Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a surprise appearance at an annual mining conference in downtown Toronto on Monday to pitch the idea that having a national policy framework to reduce the country’s carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 is good for the economy.
It marked his second consecutive appearance at the annual Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada conference.
This year, however, Trudeau appeared one week after Teck Resources Ltd. cancelled its application for a permit to build a $20.6 billion mine in Alberta’s oilsands, with its chief executive Don Lindsay citing a lack of clear policy in Canada about carbon taxes and other climate change legislation. The prime minister’s appearance also came after weeks of protests temporarily stopped the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline in British Columbia and inspired dozens of other protests including rail blockades that paralyzed parts of the country’s economy.
Trudeau acknowledged that reconciling resource development and climate change is polarizing, and transitioning to a low-carbon economy will be difficult for some industries such as mining. But he insisted “protecting the environment” is the best way to attract investment in Canada and called on all governments to work cooperatively on climate change policies.
“Of course we can only create a better stronger economy for everyone if we are fighting climate change at the same time,” said Trudeau. “We know that, Canadians know that — we just haven’t reached that point of consensus … about the best way to do it.”
Still, he compared the situation to the debate around “free trade” in the late 1980s and 1990s, saying polarizing topics can divide the country but eventually a consensus emerges.
“There’s still pockets of this country … arguing about whether or not to protect the environment,” he said, “but as we saw from the free trade debate that can flip fairly quickly.”
He cited a January letter by Larry Fink, chief executive of BlackRock, which manages a $9.3 trillion investment fund, that describes a shift in finance. That fund is divesting coal assets, and calls on corporations to devise more sustainable policies.
There’s a big transformation ahead, to be sure
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Trudeau also pointed to plans by Rio Tinto and Alcoa, announced in 2018, to build a research facility in Quebec that would produce the world’s first carbon-emissions-free aluminum, as an example of how Canada is a leader in clean natural resource development.
“That’s the type of investment we want to attract,” he said.
Before he took the stage, Ian MacKay, chief executive of the federal government agency Invest in Canada, said that recent statistics show that foreign direct investment actually increased in 2019 by 19 per cent to $66.8 billion.
Trudeau cited the figure but also said it would be difficult for industries, such as mining, as the country seeks to transition to a low-carbon economy in the future. He cited federal incentives for companies that use clean vehicles as one way his government was trying to ease the transition.
He also said his government could not cut emissions to net zero by itself, and needs cooperation from provincial governments and buy-in from companies and communities.
“For a country like Canada, where the national economy was built on the natural resources sector, there’s a big transformation ahead, to be sure,” he said, adding, “We just need to transform our approach to meet the challenging future.”