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Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe speaks during a press conference in Regina, on March 20. Moe has been invited to is appear a House of Commons committee at the invitation of a Conservative MP to discuss Ottawa's April 1 carbon price increase.Heywood Yu/The Canadian Press

The Conservative chair of a House of Commons committee has rolled out the welcome mat to premiers opposed to next week’s carbon price increase in an unusual move that caught some MPs by surprise, prompting complaints about breaches of procedure.

In quick succession on Monday and Tuesday, premiers Scott Moe of Saskatchewan, Danielle Smith of Alberta, Blaine Higgs of New Brunswick and Tim Houston of Nova Scotia sent letters to the chair of the Commons finance committee asking to appear before the April 1 carbon price increase.

While the finance committee is not meeting this week because the House is on break, the government operations committee had a meeting scheduled Wednesday. The latter committee’s Conservative chair and Alberta MP, Kelly McCauley, changed the witness list to allow Mr. Moe to testify, and also scheduled another meeting Thursday to hear from Ms. Smith and Mr. Higgs.

Mr. McCauley made the invitations without consulting Liberal, NDP and Bloc Québécois committee members, who angrily objected. Ontario Liberal MP Irek Kusmierczyk called it “a shame and a farce,” and the Liberal, NDP and Bloc committee members passed a motion preventing the chair from being able to make more unilateral witness invitations or meeting dates in the future.

The committee ultimately heard from Mr. Moe on Wednesday, but whether the other premiers testify Thursday remains unclear.

The federal carbon price is set to go up by $15 on April 1, from $65 to $80 per tonne. The levy is applied in all provinces except British Columbia and Quebec, which have their own provincial carbon pricing systems. Amid affordability pressures, many Canadian premiers have joined the federal Conservative Party’s demands that Ottawa shelve the increase next month.

“I wore my red tie in the spirit of collaboration,” Mr. Moe told the committee Wednesday in his opening statement, as he called for the cancelling or pausing of several federal policies that make up a significant portion of Canada’s emissions reduction plan.

Mr. Moe called for a pause to next month’s carbon price increase, a stop to the development of clean electricity standards and new methane regulations, and the end of the clean fuel standard.

He said the policies make “life more unaffordable, for not only Saskatchewan residents, but all Canadians.”

New Brunswick Liberal MP Jenica Atwin pushed back on his comments, repeatedly underscoring the role of the rebate, which is returned to households that pay the federal carbon price. Ontario Liberal MP Francis Drouin challenged the Premier to provide an alternative policy to replace the policies he wants axed.

Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux’s analysis shows that, when just taking into account the direct carbon tax costs and the rebate that is returned to households, where the federal carbon price is in place, about 80 per cent of households end up better off. However, he told the government operations committee on Wednesday that once indirect economic costs are also taken into account, most households see a “small negative impact” of the carbon price.

Last week, the Canadian Climate Institute, a federally funded but independently run think tank, released a report that showed the consumer carbon price is expected to account for between 8 and 14 per cent of the country’s emissions reductions between 2025 and 2030.

After Mr. Moe’s testimony, Ontario Liberal MP Charles Sousa tried to pass a motion that would have stopped Thursday’s committee meeting and the appearances from Ms. Smith and Mr. Higgs. The Conservatives were the only ones to oppose the motion, with Ontario MP Philip Lawrence arguing that, with less than a week before the April carbon price hike, it was “now or never” for the premiers to testify on the matter.

Mr. McCauley adjourned the meeting without calling a vote on the motion, and as of Wednesday afternoon, the two premiers were still scheduled to testify Thursday.

In her letter asking to speak to a House committee, Ms. Smith said that, given affordability concerns, the government should scrap the increase on April 1 for the “sake of Albertans and all Canadians.” Liberals, though, have been quick to point out that her government is reinstating its gas tax, raising it an additional four cents on April 1 – the same day the federal levy increases by 3.3 cents.

Asked about the opposition from provinces at a press conference on Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused conservative premiers of misleading Canadians and “not telling the truth.”

He said “any province that wants to put forward a similarly robust way to fight climate change, but do it in a way that works for them is more than welcome to.”

With a report from The Canadian Press

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