Alberta Opposition Leader Jason Kenney took his carbon-tax concerns to Ottawa Monday, telling MPs his party will join Saskatchewan’s legal challenge of the federal climate plan.
The leader of the United Conservative Party of Alberta told the House of Commons finance committee that Ottawa’s climate plan represents an unconstitutional intrusion into provincial matters.
He also argued that the federal plan won’t work.
“Punishing people for simply living normal lives, driving to work, filling up their gas tank and heating their homes, running their small businesses and non-profits is not justifiable. It is not an effective environmental strategy,” he said.
Mr. Kenney said Canadians do not support carbon pricing and he intends to make it an issue in the next election in Alberta, where his party is leading in the polls.
“I’m very confident in the result,” he said.
The finance committee is studying the Liberal government’s latest budget legislation, Bill C-74, which includes a section that outlines a new national regime for pricing carbon emissions.
The omnibus budget bill has 556 numbered pages, of which 215 are devoted to the enactment of a new Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act.
The bill would set a national carbon price of $20 a tonne as of Jan. 1, 2019, and the price would climb to $50 in 2022. This price would only apply in provinces that refuse to adopt their own carbon pricing plan – such as a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade regime - that meets an equivalent federal standard.
Mr. Kenney appeared alongside several economists and environmentalists who all supported the federal government plan to set a national price on carbon emissions. Those witnesses included Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission, Climate Action Network Canada, Équiterre and Nature Canada.
University of Alberta associate professor Andrew Leach, an environmental economics expert who has advised the federal and Alberta governments on climate policy matters, also told MPs that the evidence shows carbon pricing is effective.
“Do carbon prices work? That’s probably a question you’re hearing a lot on this committee. And the answer is simply yes,” he said. “We have plenty of evidence from B.C.’s carbon tax – which has been in place since 2008 – that carbon prices do reduce emissions below where they would otherwise be.”
So far, Saskatchewan is the most stringently opposed province to the federal plan and has asked the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal to rule on its constitutionality. Changes in government in Alberta and Ontario could add to the federal Liberal government’s challenge of moving ahead with a national carbon plan.
In Ontario, which has adopted a cap-and-trade program, the Liberal government is trailing in the polls as it heads into a June election. The Ontario Progressive Conservative Party is the current front-runner and leader Doug Ford is highly critical of carbon pricing plans.
Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna spoke with reporters Monday and praised Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP government for enacting a price on carbon emissions.
“I’m very proud of the actions of the Notley government,” she said. “They understand that climate change is real and that we need to come together, that Canadians expect us to take action on climate change, and that’s exactly what they’ve done.”
Political debate on the budget bill has largely focused to date on how much the federal carbon plan would cost consumers. Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre has asked the federal Information Commissioner to investigate the fact that such estimates appear to exist in Finance Department briefing notes, but were blacked out in response to an Access to Information Request.
During a committee appearance last week, Finance Minister Bill Morneau said a clear answer on costs will have to wait until the fall when all provinces have said how they will respond to the federal legislation.