuel efficiency standards, are still going ahead with more ambitious policies.
So are other countries.
“When we see countries like China starting to phase out coal-fired electricity, the writing is really on the wall for coal,” she said.
Meinhard Doelle, a professor at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University, said Canada should take a long-term view of what the executive order means for the economy — even if that means having some tough conversations about short-term pain.
Doelle, who specializes in environmental and energy law, said that means figuring out how to protect those sectors — goods and services, but also jobs — that might be disadvantaged by being so dependent on trade with the U.S.
It could also mean encouraging “trade-exposed” sectors to cut their short-term losses in service of a more significant long-term goal, he added.
“We need to have a good discussion about whether that short-term pain puts us at a competitive advantage over the long term, and if so, we need to make good choices about whether the short-term pain is worth it.”