WASHINGTON — Premier Kathleen Wynne used her trip to Washington to push for international action on climate change — and to boast of her own.
In a Tuesday speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Canada Institute, Wynne touted the Liberals’ “strong” decision to shut down Ontario’s coal power plants. She proceeded to take a lightly veiled shot at critics of her cap-and-trade plan to cut carbon emissions.
“Climate change deniers, or those who acknowledge that it’s a reality but dismiss the threat, these people make their case exclusively in economic terms. They fixate on the cost,” Wynne told a lunch crowd of several dozen. “Now I’m fixated on cost, too, but I’m looking at all the costs. I am looking at the opportunity cost of falling behind.”
One such cost, Wynne said, is extreme weather events like the Toronto ice storm of 2013.
“We know that if we don’t act, everything will be very different,” she said.
Paraphrasing a quote apocryphally attributed to former president Theodore Roosevelt, she said doing the wrong thing in such a critical moment would be better than doing nothing.
Wynne, introduced by former U.S. ambassador David Jacobson as “Ontario’s happy warrior,” did not name her domestic opponents. But her remarks targeted arguments put up by Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives, who say cap-and-trade would “drive up the cost of everything.”
Wynne announced in April that Ontario will launch a cap-and-trade system linked to an existing carbon market operated by Quebec and California. She offered few details at home or on her U.S visit, which began last week in New York City.
“We’re just in the design phase now,” she said Tuesday in an interview. “By the time of next year’s budget, we will have that design in place.”
In general, cap-and-trade is a system in which the government sets an overall cap on carbon emissions, then gives companies permits for specific amounts. If a company needs to exceed its limit, it has to buy extra permits from companies that have room to spare under their own limits.
Wynne spoke Tuesday morning at the Organization of American States. The assembled diplomats appeared to be paying little attention as she promoted Toronto’s Pan Am Games, hailed Ontario’s economic recovery, and called for an “ambitious international agreement” at the Paris climate summit in December.
Wynne delivered the addresses in between breakfast with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and discussions with senior U.S. officials. She made a trip to the White House, her first, for a meeting with Valerie Jarrett, a top adviser to President Barack Obama.
She said she wanted to talk to Jarrett about her “social justice” policies, including her plan to combat sexual violence and her 75-cent minimum wage hike last year, to $11. Obama has called for a heftier hike in the wage floor, from $7.25 (U.S.) to $10.10.
As for the fate of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to the southern U.S., Wynne said it is not the “place” of an Ontario premier to weigh in on the issue, though it is a major concern of environmentalists in both countries.
The premier also met with the U.S. customs and border commissioner. Shortly before, she expressed no qualms about the bilateral agreement that could allow armed American border guards to be stationed at Union Station and other Canadian transportation hubs.
“On those issues, on those security issues, I have to take the advice of the experts, and we have to follow the lead of the federal government on those things,” she said in the interview.
The SEIU is one of the unions sharply critical of the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal being negotiated by Canada, the U.S., and other countries on the Pacific. Wynne sounded more favourable.
“As with all of the free trade negotiations, we are interested in new and bigger markets for Ontario. We’re interested in that kind of exchange. We were supportive of the (Canada-Europe trade agreement) with some caveats, and in terms of the TPP, we will have some of the same concerns,” she said.