Skip to main content

Alberta’s provincial election campaign is the latest in which an opposition leader is campaigning against a carbon tax and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s climate-change policies. But there isn’t much talk about the political leader who expects Alberta to bear much more of the burden for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions: Doug Ford.

The Ontario Premier stood side-by-side with Alberta United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney on a Calgary stage last October to rally against carbon taxes.

But when it comes to the question of who should bear the burden for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, Mr. Ford’s policy is not Alberta-friendly.

The Ford government’s position is that Canada should meets its emissions-reductions targets, but that Ontario is doing more than its fair share. By that logic, other provinces, notably Alberta and Saskatchewan, will have to do more. A lot more: the equivalent of shutting down the oil sands.

To be clear, Mr. Ford has never called for the oil sands to be shut down. But he has issued an environmental policy that effectively calls for a major shift in burden-sharing for emissions reductions.

You would think it would be a concern for his ally, Mr. Kenney, and for other Alberta political leaders. It’s certainly a conundrum for federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer as he prepares his own promised climate-change plans. Because there is no way to accommodate Ontario’s view, an oil industry and serious emissions cuts.

While Mr. Ford’s Ontario government is against carbon taxes, it has embraced the emissions-reductions target that Canada submitted under the Paris accord – 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Environment Minister, Rod Phillips, issued an environment plan in March that said just that. But it also said the province has paid too high a price for doing the “heavy lifting” on emissions cuts. So instead of the deeper emissions cuts planned by the previous Liberal government, Ontario will meet the same target as the whole country – a 30-per-cent cut.

That’s a major shift in approach. It has been generally assumed that some provinces, notably Ontario and Quebec, would have to cut more to make up for the lack of emissions reductions in resource-heavy Alberta and Saskatchewan. That seemed to be happening, too: A 2018 Environment Canada report on emissions projected that by 2030, Alberta’s emissions would increase by 44 megatonnes over 2005 levels, but Ontario’s would decrease by 45 megatonnes.

Mr. Ford has scrapped that notion.

At a closed-door first ministers’ meeting in December, Mr. Ford attacked Mr. Trudeau for setting a climate-change policy that assumes Ontario must do more than other provinces. Mr. Trudeau shot back that Mr. Ford’s position would mean shutting down the oil sands. As it happens, if Alberta were to make a 30-per-cent cut from 2005 levels, it really would be roughly the equivalent of shutting down the oil sands.

Of course, the Ontario Premier doesn’t regulate Alberta. Some of his critics think his government doesn’t really care if Canada reduces emissions, anyway. But his government’s policy is written in black and white: It endorses the 30-per-cent national target, and says Ontario’s fair share is a 30-per-cent cut, too.

The biggest province in Confederation has changed its policy on what is fair. Under the provincial Liberals, Ontario had accepted the notion that for some provinces, cuts could be less costly.

Mr. Trudeau’s policy implies that carbon taxes in all provinces were supposed to help make each province’s emissions-cutting effort somewhat comparable – on the basis of the cost of cuts per tonne of emissions.

Mr. Ford and Mr. Kenney both say they’ll fight those carbon taxes in court. Mr. Ford’s position seems to make it impossible for Ontario and Alberta to agree on emissions cuts.

Mr. Ford’s position also puts the federal Conservative Party Leader, Mr. Scheer, in a bit of a bind. He promises his own climate-change plan before the October general election. But no plan can seriously reduce emissions and accept Mr. Ford’s idea of fairness without savaging the oil patch.

Maybe Mr. Scheer won’t have serious targets, and will focus on opposing carbon taxes. So far, he won’t say. Certainly, that would be popular in the province he represents, Saskatchewan, with many in Alberta, and probably a big chunk of Ford Nation. But if Ontarians come to believe what Mr. Ford’s policy says – that emissions-reductions targets are necessary, but it is up to other provinces to do more – Canada will face a serious rift.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe