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Nova Scotia Premier McNeil opposed to federal carbon price plan

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil addresses a crowd on Thursday, July 28, 2016. McNeil says he doesn’t want the Liberal government to impose a federal carbon price.

Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil is firing back against the federal Liberal government's plan to impose a national carbon price on provinces that fail to adopt their own broad pricing systems.

Talks between Ottawa and the provinces and territories are heating up with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau aiming to convene a first ministers' conference in early November to conclude a deal on a pan-Canadian climate strategy.

The Liberal government has said provinces must adopt either a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade approach that meet a federally established minimum price, and that Ottawa will impose a price in provinces where the premiers balk.

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Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is scheduled to meet with her provincial and territorial counterparts next week to seek common ground.

In an interview, Mr. McNeil said his province is among the leaders in the effort to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, but he opposes any effort by Ottawa to impose its approach on Nova Scotia.

"We're saying to them that we absolutely agree, like every province in Canada, that we need to deal with the issue of GHGs, but let us find our own way to meet your target," the Premier said in an interview during a visit to Ottawa last week.

"We're still working with them to find a positive outcome," he said.

Asked about Nova Scotia's opposition, a spokeswoman for Ms. Mckenna said Ottawa is working with the province "to implement the commitments made in the Vancouver Declaration in March, agreed to by all premiers, which included putting a price on carbon."

Mr. McNeil joins Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall in publicly rejecting a federally imposed carbon price. Mr. Wall has threatened to launch a legal challenge if Ottawa imposes a carbon tax in his province.

British Columbia levies a tax of $30 per tonne of carbon dioxide, while Alberta is introducing a hybrid system including a $30 tax and a cap on oil-sands emissions. Ontario is joining Quebec in a cap-and-trade program.

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The other Atlantic provinces and Manitoba all say they are working to implement provincial carbon-pricing plans, though none have yet provided full details.

"Any price on carbon brought forward by our government would be revenue neutral, and all monies raised would be reinvested in the green economy and efforts to combat climate change," New Brunswick Environment Minister Serge Rousselle said in an e-mailed statement.

Like in some other provincial governments, Mr. Rousselle uses the phrase "revenue neutral" to suggest the revenue would stay in the province and used for GHG reducing programs. British Columbia insists any increase in its carbon tax would be "revenue neutral," meaning it would be offset by a decrease in other taxes.

The Nova Scotia Premier sees the potential for compromise, suggesting his government could reach an equivalency agreement, in which the province would commit to GHG reductions equal to what would be achieved with the federal carbon price.

"We believe what we have been doing must be recognized in any agreement going forward. And equivalency is important to us," he said. "It's hard for them to deny the results."

Nova Scotia has cut GHG emissions by 30 per cent from 2005 levels – which is Canada's national target for 2030 – and it expects reductions of roughly 45 per cent below that base year within 15 years.

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However, the province has primarily targeted emissions in its electricity system, and Mr. McNeil opposes additional taxes on gasoline and other fuels that would result from a broader carbon price.

He said Nova Scotians already face high pump prices, and rural residents in particular find it difficult to cut back on their driving.

Regular unleaded averaged $1.06 a litre last week, according to the website GasBuddy.com. Newfoundland – which drove up provincial fuel taxes in its past budget – had the highest price at $1.30.7, with British Columbia next at $1.16.3.

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