Premier Kathleen Wynne is pledging to unveil a carbon-pricing plan this spring as Ontario looks to ramp up its fight against global warming.
In 2008, the province agreed in a deal with Quebec, British Columbia and California to create a mechanism that would charge companies and consumers for burning carbon. While those other three jurisdictions have all moved forward, Ontario has repeatedly put off taking action.
Ms. Wynne said it is high time her province made good on the agreement.
"We need to now make that real in whatever form it takes," she said at Queen's Park on Wednesday. "The mechanisms are going to be released in the spring. We are going to move very quickly."
The Premier would not tip her hand on which carbon-pricing method the province will adopt, whether cap-and-trade or a carbon tax. But she vowed that whatever system Ontario picks, it will not hurt the economy.
"It will be real. It will reflect the needs of both the people and the businesses in this province," she said. "It will focus on the balance between economic growth and the need to address our very real climate change problem."
Quebec and California run a joint cap-and-trade system, in which the governments set limits on the amount of carbon every company is allowed to burn, obliging companies that want to burn more to buy permits from companies that have burned less than their share.
British Columbia, meanwhile, uses a carbon tax, levying $30 for every tonne of carbon burned, which works out to seven cents for every litre of gasoline. B.C.'s carbon tax has helped slash fuel use by 16 per cent and drive greenhouse gas emissions down more than 5 per cent. The province cut income taxes at the same time it brought in the carbon levy, ensuring the overall tax burden remained the same.
Ontario has managed to cut emissions 6 per cent below 1990 levels so far, mostly by shutting down all of the province's coal-fired power plants. But it must do more if it hopes to reach its goal of a 15-per-cent reduction by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050.
Provincial Environment Minister Glen Murray is working on a strategy to meet those targets. That plan will include carbon pricing as well as other measures, such as cleaner fuel standards and energy conservation.
The move comes as Ontario seeks to re-establish a leadership role on climate change.
Ms. Wynne is hoping to get all provinces to agree to more climate change measures this year as part of the Canadian Energy Strategy, while Mr. Murray is hosting an environmental summit of subnational governments this summer.
The province's environmental watchdog, Gord Miller, said Mr. Murray's push for subnational co-operation on climate change received a warm reception during the United Nations climate summit in Lima, Peru, last month.
"He got a very positive reaction in Lima," Mr. Miller said in an interview. "Ontario, Quebec and California really sold the subnational collaboration of the willing, rather than the confrontation at the national level that was going on at the same meeting."
Ms. Wynne said she also raised the issue with Prime Minister Stephen Harper in their meeting last month. So far, the federal government has been unwilling to adopt carbon pricing. Regardless of Ottawa's actions, the province is determined to move ahead.
"We have climate change … we are facing a global situation and it's only responsible that Ontario do its part," Ms. Wynne said. "I don't think we can just throw up our hands and say 'Well, we're only 13.5 million people, and we don't have to do our part.' That's not responsible. We need to be leaders."