Conservative MPs returned to Parliament on Monday with an attack on the Liberal government's plan for a national carbon price, saying it runs roughshod over the provinces and would hurt the Canadian economy.
As the Commons resumed sitting after the summer recess, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna defended the government's approach, saying she has consulted widely with provincial colleagues and noting that Canada's four most populous provinces have already introduced carbon pricing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"We understand the environment and the economy go together," Ms. McKenna said during Question Period Monday. "We understand and know that carbon pricing is the most efficient way to reduce emissions and foster innovation."
However, Conservative MPs insisted the Liberal plan would add to pain on the Prairies, where the economy is suffering from a two-year slump in crude prices.
The Environment Minister confirmed on the weekend that Ottawa will impose a minimum carbon price in provinces that don't have one or fail to meet the federal minimum standard, though she offered no details on how the policy would be enacted.
Alberta and Saskatchewan rely heavily on oil exports, and on coal to fuel their electricity systems. Alberta's NDP government has introduced a climate plan that includes carbon pricing, while Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall opposes any effort to impose a broad carbon tax.
Nova Scotia also opposes the Liberals' plan for a national minimum carbon price.
In Ottawa on Monday, Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose said her party favours "regulation on industry rather than taxes on Canadians" when it comes to climate policy. However, the former Conservative government never acted on its long-standing promise to impose regulations on large industrial emitters, including the oil sands sector, which has been the country's fastest growing source of GHG emissions.
Conservative House Leader Candice Bergen said a federal carbon price would particularly hurt rural and northern Canadians who have farther distances to travel. B.C. MP Mark Strahl said any plan to increase British Columbia's existing carbon tax would drive away investment, particularly proposals to invest in export facilities for liquefied natural gas.
Alberta MP Jason Kenney noted his province is suffering a severe economic downturn and argued that "the worst possible thing [would be] to hike prices and impose new taxes on everything."
Mr. Kenney is preparing to resign his federal seat next month to run for the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party on a mandate to unite conservative opposition parties. Campaigning in the province this summer, he regularly attacked the NDP government's carbon tax plan, which kicks in on Jan. 1, 2017.
In responding to Mr. Kenney on Monday, Ms. McKenna said carbon pricing is a market-based system that is considered the most efficient way to reduce GHG emissions.
While B.C. and Alberta have introduced carbon taxes, Ontario and Quebec are pursuing a cap-and-trade approach that uses a carbon market to, in effect, set a price on greenhouse gas emissions.
As Conservatives attacked the Liberals' plan for a national floor price on carbon emissions, NDP interim leader Tom Mulcair criticized the government's reluctance to set a more ambitious target than the one adopted by the former Harper government, which pledged Canada would reduce GHG emissions by 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.
"Does the minister think that is change, serving up the Conservative plan with a smile?" Mr. Mulcair demanded.
Ms. McKenna said emissions had been rising under the previous Conservative regime, making it challenging to meet the 2030 target. "What Canadians expect is real action and we are going to deliver real action, with the provinces and territories, with indigenous leaders, with business, with youth, with all Canadians."