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The La Romaine 3 dam at the Mista camp at the La Romaine 3 hydroelectric plant on Quebec's North Shore, Oct. 19, 2017.Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

As public support for the carbon tax rapidly wanes, amid inflation and stretched personal finances, the challenge of reducing Canada’s voluminous greenhouse gas emissions becomes much more difficult.

It once seemed, in the 2019 and 2021 elections, Canadians backed carbon pricing. But the policy was in its infancy, and the cost was nominal. Now the pinch of a rising carbon tax stings.

New polling shows the shift. Three out of five Canadians want the tax lowered or scrapped. Voters from left to right want more home heating exemptions. Opponents of carbon pricing in British Columbia, home of the country’s first economy-wide carbon tax, outnumber supporters two-to-one.

It’s possible sentiment shifts again but given the tax is going nowhere but up that may be unlikely. Yet a majority of Canadians still say they support working towards the country’s ambitious target to slash emissions by 40 per cent by 2030, a goal Canada is on track to miss.

What it means for climate policy is simple. After the federal Liberals’ carbon tax retreat on home heating oil, this space concluded: “The best climate measures are the ones that are effective – and durable.”

At the top of the list is clean power. Canada generates the bulk of its electricity from hydro and nuclear but to reach net zero emissions by 2050 across the economy a lot of new power needs to be built, alongside replacing fossil fuel facilities in provinces such as Alberta and Nova Scotia.

The problem was and is a lack of ambition. A year ago, The Globe reported that regulators and power companies are overly cautious.

This month, Hydro-Québec staked new ground. It sets an example for the rest of Canada to follow. The province of course starts from a position of advantage, with its bounty of hydro power. It doesn’t have to get off fossil fuels in its power mix. But as Hydro-Québec noted when it announced its plans, half the energy used in the province comes from burning fossil fuels to drive, heat homes and the like.

Over the next dozen years to 2035, Hydro-Québec could spend about $100-billion to expand its power grid. This includes a tripling of wind power, more hydro, some solar and battery storage, improved efficiency, and – crucially – 5,000 kilometres of new transmission lines. Hydro-Québec said clean power is a “defining factor for global competitiveness.”

Quebec is effectively the first province to truly grapple with the work and investments necessary to build a largely decarbonized economy. This is what Canada needs to happen across the country, in the spirit of the clean electricity regulations proposed by the federal Liberals, to eliminate most emissions from power generation by 2035.

The draft regulations are promising but details can be honed, with more flexibility. That would help recognize the rules do hit provinces such as Alberta and Nova Scotia harder than elsewhere. But the provinces also have to step up. In Alberta, instead of celebrating its booming renewable power sector, the provincial government took direct aim at the free market by halting development and conjuring new restrictions to make solar and wind more expensive.

What’s also essential is better co-operation among provinces. Canada has long exported more power south than east and west. The latest episode of parochialism is Nova Scotia’s rejection in October of the proposed regional Atlantic Loop transmission system.

This is too typical. Why are the Ontario and Quebec grids not closely linked? Why aren’t the grids of B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba tied together? In both cases it would connect hydro resources across jurisdictions, helping cut out fossil fuels and underpin power from solar and wind.

The longstanding concept has bipartisan support. The federal Liberals this year offered $26-billion in tax credits for clean power, including interprovincial transmission. Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre, as he tries to lead an axe-the-carbon-tax parade, supports clean electricity and this week said Canada needs to figure out how to move more hydro power across provincial boundaries. “We as a country could do a lot better,” he said.

Canada’s resources are a fount of our collective wealth but for decades the potential of those resources has been partly squandered because of internecine squabbling. Clean power is the climate policy all Canadians can rally around. Ottawa and the provinces must make it happen.

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