Apparent provincial climate unity gives Trudeau tailwind en route to Paris

OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau jets off for his second international foray in as many weeks this evening but this time he’s got a little wind at his back.

A meeting of Canada’s first ministers Monday in Ottawa — the first in almost seven years — ended with 11 provinces and territories humming from the same environmental hymn book as Trudeau’s newly elected Liberals.

“It is clear that the way forward for Canada will be in a solution that resembles Canada; that is shared values and shared desires for outcomes and different approaches to achieve those outcomes right across this great country,” Trudeau said at a late evening news conference on the eve of his departure for London, Malta and Paris.

Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski, the chairman of the provincial Council of the Federation, said Canada will have a “co-ordinated” voice when it speaks at the UN-sponsored COP21 climate conference in the French capital — “and certainly a different voice going out to the world, starting at COP21.”

Only the leaders of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Northwest Territories missed the meeting, due to election campaigns.

The federal-provincial show of unity on climate change, helped immeasurably by Alberta’s new climate plan announced on the weekend, provides Trudeau with much-needed momentum to go with his earnest environmental rhetoric.

The prime minister has been pushed into a whirlwind tour of international summitry after barely a month on the job, the result of a series of international leaders’ meetings that have taken him from the G20 in Turkey to an APEC summit in the Philippines and, this week, on to a Commonwealth meeting in Malta and the Paris climate talks, with a side trip to Buckingham Palace to meet Queen Elizabeth, for good measure.

Trudeau’s first international foray got off to a grim start as the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris rocked the world while his military Airbus jet was still on the tarmac in Ottawa preparing for departure. The attacks immediately raised questions about Liberal policy planks on Syrian refugee acceptance and withdrawing Canadian fighter jets from bombing the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Syria and Iraq.

Those questions continue to tail Trudeau, but his immediate focus is on rebranding Canada as a helpful partner in the global push to combat climate change.

Trudeau said in his meetings at the G20 and APEC last week he was encouraged to use Canada’s clout within the Commonwealth to encourage some of its members to join the climate fight.

“We’ll be able to push some of the countries that have been less enthusiastic about an ambitious resolution coming to Paris and actually be an active player and proponent on that stage,” said the prime minister.

His first stop is Buckingham Palace, where Trudeau has been granted an audience with the Queen on Wednesday. Canadian prime ministers tend to meet the monarch at their first opportunity, but Trudeau will get the chance twice in the same week.

The Queen, who turns 90 in April, leaves Thursday for the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Malta, which could be the last such Commonwealth CHOGM (as they are known) she attends. The elderly monarch is now restricting her international travel, and with the next two biennial CHOGMs scheduled to be held outside Europe, royal watchers in the United Kingdom are discussing Malta as a swan song of sorts.

Canada under prime minister Stephen Harper skipped the last Commonwealth leaders’ meeting in 2013 in Colombo, Sri Lanka, over concerns about that country’s human rights record. The Conservative government also cut off millions in Canadian funding for the grouping of 54 countries formerly under British rule, waiting out Sri Lanka’s two-year chairmanship.

Trudeau said he’ll be continuing to raise the issues of human rights and good governance among the fractious, 66-year-old Commonwealth organization.

From Malta, Trudeau will arrive in Paris for the opening day of the two-week COP21 climate conference, where more than 160 countries hope to hammer out an international framework for addressing climate change in the post-2020 period.

Canada gained a reputation as a climate laggard during the decade of Conservative rule. Trudeau’s been getting a warm international welcome simply for repeatedly stating that his government is prepared to play a constructive role and do its part.

“In previous years at the COP conferences, Canada has spoken with different voices that sometimes were contradictory,” Trudeau said Monday night.

“Some provinces said one thing, the federal government said another. The NGOs said something else altogether. Canada wasn’t presenting a cohesive front.”

The hard decisions on a detailed Canadian plan to actually start reversing emissions trends must wait for another first ministers’ conference, to be scheduled within 90 days. In the meantime, Trudeau will ride Canada’s unity tailwind to Paris.

— Follow @BCheadle on Twitter