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N.B. premier hopeful final sign off on carbon plan coming early in the new year

The premier of New Brunswick said Monday he hopes to hear back early in the new year about whether the federal government will sign-off on his province’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from large industrial emitters.

N.B. premier Blaine Higgs

N.B. premier Blaine Higgs

Blaine Higgs met with the prime minister Monday morning, the latest – and likely last – of the provincial and territorial leaders to meet face-to-face with Justin Trudeau this year in the wake of the October election.

He described the meeting as a cordial get together reflective of a changed tone in federal-provincial relations, a change that’s the result of concerted efforts by provinces, territories and Trudeau to renew a national bond strained by the election results.

One tangible example of those efforts, said Higgs, was the federal government’s decision last week to approve New Brunswick’s consumer carbon pricing plan.

“Getting that behind us . . . is important so that we can move on to other issues,” Higgs said.

Federal approval means as of April, New Brunswick consumers will stop paying the federal carbon tax and instead pay an equivalent provincial version.

Still, the Liberals have yet to do the same for the province’s proposal on regulating heavy emitters.

Higgs said he came away from his meeting with Trudeau with a sense it will go before the federal cabinet as early as the next meeting.

“I would say that early in the new year we should hear something back,” he said.

Higgs had been among the conservative premiers challenging the federal carbon tax in court, but changed course after nearly two-thirds of voters in his province chose a party in favour of the tax in the federal election.

But he said he still supports the idea of a court challenge on the grounds that a decision on whether the federal government has the jurisdiction to impose a new provincial tax could help guide the issue more broadly in the future.

Lawyers for the Alberta government began their arguments on the subject before the Alberta Court of Appeal on Monday.

The case begins in the wake of the Liberals approving that province’s heavy emitters plan earlier this month, just ahead of Trudeau’s meeting with Premier Jason Kenney.

Higgs said he did push Trudeau on why Alberta’s heavy emitters proposal was approved but New Brunswick’s wasn’t.

“We know the plan is similar to what was previously accepted from another province, so we think it’s good to go,” he said.

Higgs said he and other premiers have appreciated what he called Trudeau’s “stellar” efforts at provincial outreach after the election.

“I think the whole demeanour has changed, about our country pulling together,” Higgs said.

Among the topics also discussed Monday was the fate of a private abortion clinic in Fredericton that’s on the brink of closure.

Higgs’ government argues that it does not need to fund private abortion services as the procedure is covered when it is performed in hospital. Supporters of the clinic have said those services are becoming more and more challenging to access, and therefore to not fund private clinics violates the Canada Health Act.

Trudeau had promised during the campaign to ensure the law was upheld, and Higgs said the two discussed – but did not resolve – how it would be.

“We’ll ensure we meet what the prime minister is looking for in terms of accessibility for all patients, and that’s what our goal will be,” he said.

“Where that ends up, I’m not sure. The goal is to ensure we have the accessibility that’s required in our province.”

Higgs said he also received assurances from Trudeau that with the new U.S.-Canada-Mexico trade deal on the books, the Liberal government will resume effort to find a solution to the decades-old spat over softwood lumber with the U.S., which has had a major impact on the industry in New Brunswick.