It feels like the only consensus in Canada these days is that the country is divided. East vs. West. Rural vs. urban. Liberal vs. Conservative. Those who champion the oil industry but want to destroy the environment vs. those who want to save the planet by destroying the oil industry. Our politics are powered by a clash of polar opposites that share nothing and disagree on everything.
Or so those on either side like to tell us.
Of these divisions, none looks as fundamental and extreme as the disagreement over the carbon tax. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberal government stand on one side of the chasm; Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is on the other. The distance is so great that they might as well be on different planets.
But what if the story, the steady propagation of which serves the interests of various politicians, isn’t quite right? What if, along with disagreements, there is also far more common ground than either side wants to let on?
Conservatives such as Mr. Kenney, along with Ontario Premier Doug Ford and federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, have spent the past few years building a brand out of rigid opposition to carbon pricing. Bill 1 of Mr. Kenney’s United Conservative government took aim at what he always decries as “the job-killing carbon tax.” The previous NDP administration’s consumer carbon tax was loudly and proudly killed by the new government’s keystone law.
But Mr. Kenney’s government also quietly introduced its own carbon tax. It applies to big polluters, notably Alberta’s largest source of emissions: electricity generation and the oil patch. And Alberta’s scheme for using carbon pricing to reduce emissions from heavy industry looks a lot like Ottawa’s scheme to reduce emissions from heavy industry through carbon pricing. Alberta’s plan is likely to achieve almost as much greenhouse gas reduction as Ottawa’s, and both use similar carbon pricing tools.
A new analysis from the Pembina Institute, a clean-energy think tank in Alberta, makes this clear. The report assessed and ranked the industrial carbon-pricing plans of the feds and various provinces.
The winner, by the Pembina Institute’s reckoning, is British Columbia, whose system receives a score of 12 on a scale of 12. Alberta’s previous system for industry emissions, brought in under the NDP and that Mr. Kenney is replacing, scored nine of 12. Ottawa’s industrial carbon tax scores eight. Mr. Kenney’s carbon tax? It scores seven. The systems for regulating industrial emissions in Ontario and New Brunswick rank far behind.
Pembina is not alone among green thinkers in its relatively positive assessment of Mr. Kenney’s handiwork. The Ecofiscal Commission, a Montreal environmental economics group, says Mr. Kenney’s industrial carbon tax is a step backward from his NDP predecessor’s but still concludes it’s “a solid foundation for Alberta to build on.”
When it comes to a carbon tax on consumers – on gasoline, for example – the federal Liberals and Canada’s right-leaning parties and governments really are at loggerheads. That’s why, come the new year in Alberta, Ottawa’s consumer carbon tax will kick in, filling the gap left by Mr. Kenney.
But when it comes to lowering industrial emissions, Ottawa and Alberta are talking the same language. Their disagreements are over fine print, not fundamental principles.
For example, Mr. Kenney’s industrial carbon tax is $30 a tonne, the same as Mr. Trudeau’s. Alberta is actually taxing its large emitters, and at the same rate as Ottawa would. However, the federal rate will climb to $50 by 2022. Alberta says it is open to considering increases, though Mr. Kenney’s plan does not as yet commit to that.
It turns out that Alberta and Ottawa have common ground, and in fact rather a lot of it. Both sides need to be adult enough to acknowledge that.
Mr. Kenney’s UCP should embrace the fact that a big part of its emissions-reduction plan is built of the same material as the hated Liberal plan – a carbon tax. The Trudeau government, for its part, should be able to declare that Alberta’s industrial carbon tax either meets the federal standard, or comes close.
Can Alberta’s United Conservatives and the federal Liberal government admit that, while they remain deeply at odds on consumer carbon taxes, when it comes to taxing big polluters, they’re on the same page?