WASHINGTON – A campaign promise by Hillary Clinton rippled across the border into Canada’s federal election on Wednesday, with parties responding to her call for a broad, North American climate-change plan.
She released a policy paper that proposed climate negotiations among Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, one day after she announced her opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline.
The position paper from the presidential contender added a new wrinkle to a pipeline issue that has already inserted itself in two national elections — the current Canadian one and the 2016 U.S. presidential race.
Clinton wants to follow her opposition to Keystone with a broader program that includes immediately launching talks toward a North American Climate Compact.
It would be a more aggressive plan than an existing one among the three countries, a continental working group created this year that proposes infrastructure upgrades but does not enforce emissions reductions.
“Building a clean, secure, and affordable North American energy future is bigger than Keystone XL or any other single project. That’s what I will focus on as president,” said the Clinton paper.
“As president, I will immediately launch negotiations with Canada and Mexico to forge a North American Climate Compact that sets strong national targets to cut carbon pollution, so all three countries demonstrate a commitment to climate action; (and) provides accountability measures, so each country has confidence that the others are living up to their end of the bargain.”
Canada’s main political parties all reacted from the campaign trail.
The opposition enthusiastically supported Clinton’s call, while the governing Conservatives took a different tack, noting that there’s already a precedent for what Clinton is proposing and refusing to comment further on a U.S. campaign promise:
— In a statement, Justin Trudeau’s campaign team noted the similarities between Clinton’s proposal and a speech he delivered three months ago on Canada-U.S. relations, where he called for a new, continental, clean-energy agreement: “The Liberal party is firmly in favour of Ms. Clinton’s proposal,” said spokesman Dan Lauzon.
— The NDP issued a similar commitment: “As prime minister, Tom Mulcair would welcome the opportunity to sit down with the presidents of the United States and Mexico to discuss how our countries can collectively reduce our impact on the climate,” said senior adviser Karl Belanger.
— The Conservatives said there’s already an agreement in place: “(We) established a new North American partnership on energy and climate change earlier this year. Canada’s focus is achieving new tangible results through this new North American collaboration. We will not engage in presidential primary debates,” said a statement from the Conservative campaign.
But one environmental group said what Clinton proposes is different. Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada said this could be the first time countries are held accountable for breaking their commitments on emissions.
“Right now we have a bunch of things down on paper but there’s no penalty for not actually meeting the targets we’ve set. Talk is cheap,” Stewart said.
He predicted that the U.S. election promise might shake up Canada’s debate: “I think this is going to put climate back into the Canadian election in a new way — as a foreign-policy issue,” Stewart said.
“We now have proposals coming from the U.S., from someone who stands a good chance of being the next president, saying, ‘We want to work with Canada. And we expect Canada to pull up its socks’.”
Clinton’s paper came one day after she stunned allies of the Keystone project by announcing opposition to a pipeline she’d once said she was inclined to support. She called Canadian oil the continent’s dirtiest fuel — a claim that infuriated oilsands backers, who pointed to higher-polluting California oil and American coal.
Her announcement instantly became a 2016 U.S. election issue, as Republicans pounced.
In Canada, the Conservatives and the Liberals support Keystone, although the latter blame the Harper government’s inaction on climate for making Canadian oil a target in the U.S. The NDP opposes Keystone, on the grounds that it would ship refining jobs to the U.S.
The political division over the Canada-Texas pipeline is becoming increasingly clear in the U.S., with Republicans supporting it and Democrats lining up against.