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Environment Minister McKenna says U.S. trade 'number 1' focus of government

U.S trade 'number 1' focus: Environment minister

CALGARY — The federal environment minister says Canada's image has been burnished internationally by federal and provincial plans to combat climate change.

Catherine McKenna told a Calgary Chamber of Commerce luncheon Thursday that within weeks of Alberta announcing a sweeping plan to tackle carbon emissions in late 2015, she heard people at international gatherings switch from derisively calling the oilsands "tarsands" to much more positive language.

"I think our reputation has been rehabilitated because we have been serious," she told a Calgary business audience. 

"Once you're serious about things and you're smart about it, I think people respond."

She said China is excited about opportunities to partner with Canada and she heard from European officials that Canada's climate action helped get a recent trade deal across the finish line. 

Last fall, the federal Liberals established a Canada-wide $10 "floor price" on carbon starting next year, which will increase to $50 by 2022. Meanwhile, Alberta's NDP government implemented a $20-per-tonne tax this year, which will rise to $30 next year.

McKenna's speech focused on growing opportunities for Canadian firms in the clean technology sector.

"We're clearly punching above our weight, although our market share isn't big enough," she said.

She said there's been significant growth in wind and solar capacity and a dramatic reduction the cost of that technology.

"The shift is happening and it's real and I want Canada to be taking advantage of this," she said.

McKenna also sought to assure the business crowd that trade with the United States is a top priority for the Trudeau government.

"I know how important trade is to the Albertan economy, how important it is to the Canadian economy and we are on it."

There has been concern in Canada that U.S. policies under discussion by the new Trump administration — including possible changes in trade and taxes — could have major economic consequences for Canada.

Canada's Trump-related economic worries include a possible border adjustment tax, protectionist policies, a renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement and corporate and personal tax reductions that some fear could kneecap Canadian competitiveness.

"Our number 1 focus right now, and that includes me as environment minister, is on our trading relationship with the United States," said McKenna. "It is absolutely critical and we are working extraordinarily hard to remind the Americans of that."

McKenna plans to visit Washington next week to reinforce that message.

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press