Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is determined to use his window of political opportunity to forge a national climate strategy that includes minimum carbon price, though another premier, Manitoba Greg Selinger, has voiced opposition to a broad-based levy on greenhouse gas emissions.
With the wind at his back from Paris and a fresh mandate from Canadians, Mr. Trudeau meets provincial and territorial leaders in Vancouver this week to pursue a national climate strategy. Ottawa is looking to win agreement for a tight timeline and adopt a “framework” for a deal that would include a minimum carbon price, measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the resource sector, and financing for green infrastructure and clean-technology innovation, a senior federal official said Friday.
Mr. Trudeau has political allies in key provinces such as Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and the Atlantic provinces. But provincial elections could dramatically alter the landscape over the course of his first mandate and he needs to forge an agreement while he has those supportive premiers around the table.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and Yukon’s Darrell Pasloski oppose Mr. Trudeau’s plan for a minimum price on carbon. In an interview, Mr. Selinger signalled his unwillingness to adopt a carbon levy that would hit consumers. Any proposal for a minimum carbon price should be subject to an “economic assessment” to determine its impact on jobs and the economy, Mr. Wall said Sunday on CTV’s Question Period.
Federal sources say Ottawa is not – at this time – proposing a specific level or mechanism for the floor price, but acknowledge it would be more than $15 a tonne and rise every year, with provinces able to use their own approach and keep the revenue.
The Manitoba Premier announced in December that his province would join Ontario and Quebec in a cap-and-trade plan, but unlike the larger provinces, he would impose emissions reductions only on large polluters, not on fuel distributors, which would drive up the cost of gasoline and natural gas for home heating. Mr. Selinger has an uphill battle for re-election in a vote to be held April 9. Mr. Wall also faces a spring election, and said on the weekend he would not sign any deal that includes a national carbon tax.
Mr. Selinger said every jurisdiction will have its own approach to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. “The key is that there is actually a commitment to reducing emissions in their jurisdictions – not at the expense of the jurisdictions around them but in such a way that it’s better for their communities and their economies and doesn’t harm anybody else’s,” he said.
Mr. Trudeau has significant political capital to deploy to win support for his strategy, including a willingness to use deficit-financing to provide provinces with billions of dollars aimed at building green infrastructure and supporting the clean-tech sector, said David McLaughlin, former president of the now-defunct National Roundtable on the Economy and Environment and now a fellow at the University of Waterloo.
“This is [the] Liberals’ only magic moment on climate. Act now or repent later,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “The public is conditioned for action if not entirely on board as to what that means.” Federal spending is the “lubricant,” he added but warned: “If the economy worsens, the appetite for early application of a national carbon price will wane.”
The federal Liberal government is eager to change the previous Conservative government’s characterization of “economy versus environment” to one that emphasizes the job-creating potential of transforming to a clean-energy economy.
“We’re looking for what kinds of investments generate an economic return while reducing emissions,” said a senior federal official, who spoke on the condition he not be named.
In the absence of more federal action under the previous Conservative government, the premiers have claimed leadership on climate and see little role for Ottawa other than setting a carbon price floor and funding measures the provinces are planning to undertake. But federal sources note that existing plans are not ambitious enough to meet Canadian commitments, and all levels of government will have to do more.
With a tough sell on the minimum carbon price, Mr. Trudeau is determined to broaden the discussion in Vancouver to areas of common interest, including support of the oil and gas industry – and the resource sector more broadly, to develop the technology needed to reduce emissions. Contrary to views of many environmental activists, the Liberal government insists Canada can build pipelines to deliver oil-sands crude to global markets, even while meeting its international commitments on GHG reduction.Report Typo/Error
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