OTTAWA—Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer railed against all forms of carbon tax on Friday, even as the federal government green-lit a pricing scheme for heavy emitters that was drawn up by his ideological cousins in Alberta.
In what was perhaps a sign of conciliation on climate change in the federal-provincial arena, Liberal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson announced Ottawa will only impose part of its carbon price in Alberta next year, accepting the province’s own $30-per-tonne pricing system for heavy industries as sufficient for the time being.
The decision was applauded by Alberta’s United Conservative government and the leading association of oil producers in the country.
At the same time, Wilkinson welcomed an agreement between Ontario, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick — provinces led by Conservative governments that have contested Ottawa’s climate policies — to develop small modular nuclear reactors “in an effort to mitigate the effects of climate change.”
“Anything that is a non-emitting technology, and that includes nuclear energy, I think is something that needs to be on the table,” said Jonathan Wilkinson, who was given the environment portfolio in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s new cabinet last month.
“It’s positive that three of the provinces that are going to need to show ambition on their current greenhouse gas emissions are looking at options to how they can move further and faster,” he said.
Meanwhile, in the House of Commons, Scheer responded to Thursday’s speech from the throne with familiar denunciations of the Liberal government’s climate policies. He vowed his party “will always oppose a carbon tax” that has only “punished” Canadians who need to gas up their vehicles and purchase the consumer goods they need.
He went on to claim a “network of foreign-funded activists” is trying to shut down Canada’s oil-and-gas sector and urged all members to join his call for “some true moral clarity.”
“Every single one of us should be expected to stand and be counted,” Scheer said. “Do you stand with the activists? Or do you stand with the workers?”
The comment provoked a reaction from NDP MP Charlie Angus, who accused Scheer of propagating a “conspiracy theory” — to which Scheer quipped that the New Democrats are now the fourth party in the Commons, having been reduced to 24 seats in the election this fall.
The rhetoric was the latest echo of a polarized political battle that has raged over the threat of climate change and what Canada should do about it. Earlier this year, the Liberal government imposed a minimum carbon price across the country, a central component of its climate action plan to reduce emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.
The government has now promised to exceed that target and achieve “net zero” emissions by 2050.
But the carbon price has been a hot-rod for political opposition, with right-leaning provincial governments and the federal Conservatives railing against the policy for months as a “job-killing” tax that would increase the cost of living and fail to slash emissions.
In Alberta, Premier Jason Kenney cancelled the province’s own carbon pricing system and replaced it with one that only affects heavy industries like oilsands operations and natural gas facilities.
On Friday, Ottawa agreed this pricing system meets federal standards and can replace the component of the federal carbon price that also applies to heavy emitters.
But Ottawa will still impose the other component of the carbon price, the “fuel charge” that currently increases the cost of gas by four cents a litre — but also includes a tax rebate that the Parliamentary Budget Officer calculates outweighs added costs for the majority of households.
Wilkinson pointed out Friday that Alberta’s carbon tax on heavy emitters will meet the federal minimum of $30 per tonne of emissions next year — and that it will have to rise in 2021 and 2022 to continue meeting Ottawa’s standard.
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Kenney said Friday he hasn’t decided whether to do that, warning it could push companies to shift production — and therefore emissions — to countries without carbon taxes. But he left the door open to following the minimum standard, stating “one thing we don’t want is the federal government big-footing into Alberta and enforcing their own separate regulatory regime.”
Canada has already warmed twice as much as the world average since the mid-19th century due to climate change, according to a federal government report. Current policies also aren’t enough to meet Canada’s 2030 emissions reduction target, according to the government’s own projections.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a collective of scientists from around the world, has warned time is running out to prevent the worst consequences of climate change. Without “unprecedented” action, the world will fail to meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement and risk mass extinctions, rising sea levels, and more frequent and severe droughts, wildfires and storms because of runaway climate change, the panel warned in a report last year.