Newfoundland and Labrador announces its “lax tax” on carbon

offshore oil rigA “ Made-in-Newfoundland and Labrador Approach to Carbon Pricing” was announced and  described in a press release on October 23 , with a carbon tax rate of $20 tonne starting on January 1, 2019.  The details are many, as published here . Exemptions are granted for consumers (e.g. for home heating fuel) , and for industry – specifically “for agriculture, fishing, forestry, offshore and mineral exploration, and methane gases from venting and fugitive emissions in the oil and gas sector.”  These exemptions make sense in light of the province’s Oil and Gas  growth strategy announced in February 2018,  Advance 2030 , which aims for 100 new exploration wells to be drilled by 2030.

Despite the weakness of the provincial plan, it has been accepted by the federal government – thus, Newfoundland will avoid the stricter regime which would have been imposed by the federal backstop plan in 2019.  For a brief overview: “Why the lax tax? Finance minister says Muskrat burden played role in carbon pricing” (CBC) . In depth analysis appears in  “Newfoundland’s carbon tax gives ‘free pass’ to offshore oil industry” in The Narwhal.   (Nov. 9)

Updating the political battle of carbon pricing in Canada

Justin TrudeauOn October 23,  Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the federal government will hold its resolve to impose a carbon pricing policy across all Canadian jurisdictions in 2019 – see the press release, “Government of Canada Putting a price on pollution”   (Oct. 23).  Key to the plan: the Climate Action Incentive, whereby all carbon revenue will go directly back to people in the provinces from which it was generated.  David Roberts of Vox hits the nail on the head with  “Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is betting his reelection on a carbon tax” (Oct. 24) , stating,  “It’s a thoughtful plan, remarkably simple, transparent, and economically sound for something cooked up in a politically fraught context. If it’s put into place (and stays in place), it would vault Canada to the head of the international pack on climate policy.”

Reaction from the Canadian mainstream media reaction: From the Globe and Mail, an Editorial:  “For the Liberals, a spoonful of sugar helps the carbon tax go down” ;  “Arguments against the carbon tax boil down to a desire to do nothing” (Oct. 24)   by Campbell Clark ; “Carbon tax vs. climate change will be an epic contest” by John Ibbitson  and “Trudeau’s carbon tax rebate is smart – but complicated”  by Chris Ragan of the Ecofiscal Commission . From Andrew Coyne in the National Post: “Liberals’ carbon tax plan has its faults — but who has a better option?”  and from Chris Hall of the CBC, “How the Liberals hope to escape the ‘Green Shift’ curse in 2019”  (Oct.23)  .

The National Observer provides some detail to the complex calculations of the backstop rebates of the Climate Action Incentive, but the detail is at the government’s webpage, Pricing Pollution: How it will work  which provides links to individual explainers for each province and territory.

Other Responses: Rabble.ca Elizabeth May of the Green Party of Canada ;  Canadians for Clean Prosperity ;  and the Smart Prosperity Institute , which also provides a compilation of reaction and reports .

There seems to be general agreement that it is politics, not economics, which will determine support for the carbon plan.  Ontario Premier Doug Ford has been making the rounds with other Conservative politicians in Canada to coordinate their messaging and opposition to the federal carbon tax – culminating in the introduction of Bill No. 132—The Management and Reduction of Greenhouse Gases Amendment Act , 2018 in Saskatchewan on October 30, and on October 31, passage of Ontario’s Bill 4, The Cap and Trade Cancellation Act.  The National Observer describes the events of October 31 and summarizes the recent  political dance in “Doug Ford and Andrew Scheer play fast and loose with facts about carbon tax”  . Other press coverage: from the CBC:   “‘The worst tax ever’: Doug Ford and Jason Kenney hold campaign-style rally against carbon levy”  on Oct. 5 ;   “Doug Ford attacks ‘terrible tax’ on carbon alongside Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe” on Oct. 29; and  “Doug Ford meets Andrew Scheer as carbon tax war heats up”  on October 30, describing their meeting in Toronto.  The gist of their arguments:  the carbon tax is a money-grab which will “drive up the price of heating your home”, with Doug Ford stating “It’s just another Trudeau Liberal tax grab. It’s a job-killing, family-hurting tax. ”  After the rebate details were announced on October 23, Ford has added that the promised rebates are “a complete scam”, “trying to buy Canadians with their own money.”   But as iPolitics reported on October 26, “Ford gets his facts wrong while bashing federal carbon tax”  and  “Ford doubles down on falsehoods about federal carbon tax”  .  iPolitics cites the independent analysis of the carbon tax’s impact by  Ontario’s Financial Accountability Officer, Ontario financial office cap and tradewhich supports the federal government’s numbers, and differs from Premier Ford’s public statements.  Meanwhile, the Ontario government promises to release their climate plan in November,  according to the Toronto Star   (Oct. 29), and Andrew Scheer also promises a climate plan “in 183 days”.

Research and opinion support a carbon tax for Canada

Carbon taxes continue to be a hot topic in Canada for many reasons, including the October Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report , the Nobel Prize in Economics  to William Nordhaus, and the report from Ontario’s Financial Accountability Officer on October 16, which estimates that the cancelling the province’s cap and trade program will drive the provincial deficit up by $3 billion, ($841 million in the first fiscal year alone).  And as provinces rebel against the federal carbon pricing plans, the January 1 2019 deadline approaches, by which the federal government will impose its “backstop” carbon pricing on any province without it own equivalent carbon pricing regime in place.

In response to these developments, there are many responses.  Recent articles emphasize William Nordhaus’ work: for example, “Nordhaus Nobel Recognizes What We’ve Long Known: Carbon pricing works” by Scott Vaughan at the IISD ;  “Nobel award recognizes how economic forces can fight climate change” in The Conversation Canada (Oct. 9); “Hurricanes, hog manure and the dire need for carbon pricing” in The Conversation Canada (Oct. 14);  and “Opinion: To avoid catastrophic climate change we need carbon pricing” from the Ecofiscal Commission , one of Canada’s strongest proponents of carbon pricing.  From the horse’s mouth: “After Nobel in Economics, William Nordhaus Talks About Who’s Getting His Pollution-Tax Ideas Right”  (New York Times, Oct. 13),  in which William Nordhaus is interviewed by Coral Davenport and states:  “…. I think the model is British Columbia. .. It would have the right economic effects but politically not be so toxic. … British Columbia is not only well designed but has been politically successful.”

CARBON DIVIDENDS:  The issue of political acceptability of carbon taxes generated an academic discussion  in “Overcoming public resistance to carbon taxes” by Carattini  , Carvalho and  Fankhauser  in  WiRES Climate Change  in June 2018.  In Canada, a change in vocabulary in taking hold. “Carbon Dividends could save carbon pricing – and create a new national climate consensus”  say Mark Cameron (from Canadians for Clean Prosperity) and David McLaughlin (from the International Institute of Sustainable Development) in the Globe and Mail .   The commissioned studies released by   Canadians for Clean Prosperity in September showed  that most  households, regardless of income level, would receive more money in the form of carbon dividend cheques than they would pay in carbon taxes under the backstop plan.  They have produced estimates for Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and New Brunswick, and maintain an online petition at a website called  Canadians for Carbon Dividends  .

rocky road tableIn  “The Rocky Road to Canada-wide Carbon Pricing,”  released by the C.D. Howe Institute on October 17,  author Tracy Snoddon from Wilfred Laurier University offers recommendations on how the revenues should be distributed after January 1, 2019, when the minimum carbon price backstop comes into force.  The author estimates carbon revenues of $ 2.8 billion in 2019 if the backstop was implemented in Ontario, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island. She recommends that the federal government should impose the backstop price and return the revenues as an equal per-capita rebate to residents- with the justification that such an approach minimizes intrusion in provincial fiscal matters, reinforces the environmental goals  rather than revenue generation, and is most progressive in its  distributional impacts.  A summary appears in the C.D. Howe press release  and in  “C.D. Howe Institute throws its weight behind federal carbon tax” in the Globe and Mail (Oct. 19).

put a price on itFinally, a new organization launched in October. Put A Price On It Canada promotes carbon pricing as a solution to climate change – and asks “why does Canada need another group fighting for carbon pricing?”  The difference: it aspires to be a national network to empower students on university campuses – currently at Simon Fraser University, the University of Ottawa, University of Waterloo, and Carleton University.

So in response to the  National Observer Opinion piece on October 18, asking  “Is it time to torch the carbon tax debate?” , the answer seems to be a strong “no”.

Manitoba cancels its carbon tax, joining Ontario and Saskatchewan in opposition

On October 3, Manitoba’s Premier joined the Premiers of Ontario and Saskatchewan in opposing carbon taxes.  In  ” ‘We say no’: Manitoba defies Ottawa by killing its carbon tax plan” , the CBC reports that the government will introduce amending legislation in the week of October 8;  Its previous legislation, The Climate and Green Plan Implementation Act  (March 2018)  had set a carbon price of $25 per ton, and followed the Made-in-Manitoba Green Plan  submitted to fulfill the federal Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change agreement .  “The Drilldown: Carbon tax clash intensifies as Manitoba joins resistance”   in iPolitics  explains the Premier’s reasons;  “Feds on track to impose carbon price on growing number of provinces on Jan. 1“, also from iPolitics, gives more detail.

Against the evidence for its efficiency, Ontario’s Cap and Trade program axed

Doug Ford clappingIn Ontario, newly-elected Premier Doug Ford quickly fulfilled a central campaign promise, as the Province revoked the cap-and-trade  regulations and prohibited all trading of emission allowances, officially announced on July 3, 2018.   A further July 25  press release  announced the introduction of Bill 4, The Cap and Trade Cancellation Act, 2018  and claimed that “The average Ontario family will receive $260 in annual savings thanks to the elimination of the cap-and-trade carbon tax.”  All programs currently funded through the cap-and-trade revenues have been cancelled, including the immediate wind-down of the Green Ontario Fund, which funded many energy efficiency incentive programs.  The Cap and Trade Cancellation Act repeals the Climate Change Mitigation and Low-carbon Economy Act, 2016  of the previous Wynne government “and provides for various matters related to the wind down of the Cap and Trade Program.”

Earlier, on July 13, the province had announced  the cancellation of 758 renewable energy projects, calling them “unnecessary and wasteful” – one notable example, the almost-completed White Pines wind project in Prince Edward County.  And on August 2, in addition to the previously announced court challenge  to the federal government’s carbon pricing requirements under the Pan Canadian Framework,  Ontario’s  Attorney General announced a second court challenge  – this time in  the Ontario Court of Appeal.  “Doug Ford’s Ontario pursues ‘doomed’ plan to stop Trudeau government’s efforts to fight climate change”   in the National Observer (August 2) summarizes the development from a political viewpoint, and the Globe and Mail’s editorial is titled: “Caroline Mulroney’s carbon-tax court challenge is a partisan waste of money

Reactions :

Ford government Attempts to minimize Ontario taxpayer losses after abandoning carbon markets”   (July 25) in the National Observer;

“Ontario’s fiscal watchdog to probe cancellation of cap and trade,at Horwath’s request”   in the Globe and Mail (July 24);

From Professor Mark Winfield, York University:  “Doug Ford’s energy shake-up could cost Ontario”  in The Conversation (July 25)   ;

Clean power advocates disappointed but defiant in the face of Ford’s sweeping cuts” from the National Observer (July 17)

Solar companies may exit Ontario for Alberta after Doug Ford kills rebate program”  from CBC News (June 21) ;

Scrapping of cap and trade revenues a big loss for Ontario tenants badly in need of apartment retrofits”   from ACORN Canada;

  “From Cap-and-Trade to White Pines: What Lies Ahead In Ontario’s Energy Sector” from Toronto law firm Gowlings .

Before his election but based on the platform statements,  Unifor said in June  : “Workers in Ontario need forward-looking policies with the intention to build a green economy, but instead Ford announced his intention to cancel a successful program and pick an unnecessary fight with the federal government…. “Workers accept that climate change is real and need our government to lead with a real, predictable plan to reduce emissions and grow green jobs.”

Was there a problem with Ontario’s cap and trade system?  The April 2018 WCR article “New evidence supports benefits of cap and trade policies”  summarized several favourable studies, including  A Progress Report on Ontario’s Cap-and-Trade Program and Climate Change Action Plan: Year One ,  published by the Clean Economy Alliance –   which concluded that, in the first year of cap-and-trade employment had grown at the same time that Ontario economy grew to a 7-year high.  Environmental Defense published “Carbon pricing has no downside: why are we still arguing about it?” , which summarized the Clean Economy Alliance report, as well as No Bad Option: Comparing the Economic Impact of Ontario Carbon Pricing Scenarios  by Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood, published in April 2018 by CCPA in partnership with the Clean Economy Alliance.

More recently, Dale Beugin, Don Drummond, Glen Hodgson and Mel Cappe asked “If not carbon pricing in Ontario – which works well – then what, Mr. Ford?”   in a blog published by the Ecofiscal Commission.   The purpose of the brief summary is to “correct the record on some of the myths and misunderstandings surrounding carbon pricing. The economic evidence clearly contradicts some of the recent rhetoric coming from Ontario.”  Earlier Ecofiscal opinion appeared in “Tread Carefully: Ontario’s cap-and-trade system meets a fork in the road” (June 8)  , and  “Can Ontario hits its targets without carbon pricing?”  .

In the U.S.,  economist Marc Hafstead  recently published “Carbon taxes and employment: Rhetoric vs research” in the Summer Issue of Resources, the online newsletter of Resources for the Future (RFF) , stating  “Opponents of policies to price carbon will likely continue with the “job-killing” rhetoric, but careful economic analysis suggests that these arguments are seriously exaggerated.”  (the brief article is based largely on his academic working paper Unemployment and Environmental Regulation in General Equilibrium: Considering a US Carbon Tax: Economic Analysis and Dialogue on Carbon Pricing Options  )  .