Canada: the year past and the battle over carbon pricing in the year ahead

The Energy Mix Yearbook Review for 2018 is undoubtedly the most thorough and informed review of 2018 climate issues for Canadians.  It compiles its newsletter coverage of 2018 stories and adds context and analysis, as well as a multitude of links to further reading.  The sections of exceptional interest include “Jobs and Just Transition: Renewables and Efficiency Jobs Surge while Fossil Employment Sags “; “Fossils go for Broke”  and “Canada’s Contradiction: Low-Carbon Leader or Perpetual Petro-State?”  .  Other, briefer overviews for Canada include “State of Play 2018”  from EcoJustice, highlighting legal issues;  “ 10 wins for Canadian energy and climate action in 2018: Year in review” with a positive slant from the Pembina Institute (Dec. 20) ; and from the Council of Canadians 2018 in Review: Offshore drilling (December 21),  a chronology from Atlantic Canada.

On December 20, easily overlooked because of the holiday season,  Environment and Climate Change Canada published five separate review reports.  Clean Canada:  Protecting the Environment and Growing our Economy   is a snapshot of Canada’s federal climate action policies and expenditures, and seems intended for a wide popular audience.  Second Annual Synthesis Report regarding the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Action   (French version here )  is a more detailed accounting of the policies and programs by the federal and provincial governments in 2018, organized in chapters relating to carbon pricing, complementary measures (buildings, transportation, electricity, agriculture, etc.); adaptation and resilience; clean technology and innovation and jobs; reporting and oversight; federal engagement and partnership with Indigenous people .  2018 Canada’s Greenhouse Gas and Air Pollutant Emissions Projections Report  (French version here ) provides, again,  a policy overview but its main purpose is to continue the series of annual reports (since 2011) of detailed emissions data for economic sector and  geographic region. It also includes emissions projections to 2030 under two different scenarios – (spoiler alert: oil and gas will be Canada’s leading source of emissions, followed by transportation and heavy industry).

Other substantial reports published on December 20 will form the basis for consultations in 2019.  The new draft for the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy 2019 to 2022 will inform a public consultation until April 2, 2019. (The companion 2018 Progress Report on the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy  evaluates the 2016 to 2019 strategy goals and the activities of  41 federal departments and agencies.)

The final Clean Fuel Standard Regulatory Design Paper focuses on the liquid fuels regulations, with comments requested by February 1, 2019. The draft regulation is scheduled to be published in 2019 and a final regulation by 2020, bringing to an end a complex consultation process that began in 2016 (summarized by WCR  in January 2018).  The Clean Fuel Standard will apply to the full life cycle of all fuels, gasoline and diesel, aviation fuel, natural gas for heating, and metallurgical coal, and has been called the single most important policy tool to achieve Canada’s emissions reductions target for 2030.

And finally, a regulatory proposal relating to the most publicized issue for 2019: carbon pricing.  Next Steps in Implementing the Federal Pollution Pricing System for Large Industry (the “Output Based Pricing System”)  was released on December 20, and carries  a deadline for public comments of February 15, 2019. The Output Based Pricing System registration system went live on November 1, 2018, with reporting and verification requirements starting on January 1, 2019.

The coming battles over Carbon tax in 2019:   As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in late October 2018,  the federal government has not backed down on its determination to impose a carbon pricing policy across all Canadian jurisdictions in 2019, despite resistance and constitutional challenges led by the premiers of Saskatchewan and Ontario.  In some provinces – British Columbia , Alberta , Quebec  – established carbon pricing systems continue; in Nova Scotia , Prince Edward Island , Newfoundland and Labrador –  newly approved systems which meet the government’s benchmarks under the Pan-Canadian Framework will begin.   In the other provinces who have opposed the federal plan – Manitoba , Saskatchewan , New Brunswick and Ontario  –  the federal backstop fuel charge will be imposed starting in April 2019, sweetened by a “Climate Action Incentive”,  whereby all carbon revenue collected by the federal government will go directly back to people in the provinces from which it was generated.  The Annex of the Second Annual Synthesis Report of the Pan-Canadian Framework  provides up to date summaries for the situation in each province.

Public opinion supports the government’s carbon tax actions, though barely, according to polling made public by Global News on January 3 . Based on a November 9 internal poll conducted for the Liberal party, 46 per cent supported and 44 per cent opposed the plan  in Saskatchewan and Manitoba ; in Ontario, 43 per cent were in support and 32 per cent opposed. Nationally, support was at 47 per cent and opposition was at 29 per cent, with women more supportive than men.

Recently, one article appeared in the labour press, supporting carbon pricing:  “Pricing carbon first step to tackling climate change” in CUPE’s Economy at Work newsletter (Jan. 2).  The mainstream press has been far more active, with general support for a carbon tax: for example,  an editorial in  the Globe and Mail newspaper is titled: “ Do you want a carbon tax, or do you want to be lied to? “(Dec. 26) . The editorial is critical of the Ontario government’s Ontario Carbon Trust proposal, about which it states:  “One emerging conservative alternative to carbon pricing is working with business to spur the development of green technology. What that usually means is taxpayers giving subsidies to business.… “Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives ….say they will dish out $400-million on a “Carbon Trust” that will collaborate with industry on emissions cuts. They can rail against carbon pricing all they want; spending taxpayer money has the same effect on pocketbooks as asking consumers to pay more.”

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce was also widely cited as supporting a carbon tax, to the extent that they issued a press release on December 17 2018, clarifying their position:  “While some of the [media] coverage notes the Chamber’s support for carbon pricing, it neglects to include that the support is contingent upon significant caveats. The report calls for government to take concrete steps to reduce the overall regulatory burden on businesses in Canada, and to return the revenues from the carbon tax to business to help them lower their carbon emissions and their energy costs.”  The report referred to, outlining the full arguments, is   A Competitive Transition: How smarter climate policy can help Canada lead the way to a low carbon economy, which was published in December 2018.

Take it to the Courts!  Saskatchewan filed its challenge to the constitutionality of the federal price on carbon pollution in April 2018; the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal announced that it will hear the case in February 13 and 14, 2019, and released the lengthly list of intervenors which it has allowed to appear.  Intervenors include the provinces  of Ontario and New Brunswick on the side of Saskatchewan, and the province of British Columbia on the side of the federal government; other intervenors include the Canadian Public Health AssociationEcoJustice, representing the David Suzuki Foundation and the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation; and the Council of Canadians , as part of a  group of seven other civil society groups, including the National Farmers Union and  Climate Justice Saskatoon.

A separate case  was filed by the Government of Ontario and will be heard by the Ontario Court of Appeal in April 2019.  The full list of intervenors, as well as the court filings by the Ontario government, appear at the Court of Appeal website here . British Columbia and New Brunswick have also applied for intervenor status in this case.

How will the courts decide?   “Courts should not have to decide climate change policy” appeared on December 21  in Policy Options,  with a discussion of the carbon pricing cases as well as the recent litigation by Quebec’s ENvironnement JEUnesse . Co-authors Nathalie Chalifour and Jason Maclean  argue that “only a collaborative  approach to policy-making is capable of delivering the kinds of rapid, forward-looking and systemic changes in how industries and societies function that are necessary to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change. Litigation, by contrast, is necessarily reactive and typically divisive, time-consuming and influenced by the incremental development of legal precedent.”  Regarding the provincial carbon tax challenges, they state that “the federal Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act is an example par excellence of cooperative federalism.”…. “There’s little doubt that the courts will confirm the federal government’s jurisdictional authority to regulate GHG emissions. They may even decide that the Constitution obliges the government to take more serious climate action.”

A complex road is ahead, as indicated by a C.D. Howe Institute Memo published in October 2018:   “Federal carbon-pricing backstop is new constitutional territory”.

 

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