Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall says he wants nothing to do with Ottawa's plan for a national minimum price on greenhouse gas emissions as he raises the political heat ahead of the First Ministers climate summit scheduled for Vancouver in two weeks.
In an interview Thursday, Mr. Wall – who faces a re-election campaign this spring – flatly rejected the federal government's plan to reach agreement with provinces and territories on a Canada-wide floor price for carbon, which would be at least $15 a tonne.
"Let's be clear that it would be a tax, and that's the very last thing the economy needs right now," Mr. Wall said. "I've already made it clear … that if we're re-elected, our government will not be pursuing any tax increases or new taxes, and neither would we support any new national taxes."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will meet with the premiers in Vancouver on March 3 for talks on a national climate strategy, but they are not expecting to reach a deal at that time. Instead, Ottawa and the provinces are looking to set up working groups to chart the path forward in key areas, including a pan-Canadian minimum carbon price that would apply broadly across the economy, but would also allow provinces to use their own mechanisms and collect the revenue. They are aiming to have a deal in six months.
Federal sources say the proposal for a carbon floor price is purposely vague – with no specific price or approach identified – so as not to presume an outcome to the negotiations. But finding common ground will prove enormously challenging, given the various approaches already being pursued by provincial governments.
Mr. Wall was outspoken in his skepticism about carbon pricing when premiers met with Mr. Trudeau prior to the Paris climate summit in December. And with an election looming, he is doubling down on his opposition.
"We think technological investment should be a higher priority than fiscal instruments or new taxes that would hurt economic growth and potentially cost jobs here in Saskatchewan and across the country," he said. His province has invested more than $1-billion in a carbon-capture project at the Boundary Dam coal-fired power station near Estevan, which Mr. Wall says will provide a technology solution to an energy-hungry world.
Forgoing a broad-based carbon tax would leave Saskatchewan with a competitive advantage, as neighbouring Alberta moves to impose a $30-a-tonne levy, he added. "I don't want a level playing field for our province. I want this to be the most competitive place that it possibly can be … and that does not include a new carbon tax, especially now, given the state of the economy."
Ontario Environment Minister Glen Murray cheered the federal government's plan to set a minimum national carbon price, saying it would create fairness between jurisdictions that are putting a price on carbon and those that aren't.
"What do you do with something that comes out of Saskatchewan, that has no carbon price on it, versus something that comes out of Alberta? To remove interprovincial trade barriers and to have fair treatment within the Canadian federation … that [floor price] makes sense," Mr. Murray said in an interview at Queen's Park Thursday.
Ontario is set to introduce a cap-and-trade system – working in concert with Quebec and California – that will impose carbon cost on fuel distributors and many industries; Alberta announced its carbon tax will complement an emissions cap on the oil sands.
Mr. Murray said he talks to federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna every week and that Ottawa has been "very open with the process."
The Atlantic provinces – which accounted for 6 per cent of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions in 2013 – would also face the choice of either living with a federal carbon tax or adopting one of their own. Environment ministers from the four provinces agreed to work together on climate policy, including the potential for a regional carbon-pricing plan.
The recently elected Liberal government in Newfoundland and Labrador is "considering options" for carbon levies, Environment Minister Perry Trimper said in an interview. "We're willing to step up to the plate in a way we have not been" under the previous Progressive Conservative government, he said.
B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak said Ottawa has not yet laid out a proposal but predicted it will not be easy to win over agreement with all the provinces. She said there was discussion at the recent meeting between the federal, provincial and territorial ministers on climate about how to approach carbon pricing, but each province is at a different stage on the issue.
"We all have to acknowledge," Ms. Polak said, "a pan-Canadian approach is a tall order. We've got really big differences between provinces – it's a huge challenge."
She sidestepped what might happen if just one province opts out. "We haven't seen what proposal they might bring," she said, adding: "We know that every province is going to be contributing to Canada's agreement in Paris in different ways."
With reports from Adrian Morrow and Justine Hunter