Canada's new environment minister says no 'secret agenda' on oil

Ottawa (AFP) – Canada's new activist-turned-environment minister on Wednesday sought to reassure the nation's oil sector -- the fourth largest producer in the world -- that he has no "secret agenda," following pushback over his appointment.


Steven Guilbeault, a prominent former climate activist tapped by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for the role in a major post-election cabinet shuffle, spoke after a backlash by oil executives and the premier of oil-rich Alberta.

"Canadians ... want governments to do more in the fight against climate change," Guilbeault said.

But, he added, most of Ottawa's climate plans have already been announced, including a carbon tax set to rise to Can$170 per tonne by 2030, and the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies by 2023.

"I don't have a secret agenda as environment minister," he said.

Speaking to reporters in Ottawa, Guilbeault noted that the federal government "has power over pollution," but that resources development is a provincial purview.

As such, he said Ottawa will soon introduce legislation and regulations to "cap and diminish over time" the amount of pollution from the Alberta oil sands -- the top single source of carbon emissions in Canada.

"But we're not trying to cap (oil and gas) production," he insisted.

During the election that returned Trudeau's Liberals to power in September, climate change was a top issue, as Canada's carbon emissions have continued rising despite government intervention.

Guilbeault's appointment on Tuesday came days before a key global climate conference in Glasgow. As an activist he has attended 18 previous United Nations climate change conferences.

One oil industry executive, Brian Schmidt of Tamarack Valley Energy, told AFP: "There's a lot of concerns about the positions he's taken in the past," including opposition to new pipelines.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney also said Tuesday that the former Greenpeace activist's appointment sent a "very problematic" signal to the oil patch.

He exhorted Guilbeault to "quickly demonstrate to Alberta and other resource-producing provinces a desire to work together constructively on practical solutions that don't end up killing hundreds of thousands of jobs."