Favourable reaction by Canadians to an updated Climate Plan -including a carbon tax rising to $170 per tonne by 2030

On December 11, the federal government released its highly-anticipated new climate plan, A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy, announcing 64 policy measures costing $15 billion. The Plan addresses energy, energy efficiency, infrastructure,  transportation emissions, the Clean Fuel Standard, an adaptation strategy – and a centrepiece policy to increase the carbon tax by $15 a tonne each year for the next eight years, as summarized by the CBC in  “Ottawa to hike federal carbon tax to $170 a tonne by 2030 “. Taken with the proposed Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act currently before Parliament, which formalizes Canada’s target of net-zero emissions by the year 2050, A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy lays out the most specific path forward for Canada since the 2016 Pan-Canadian Framework in 2016.

A Backgrounder is here,  and specific initiatives are explained in Annex documents here.  One missing piece, as pointed out in Unifor’s reaction to the new Plan: the previously-promised Just Transition Act.   Also missing: the slightest notice by the international press, even the normally climate-vigilant Guardian in the U.K.  Reaction within Canada was strong, and ranged widely (compiled by the CBC here). In the mainstream media, the conservative-leaning Globe and Mail  approved in its Editorial:  “Justin Trudeau goes all in on the carbon tax. It’s the right thing – for the environment, and the economy”. Political writer Paul Wells uses similar language and  confesses to “startled admiration” in “On climate, at last, Justin Trudeau is all in” in Maclean’s magazine . The National Observer published  “Trudeau goes it alone with new climate plan, proposes carbon price hike”, drawing the contrast with the 2016 Framework, which was drafted in consultation with all the provinces.  The Energy Mix  is less approving in “With $170/Tonne Carbon Price, $15b In New Spending, Canada’s 2030 Carbon Target Still Falls Far Short”  (Dec. 14), which summarizes reaction from environmental groups.

Reaction from Labour and Environmentalists:

Like Unifor , the Canadian Labour Congress highlights the need for more transition measures in the new Plan, and states: “Labour will be looking to the federal government to make good on its commitment to supporting local job creation, skills training, apprenticeships and decent wages for workers, especially to those historically underrepresented in the skilled trades sector, including Indigenous workers, racialized workers and women…. Canada’s unions welcome the government’s emphasis on domestic manufacturing, including developing Canadian supply chains for low-emission building materials, clean tech, and aerospace and automotive investments, and leveraging the power of public procurement. Additionally, unions are noting the crucial commitments made today towards bringing Indigenous communities into the process.”

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Canada (IBEW) commends the Plan and states:  “The highly skilled members of the IBEW are trained and ready to take on these important jobs, and the government’s commitment to investing in green buildings and retrofits, electrified public and private transportation and grid modernization will require exactly the sort of knowledge and skills that IBEW members demonstrate on the job every day.”

From the Climate Action Network Canada, which includes both labour and environmental groups:  “… this plan does not change the fact that Canadian governments continue to double down on fossil fuels, subjecting workers and our economy to the ever-increasing volatility of oil and gas markets…. It’s good to see policies that can, if implemented quickly and with the greatest stringency possible, take Canada’s climate ambitions further than our current insufficient Paris pledge – reducing emissions up to 40% below 2005 levels by 2030. It is also good to see a significant investment of $15B in climate action. However, these numbers pale in comparison to commitments being made by our closest trading partners in the EU and the U.S. (under a new Biden administration)”.

Similarly, from Environmental Defence: “The climate action plan released today has a more comprehensive suite of climate policies than in the past and we welcome the meaningful escalation of the retail portion of the carbon price. We’re also pleased about the portion of the $15 billion investment that is not in effect yet another fossil fuel subsidy. But that amount, which is a small fraction of what other countries are doing on a per capita basis, clearly cannot get the job done. In fact, Canada should be investing $270 billion if it was following the level of ambition of the US or EU.”  West Coast Environmental Law agrees with these points, and also  states:  “While we applaud much of this climate plan, the government continues to ignore the reality that climate leaders don’t build oil pipelines. The recent analysis released by Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer confirms that the Trans Mountain pipeline will lose money if any climate action is taken, let alone the action promised in this plan. If Canada is serious about acting on climate change, the government must cancel this ill-conceived project once and for all.”

Economists applaud carbon tax initiative

The federal government announcement includes a 4-page Annex document about its carbon pricing proposals. The carbon tax will rise by $15 per tonne after 2022 until 2030, when it will reach $170 per tonne. The government is banking on a favourable decision by the Supreme Court of Canada when it rules on the constitutionality of the existing federal carbon tax in 2021. In a politically shrewd change from current practice, carbon rebates will be distributed to households on a quarterly basis, and as now, most households will receive more in rebates than they pay out.

Mainstream economic voices support the carbon tax:  The Canadian Institute for Climate Choices calls the plan “a big deal”, and says: “The government’s emissions projections under a carbon price that rises by $15/tonne per year is consistent with analysis from the Parliamentary Budget OfficeClean ProsperityCanada’s Ecofiscal Commission, and our own principal economist, Dave Sawyer. This is a policy that can deliver on the emissions reductions it promises.” Clean Prosperity states “This is a bold, brave, and wise move that will set Canada on the path to decarbonization. It sends a clear message to investors around the globe that Canada is serious about climate action.…. This was not an easy choice, but it’s the right choice. The government is wisely adopting a low-cost policy option that is good for the economy.”   And Merran Smith, speaking for Clean Energy Canada, calls it a “comprehensive and honest plan…. historically and globally significant. The plan will retool and position Canada’s economy to be increasingly competitive in a low-carbon world.”

Updating carbon pricing in Canada: PBO Report , Supreme Court case, and provincial opt-outs

On October 8, the Office of Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) released its latest report on carbon pricing, Carbon pricing for the Paris target: Closing the gap with output-based pricing . The report concludes that the government’s existing and announced policies and measures – including a carbon tax which rises to $50 per tonne in 2022 and an Output-Based Pricing System (OBPS) will not be sufficient to allow Canada to meet its emissions target under the Paris Agreement – 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. The PBO models three complex scenarios to estimate that the level of the carbon price necessary to achieve the Paris target ranges from $67 per tonne to between $81 and $239 per tonne.

A critique by Clean Prosperity , a Toronto NGO focused on carbon tax research and education,  finds two of the PBO scenarios “unrealistic” and calls for a fourth approach, which transitions the industrial output-based pricing system to economy-wide pricing plus a border carbon adjustment. Clean Prosperity concludes:  “The bottom line is that carbon pricing works and should continue to increase after 2022 at roughly the same level as today in order to help us meet our Paris targets.”  Clean Prosperity promises to  release its own modelling of such an approach “in the near future”.

The report was released while a constitutional challenge to the federal carbon pricing system is still before the Supreme Court, and does not reflect the September 20 announcement that “The Government of Canada will stand down the federal carbon pricing system for industry in Ontario and New Brunswick as of a date in the future.” (that date and formal change to the systems to be determined in consultation with each province.) 

Smart Prosperity (a University of Ottawa research centre)  posted a blog and a report Ontario’s Options: Evaluating How Provincial Carbon Pricing Revenues Can Improve Affordability on October 8 .  Smart Prosperity has published a number of relevant working papers, including : Environmental Taxes and Productivity: Lessons from Canadian Manufacturing  (April 2020);  Border Carbon Adjustments in Support of Domestic Climate Policies: Explaining the Gap Between Theory and Practice (Oct. 2019) and Do Carbon Taxes Kill Jobs? Firm-Level Evidence from British Columbia in March 2019.  Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission also researched and published numerous reports (archived here ) before it closed its doors in November 2019.

Ontario Court of Appeal rules against the provincial challenge to the federal carbon price – Seven provinces will intervene in the Supreme Court appeal

doug ford scrap the taxOn June 28, the Ontario Court of Appeal issued their Decision , 4 to 1 in favour of the federal government’s right to impose a system of carbon pricing across Canada, under the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act.   Some important excerpts from the majority decision:

“Parliament has determined that atmospheric accumulation of greenhouse gases causes climate changes that pose an existential threat to human civilization and the global ecosystem ….The need for a collective approach to a matter of national concern, and the risk of non-participation by one or more provinces, permits Canada to adopt minimum national standards to reduce [greenhouse gas] emissions…

The Act does this and no more. It leaves ample scope for provincial legislation in relation to the environment, climate change, and GHGs, while narrowly constraining federal jurisdiction to address the risk of provincial inaction.

The charges imposed by the Act are themselves constitutional. They are regulatory in nature and connected to the purposes of the Act. They are not taxes.

The Act is the product of extensive efforts – efforts originally endorsed by almost all provinces, including Ontario – to develop a pan-Canadian approach to reducing GHG emissions and mitigating climate change. This, too, reflects the fact that minimum national standards to reduce GHG emissions are of concern to Canada as a whole. The failure of those efforts reflects the reality that one or more dissenting provinces can defeat a national solution to a matter of national concern”

The Ontario government immediately announced that it will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.  The Premier of Alberta, part of the Canada-wide Conservative opposition to the federal carbon tax, said that Alberta is reviewing the decision in his press release.  Saskatchewan, which lost its own court challenge to the GGPPA  in May 2019, has already filed an appeal in the Supreme Court of Canada, scheduled for December 5 2019 – notably after the coming federal election, in which climate change issues are widely expected to be a top priority for voters.

For a thorough discussion of the decision and compilation of reactions, read: “Doug Ford loses carbon tax battle with Trudeau” in the National Observer .  “Ontario Court of Appeal Upholds Federal Carbon Tax” appeared in The Energy Mix on July 2 and also compiles reaction from many sources. “Federal Carbon Pricing Regime Now Two-for-Two” (July 2) in Lexology offers a more lawyerly perspective.   And for the mood in Ontario, read “Doug Ford’s $30 million carbon tax fight is money down the drain but it keeps his brand afloat” in the Toronto Star (July 3) or in the Globe and Mail, The real carbon tax is the money provinces are spending on lawyers.”

Provinces line up to participate in Supreme Court appeal: ( Updated as of July 10):  As of July 8, seven provinces are  registered as intervenors in the Saskatchewan challenge to the carbon tax, scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada in December 2019.  On July 8, CBC reported that  New Brunswick Premier Blaine  Higgs  abandons  planned carbon tax court fight , stating that the province will not waste taxpayers’ money on their own carbon tax court case, but will act as an intervenor in the Saskatchewan’s appeal.  Prince Edward Island is also intervening, as explained in  P.E.I. intervening in Saskatchewan’s carbon tax court challenge” (July 5).  The Premier of PEI states they are “absolutely not” joining the fight against a carbon tax, but are intervening as a way to reserve the right to participate in future. Even more surprisingly, “Quebec intervenes in Saskatchewan’s challenge of carbon tax“, as reported in the Montreal Gazette on July 8.  Quebec has joined the case to ensure its provincial rights are upheld in any court decision, and to protect Quebec’s existing cap and trade system. 

stampede ford 2019Aaron Wherry of CBC posted an analysis of the Conservative premiers’ positions against the federal carbon price in Premiers say they want a ‘co-operative’ approach to climate policy. Are they serious? (July 10).  It discusses the differences amongst  Alberta’s Jason Kenney, Ontario’s Doug Ford, Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe, New Brunswick’s Blaine Higgs and Bob McLeod of the Northwest Territories, who are meeting separately, in advance of the formal Council of the Federation meeting in Saskatoon, July 9 to 11.

 

Climate policy progress in Canada suffers from an overemphasis on carbon pricing, an absence of supply-side energy policies

heating up backing downcoverHeating up, Backing Down  by Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood was released on June 13, updating the author’s previous 2017 report Tracking Progress: Evaluating government plans and actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.   It analyzes emissions data and policy announcements in the last two years to assess federal, provincial and territorial governments’ progress toward Canada’s domestic and international greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets.  The report identifies and discusses two new important issues in the Canadian climate policy discussion: an overemphasis on carbon pricing and an absence of supply-side energy policies. These are in addition to the three key obstacles to effective climate policy identified in the 2017 report, and still considered relevant: (1) an ambition gap between government policies and official targets; (2) Canada’s  deep economic dependence on fossil fuels, and; (3) an under-appreciation of the need to support workers in the transition to a cleaner economy.

Following a succinct overview of policy developments and emissions statistics for each province, the author concludes that positive progress in British Columbia and Quebec is outweighed by backsliding in the rest of Canada, and future progress is further threatened by the legislative reversals enacted by the recently-elected conservative governments in Alberta and Ontario, which are Canada’s two biggest carbon polluting provinces.

Heating up, Backing Down is co-published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change research program (ACW) .

New Brunswick launches consultation on industrial emissions – updated

The Government of New Brunswick opposes the federal government carbon tax and maintains a “We can’t afford a carbon tax” page on the government website – which estimates the costs (but none of the benefits) of the federal carbon backstop in effect in the province.  On June 13, New Brunswick introduced its own Made-in-New Brunswick  Regulatory Approach for Large Emitters ,  an output-based pricing system which will cover roughly 50 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in the province and will require large industrial emitters, including electricity generators, to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions intensity by 10 per cent by 2030.

The CBC summarized the plan and reaction in “Province proposes carbon tax on tiny fraction of emissions from big industrial polluters”  (June 13) . CBC states that the proposed system would tax only 0.84 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from the province’s biggest emitters, such as Irving Oil,  far below the 20 per cent in the existing federal system. However, it covers the same industrial sectors, applies to the same gases and applies the same price scale of $20 per tonne this year, rising to $50 per tonne in 2022.

A Discussion paper , Holding Large Emitters Accountable: New Brunswick’s Output-Based Pricing System  forms the basis of a public comment period about the proposed system, which runs from June 13 to July 12.  One public response has been published by the Ecofiscal Commission in Exception to the Rule: Why New Brunswick’s Industrial Carbon Pricing System is Problematic (June 19) , which contends that under the proposed regulations, “firms can very easily achieve their emissions intensity benchmark, because it will be essentially set to current levels.”

The Conservation Council of New Brunswick reaction was quoted by the CBC, and also states that the proposed regulations are too weak.  Emphasizing the importance of the issue, on June 25 the Council released Healthy Climate, Healthy New Brunswickers: A proposal for New Brunswick that cuts pollution and protects health,  by Louise Comeau and Daniel Nunes. The Council characterizes the report as “the first comprehensive look at how climate change will affect the physical and mental health of all New Brunswickers, but particularly the very young, seniors, the isolated, and those living on low incomes.”  The report combines climate projections and existing community health profiles for 16 New Brunswick communities, emphasizing the risks of more intense precipitation, flooding and heat waves. It includes recommendations for action and attempts to end on a hopeful note. The report is available in English and French versions from this link .

Updates on New Brunswick’s carbon tax:  On July 8, CBC reported “New Brunswick Premier Blaine  Higgs  abandons  planned carbon tax court fight” , which explains that the province will save taxpayers’ money by supporting Saskatchewan’s Supreme Court of Canada challenge to the carbon tax as an intervenor, since Saskatchewan’s arguments are the same as New Brunswick’s.   Also in  July, an historical and political analysis appeared in Policy Options, “ New Brunswick’s timid foray into carbon pricing”, as part of the week-long series , The Evolution of Carbon Pricing in the Provinces .