Canada Ratification Status

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Possibility of Ratification by 2018: High

Canada has not ratified the Paris Agreement as yet but newly elected Prime Minister (PM) Trudeau and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna attended the United Nations Earth Day ceremony in April, a gathering of 170 leaders in New York, to sign the agreement, recognized as a treaty in Canada. This pledges Canada to limit global temperatures from rising by no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Parliamentary procedure – The formal process of ratifying a treaty in Canada is an executive act. Before entering into deliberations, the initiating agency submits a policy mandate to begin negotiations, called a Memorandum to Cabinet (MC). This document shows that other government departments, provinces and territories, aboriginal groups or NGOs and industry stakeholders have been consulted before granting a negotiating mandate.

The Treaty Section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has overall responsibility for managing the tabling of treaties in the House of Commons to Cabinet and approves negotiation of all treaties as conforming to the foreign affairs policy of the Government. This Minister brings the agreement forward as a bill in both official languages, accompanied by an Explanatory Memorandum (EM), during routine proceedings in the House of Commons, for at least twenty-one sitting days. Provinces and territories views are recorded in the EM which should explain why the treaty is in Canada’s national interest, the obligations, likely economic, social, cultural, environmental and legal effects and impacts; the costs of compliance; determination of whether the obligations relate in whole or in part to matters under provincial constitutional jurisdiction; description of where authority falls, termination and so forth.

The Government must consider any concerns raised by Opposition Parties during the tabling process. Once the twenty-one day waiting period passes, the Government decides whether to proceed to bind Canada to the treaty or to introduce further necessary legislation requiring adoption before bringing the treaty into force. The MFA then brings the final agreement into force. Signature requires that Cabinet provide policy approval of the treaty, as well as legal authority through an Order in Council from the MFA to Cabinet to authorize the treaty signing.

The PM vows to bring a strategy forward to vote on this fall in order to ratify the agreement in the House of Commons before year end – 2016. He will meet with provincial premiers during the year to develop a long-term, strategy to meet or surmount the target of greenhouse gas emissions reduction by 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030 as a component of the agreement. This only equates to 2% below 1990 levels by 2030, 1990 being more representative of a baseline for global data set earlier at the Kyoto Protocol treaty which came into force in 2005.

Last January, Mr. Trudeau held his first Cabinet meeting from which environment ministers and McKenna directed staff officials over the following six months to create a common framework of key elements that all can agree upon which in turn will eventually sustain momentum of the COP21 agreement’s entry into effect in 2020. This includes a list of unresolved issues in Canada such as trade and capital outflows as a result of climate policies and common carbon pricing given a variety of models existing in British Columbia (BC), Alberta, Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba.

The PM hosted his First Ministers’ Meeting with Premiers on March 3, 2016. The new government has attracted some criticism for using national carbon-reduction targets from Paris set by the previous government last spring. Even now, Canada is nowhere near its intended target as emissions keep rising. Over the last 10 years, inaction by the previous government advanced provinces and municipalities to develop climate plans of their own. The federal government recognizes the need for a low-carbon, climate resilient economy and collaboration with provinces and territories in moving forward. BC’s Climate Action Plan; Alberta’s new climate change action plan; Quebec’s Climate Action Plan; Ontario’s Long Term Energy Plan and new Climate Action Plan; Manitoba’s Climate and Green Economy Action Plan; Saskatchewan’s renewable targets; the Yukon’s Climate Action Plan; and how decisions made at COP21 will all shape broader energy policies across Canada to stabilize climate change. Most of the authority for climate change, rests with provinces.

A challenge expected is during the twenty-one day waiting period of the bill, as MPs and/or the opposition review the bill in detail, if they wish, they may trigger a debate or a vote on a motion in the House of Commons. Canada’s Green Party leader feels the Liberals should lead the discussion to shape Canada’s strategy and craft the motion wording to call for debate rather than being passive in letting the Opposition have that option. Worst case scenario would be a motion worded by the Opposition such that the Liberals were unable to vote for it but ratification still took place.

The Opposition Party does not oppose the targets but say reaching the targets could drop one to three per cent off the national economy by 2030 which they do not agree with. Obligations in the treaty relate in whole or in part to matters under provincial constitutional jurisdiction; thus they must be on board. The Liberals favour a price on carbon, but push back from some, means more discussion. A review of federal, provincial and territories policies in developing a comprehensive federal strategy will take time but ratification is still proposed in 2016.

Submitted by Climate Scorecard Country Manager Diane Szoller

Learn more:

Canada’s Policy on Tabling of Treaties in Parliament.

Canada’s Priorities for COP21, 2016.

Cheadle, Bruce, The Canadian Press, February 10, 2016.

McCarthy, Shawn, April 26, 2016.

McDiarmid, Margo, May 6, 2016.

Staff, The Canadian Press, April 22, 2016.


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