Canada Evokes Reagan in Bid to Make U.S. Green Again Under Trump

  • Environment minister hopes to win president over on renewables
  • Trudeau sticks to climate agenda despite new White House tone

Ronald Reagan

Source: Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Donald Trump is no environmental icon, but Catherine McKenna thinks she can win him over.

Canada’s environment minister is holding out hope the new U.S. administration won’t derail global efforts to cut emissions -- even amid jarring differences in approach.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has beefed up regulatory review of pipeline approvals and is pressing ahead with a national carbon price despite warnings of creating, or exacerbating, competitive disadvantages. Trump, meanwhile, rolled back steps Barack Obama had taken and fast-tracked the Keystone XL and Dakota Access projects on Tuesday.

McKenna shrugs off the divergence. In an interview, she pointed to U.S. progress on tackling acid rain a generation ago under Ronald Reagan as a case study for how Trump might be wooed on climate.

“It’s very early days, so it’s hard to know where this administration is going,” she said. “It’s much more about the markets. I guess I just believe in the market. And when the market moves and sees opportunities, it’s going to be smarter to invest in renewables than it may be in other sectors.”

Competitive Concerns

McKenna spoke during a cabinet retreat in the oil hub of Calgary, where Trudeau’s ministers gathered with Trump at the top of their agenda. The cabinet hosted Stephen Schwarzman, chief executive officer at Blackstone Group LP and head of the president’s strategic and policy forum, and was reassured by his pledges that Canada is a special case for the U.S. and isn’t the main target of new protectionist measures.

But Canada’s ties with the U.S. go beyond trade. Derek Burney, a former ambassador and aide to former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, has warned that Trudeau’s government may have to abandon some of its initiatives in light of Trump to avoid creating a crippling imbalance of regulations, taxes and environmental measures that drive investment south of the border.

“There may be policies that we’ve put in place or that we’re contemplating that will have to be recalibrated in order to meet that objective,” Burney, who has been advising Trudeau on dealing with the new president, said in a interview this month.

Canada and the U.S. signed the acid rain pact in 1991, nearly a decade after Mulroney -- who is also advising Trudeau -- first raised it with the Reagan administration.

“That’s an important example,” McKenna said. Mulroney “thought initially there was not much traction with Ronald Reagan but he was able to make the case, that it made sense and they could do it together and it was the right thing to do.”

Renewable Push

Canada will appeal to Trump that renewable energy is an opportunity to add U.S. jobs, as countries such as China move to sharply cut emissions. “Everyone’s moving forward,” she said.

Canada has introduced a minimum national carbon price that will take effect in 2018, though the most populous provinces have already implemented their own programs. McKenna puts faith in that piecemeal approach, noting California has introduced a cap-and-trade program regardless of who is in the White House.

Trudeau -- a pro-trade, pro-immigration avowed feminist -- has revamped his team and messaging to deal with Trump and has avoided direct critiques of the president. Instead, he’s sought to cultivate common ground by likening his campaign message around supporting the middle class to Trump’s mandate. McKenna echoed that.

“We’re looking for the same thing,” she said. “we’re looking for jobs, we’re looking for growth, and so that’s the case that we’re going to be making.”

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