Canadian cabinet shake-up sees Wilkinson named as environment minister

Published 21:48 on November 20, 2019  /  Last updated at 15:22 on March 3, 2022  / Matthew Lithgow /  Americas, Canada, Carbon Taxes, International, Paris Article 6

Canadian MP Jonathan Wilkinson was appointed minister of environment and climate change as the minority Liberal government’s cabinet reconvened on Wednesday, while current agency head Catherine McKenna transitioned to a different department.

Canadian MP Jonathan Wilkinson was appointed minister of environment and climate change as the minority Liberal government’s cabinet reconvened on Wednesday, while current agency head Catherine McKenna transitioned to a different department.

Wilkinson, a representative from North Vancouver, British Columbia, has served as the minister of fisheries, oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard since 2018.

Prior to that, he served as McKenna’s parliamentary secretary in Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) from 2015-18.

Before entering parliament, he worked for over 20 years at several green technology companies and management consultancies, according to his government profile.

McKenna was named as minister of infrastructure and communities – a new portfolio where she’ll continue to focus on some environmental issues including decarbonising public transit and improving energy efficiency.

She had overseen ECCC’s work on developing a suite of federal climate policies and carbon pricing measures under the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed her as environment minister in 2015.

“The past four years have been incredible,” McKenna tweeted Wednesday. “I’m honoured to have been Canada’s first-ever Minister of Environment and Climate Change — and I’m so proud of everything we’ve done together.”

McKenna’s tenure was marred with regular online abuse – often sexist in nature – as well as several instances of public harassment and vandalism to her office.

Some media reports this week said that Wilkinson’s appointment could be seen as an effort to placate relations with the conservative western provinces, with the new minister originally hailing from Saskatchewan and the Liberals having failed to win a single seat in that province or Alberta in the October election.

Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan have all sued Ottawa over the implementation of its backstop CO2 pricing regime, with Saskatchewan and Ontario appealing their provincial court losses on the case to the Supreme Court of Canada, which is slated to hear those cases in March 2020.

The Trudeau government already assented to a central demand of the fossil fuel-centred western provinces by approving the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project this year, though the conservative jurisdictions have called for further loosening of environmental impact assessments of major infrastructure projects under Bill C-69.


Wilkinson will enter his new role as the environment ministry continues to implement or develop various parts of the Pan-Canadian Framework.

In the near future, Ottawa is expected to rule on whether the Alberta United Conservative Party (UCP) government’s proposed Technology Innovation and Emission Reduction (TIER) regime is ‘equivalent’ with the the federal ‘backstop’ output-based pricing system for large emitters.

The federal government will impose its rising CO2 levy on fossil fuels on Alberta starting Jan. 1, after the UCP scrapped the previous NDP government’s C$30/tonne tax this spring.

Ontario and New Brunswick have also said they anticipate the federal government will accept their provincially-administered OBPS alternatives, despite critics having panned those jurisdictions for having missed Ottawa’s Sep. 2018 deadline to submit carbon pricing approaches and for designing environmentally lenient programmes.

For the backstop OBPS, the government has delayed the publication of eligible provincial offset protocols that may supply the large emitter programme, and is concurrently developing a federal offset system for use under the scheme.

The slow roll-out of those protocols may result in a dearth of eligible credits for 2019 compliance use by the Dec. 15, 2020 true-up deadline, analysts have said.

Outside of carbon pricing, ECCC is expected to publish draft regulations in early 2020 for the liquid fuel stream of the national Clean Fuel Standard (CFS), having pushed back those documents from a scheduled release this summer.

The CFS is slated to come into force for liquid fuels in 2022 and gaseous and solid fuels in 2023.

On the international front, Canada is one of a handful of rich countries that is considering using credits generated under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement to meet its NDC for the 2015 pact.

Next month’s COP25 negotiations in Madrid will see negotiators and ministers attempt to hammer out the final rules for Article 6.

McKenna co-chaired the cooperative approaches and mechanisms informal consultation stream at COP21 in Paris only shortly after taking over the Canadian environment ministry, and was considered instrumental by many for securing the inclusion of market-based approaches within the agreement.

She has since been a champion for Article 6 and market-based decarbonisation mechanisms in general.

Prior to the election, the Liberal Party said it would legislate five-year GHG reduction targets en route to net zero emissions by mid-century, as well as creating a Just Transition Act to give energy workers and communities access to training, support, and new opportunities to transition to a low-carbon economy.

Rising emissions from Alberta’s oil and gas sector are continuing to take the country well off its Paris Agreement NDC target of cutting emissions to 30% below 2005 levels by 2030, a goal set by the former federal Conservative government.

Canadian MPs return to Parliament on Dec. 5.

By Matt Lithgow –