Con­sti­tu­tion gives feds right to im­pose car­bon price on prov­inces: McKenna

Kingston Whig-Standard - - NATIONAL - MIA RABSON

Ottawa is com­pletely within its rights to im­pose a car­bon tax on any prov­ince be­cause pro­tect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment falls un­der fed­eral ju­ris­dic­tion, En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Cather­ine McKenna said Thurs­day.

“Let me be very clear,” McKenna said in the foyer out­side the House of Com­mons. “It is well within the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s right to take ac­tion to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment.”

McKenna’s com­ments seemed to be aimed di­rectly at Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, the only premier hold­ing out against any form of car­bon pric­ing, which he says will hurt his prov­ince’s re­cov­er­ing econ­omy.

Wall re­it­er­ated Thurs­day his plan to take Ottawa to court to keep it from im­pos­ing a car­bon tax next year.

“This fed­eral gov­ern­ment white pa­per is frankly more like a ran­som note,” he said in Regina.

McKenna re­leased a dis­cus­sion pa­per Thurs­day on the de­tails of a fed­eral car­bon price plan which will be im­posed on any prov­ince that doesn’t have at least a $10 a tonne price on car­bon as early as next spring. The ex­act date will de­pend on when the leg­is­la­tion, ex­pected this fall, passes.

The fed­eral plan mim­ics the Al­berta car­bon pro­gram, with a di­rect tax on heat­ing and trans­porta­tion fu­els and a sep­a­rate levy on large emit­ters who don’t cut their emis­sions by a tar­geted amount.

Prov­inces that have their own sys­tem can choose how the rev­enues are spent. B.C. re­turns them to peo­ple through in­come tax cuts. Al­berta di­vides its take be­tween di­rect re­bates to in­di­vid­u­als, small busi­ness tax cuts and in­vest­ments in green en­ergy and clean tech­nol­ogy.

Ottawa will de­cide how the rev­enues col­lected by the fed­eral tax are re­bated, al­though McKenna stressed “ev­ery penny” will go back to the prov­ince where it came from. She is look­ing at re­bates to in­di­vid­u­als and busi­nesses which would by­pass pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments com­pletely.

Wall ac­knowl­edged his gov­ern­ment has thought about whether rev­enues from a car­bon tax could be used to cut other taxes in Saskatchewan, such as the pro­vin­cial sales tax which his gov­ern­ment just hiked by one point this year. But he said the Saskatchewan econ­omy can’t af­ford a car­bon tax and he won’t agree to do it, even if that means Ottawa could con­trol the rev­enues.

“We’d rather not have a car­bon tax, so we’ll take our chances in court,” said Wall.

Al­berta, Bri­tish Columbia, Ontario and Que­bec al­ready have plans which McKenna’s of­fice deems suf­fi­cient to meet Ottawa’s re­quire­ments up to 2020. At that point, they all have to raise their car­bon tax or cut the caps on emis­sions in cap-and-trade pro­grams, to keep up.

All other prov­inces but Saskatchewan have in­di­cated they are pre­par­ing to in­tro­duce a car­bon price, al­though some have in­di­cated it may be bet­ter to let Ottawa bear any po­lit­i­cal fall-out from a tax.

The tech­ni­cal pa­per says ev­ery $10 levy per tonne of emis­sions will add 2.33 cents to a litre of gas and 1.96 cents to each cu­bic me­tre of nat­u­ral gas. By 2022, that would mean a 50-litre tank of gas would cost about $5.82 more. The nat­u­ral gas heat­ing bill for the av­er­age sin­gle, de­tached home would rise by about $264 a year.

The goal of a car­bon levy is to per­suade peo­ple to save money by re­duc­ing the use of fos­sil fu­els. That could mean us­ing pub­lic tran­sit in­stead of driv­ing, buy­ing a more fuel-ef­fi­cient car or im­prov­ing home ef­fi­ciency with new win­dows or a bet­ter fur­nace.

Ian Bruce, di­rec­tor of science and pol­icy at the David Suzuki Foun­da­tion, said there are mul­ti­ple stud­ies which showed af­ter Bri­tish Columbia in­tro­duced a car­bon tax in 2008, peo­ple’s fuel con­sump­tion fell.

B.C.’s emis­sions did fall in the first few years af­ter the car­bon tax was in­tro­duced, how­ever they have crept back up in re­cent years, a fact many ex­perts blame on the fact the car­bon tax hasn’t risen since 2012.

Wall how­ever pointed to B.C.’s ris­ing emis­sions as proof car­bon taxes don’t work to cut emis­sions. He said Saskatchewan isn’t against do­ing its part to help fight cli­mate change, but thinks plans such as elim­i­nat­ing coal-fired elec­tric­ity plants and in­vest­ing in clean tech­nol­ogy are the an­swer, not new taxes.

FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Cather­ine McKenna con­cludes a me­dia avail­abil­ity as she makes her way to the House of Com­mons on Par­lia­ment Hill in Ottawa.

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