B.C. Premier Christy Clark is positioning her province as a climate leader, notably in the area of pricing carbon, ahead of a meeting between premiers and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau next week to develop a national plan to tackle climate change.
Ms. Clark noted British Columbia is now pricing carbon at $30 a tonne through a carbon tax that was enacted in 2008 – twice the $15 figure the federal Liberal government has said it wants to see as a national standard.
"If the federal government is talking about a $15 base, the rest of the country would still only be halfway to where British Columbia is," Ms. Clark said Monday during an unrelated news conference in Vancouver. "In British Columbia, it's not the worst thing in the world if other provinces decide they want to catch up with us."
Alberta is also developing a $30-a-tonne levy. Ontario, working with Quebec and California, is developing a cap-and-trade system that would impose a carbon cost on industry. The Atlantic provinces are also considering their options.
Ms. Clark's comments come before the March 3 meeting of premiers and the Prime Minister, to be held in Vancouver.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, who will be seeking re-election this spring, is opposed to federal proposals for provinces and the territories to agree to the $15 price.
"Let's be clear that it would be a tax and that's the very last thing the economy needs right now," Mr. Wall told The Globe and Mail last week. "I've already made it clear … that if we are re-elected, our government will not be pursuing any tax increases or new taxes, and neither would we support any new national taxes."
Asked about Mr. Wall's comments, Ms. Clark was somewhat sympathetic.
"Part of what Brad was pointing out is I think – and I agree with this part of it – is there are a lot of different ways of fighting climate change," she said, suggesting such options as transit development and effective energy transmission outside of taxes. "We need to think more broadly than just taxes. There's no question about it."
British Columbia's carbon tax hasn't increased since 2012. The province plans to review the tax in 2018.
Ms. Clark said the most important outcome of the meeting would be for the parties to better understand one another's positions, and set targets for reaching those goals.
The Harper government, she said, "set a floor for where they wanted to get to. Until today, we still don't have a national picture of where we're at versus where the federal government hopes to get to. So I think the very first thing that the ministers need to do is get a look at where we are and identify how big the gap is between where we are today in terms of emissions and where we want to get to in the future, and then start filling in that picture of how we're going to get there."
A spokesperson for federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna said Monday that the B.C. Premier was correct on the gap between where Canada is and where it needs to be. The federal government, Caitlin Workman said in a statement, sees climate pricing as an "effective tool" for reducing emissions and stimulating green infrastructure and low-carbon innovation, but won't proceed with any decisions without consulting the provinces and the territories.
Also, carbon pricing is just one of several measures to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions that will be discussed at the first ministers' meeting, the statement said. Still, it noted that provincial actions alone mean that 80 per cent of Canadians will soon live in jurisdictions with a price on carbon – including B.C.'s carbon tax and measures in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta.