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Ottawa Releases Carbon Pricing Plan, Asserts That ‘Polluting Is Not Free’

All provinces and territories will have to start charging at least a minimum price on carbon next year under a 22-page plan unveiled on Parliament Hill yesterday by Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna.

The plan fleshes out the floor price on carbon announced last fall by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and adopted by most provincial and territorial premiers when they signed on to the Pan-Canadian climate framework in December.

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“Our plan is fair, it is credible,” McKenna said. “Making sure there is a price on pollution across the country is fair for all Canadians.”

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall described the release as “more like a ransom note” and vowed to take the federal government to court over the plan. That’s despite published advice from Nathalie Chalifour, co-director of the University of Ottawa’s Centre for Environmental Law and Global Sustainability, who believes Ottawa will be on firm constitutional ground if it imposes a pan-Canadian carbon price.

“The bottom line is that the federal government has ample constitutional authority to implement a variety of GHG emissions policies, whether in the form of a national carbon price, a cap on emissions, or other regulations,” she wrote. “Carefully conceived federal policies can avoid undermining the commendable provincial and territorial efforts already under way—and can also avoid the constitutional challenge Premier Wall has threatened.”

Wall’s objections are also a bit rich after his energy minister, Dustin Duncan, admitted Saskatchewan pays an “implicit” carbon tax of nearly C$60 per tonne for the massively-subsidized Boundary Dam carbon capture and storage facility in Estevan. The federal floor price on carbon will hit $50 per tonne in 2022.

In its backgrounder on the plan, McKenna’s department asserts that “Canadians know that polluting is not free. We see the costs of droughts, floods, and extreme weather, and through the effects on our health. It is time polluters pay.” It notes that “British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec, representing more than 80% of the population, have already introduced carbon pricing systems,” and most other provinces are moving in the same direction. The federal floor price will only apply “in provinces without a provincial carbon pollution pricing system in place in 2018.”

On Thursday, McKenna stressed that “every penny” the federal government collects in carbon revenue will be returned to the jurisdiction where it originates—though as analysts have noted, Ottawa has been careful not to promise to remit the funds to the provincial or territorial governments involved. “We are evaluating how best to return the revenues, for example by giving

Environmental Defence’s Ottawa-based national programs manager, Dale Marshall “said it’s frustrating so much attention is focused on the carbon tax when no government anywhere has implemented a carbon price high enough to cut emissions as much as they need to be cut,” iPolitics reports.

“Hopefully, people will stay engaged on things like a clean fuel standard, methane regulations, a zero-net energy building code, and a zero-emission vehicle strategy,” Marshall added. “All are needed.”

At the Pembina Institute, Federal Policy Director Erin Flanagan and Clean Economy Program Director Sara Hastings-Simon described the federal announcement as “big, positive news for Canada’s economy and environment. Despite uncertainty south of the border, this document makes it clear: Canada is committed to implementing a national price on carbon pollution. The heavy lifting of policy implementation and increased ambition still lies ahead, but today Canada took a big step towards getting its pan-Canadian approach over the finish line.”