Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says his government didn’t prepare a fallback plan on implementing a consumer carbon tax because they were hoping to win in the country’s top court.
Kenney said the province was buoyed by a lower court win in Alberta, and noted that three of the nine Supreme Court justices had concerns with Thursday’s majority decision that the tax is onside with the Constitution, The Canadian Press reports.
“It was our hope that we would win,” Kenney told reporters Friday. “But now we’re going to consult with Albertans on the path forward.”
Alberta is currently paying a federally-imposed levy, which is set to go up to C$40 a tonne this year and $50 a tonne next year. The levy will collect more than $2 billion in annual revenue by 2022.
About 90% of that is rebated to Albertans and the rest is invested in green projects.
Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario had challenged the federal tax in court, arguing it was an unconstitutional intrusion on provincial rights to manage their resources. The high court, in a 6-3 decision, said climate change is a critical global problem and that Canada cannot effectively fight it by allowing a patchwork of programs or opt-outs.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said Thursday that, in light of the court decision, his government would look at introducing its own carbon tax for fuel, similar to a model used in New Brunswick.
Moe “arrived at a media conference after the decision with a swath of carbon pricing options in hand, including a fuel charge similar to the one used in New Brunswick,” as well as a greenhouse gas offset program expected to take effect in 2022, the Globe and Mail adds. That approach “would allow heavy-emitting industries to meet pollution reduction targets by buying carbon credits from farmers, ranchers, forestry operators mand other businesses that sequester carbon.”
Saskatchewan will also ask the federal government “to move its electricity and natural gas Crown corporations under Saskatchewan’s own emissions regulations, so they are not subject to federal rules,” the Globe says.
In Manitoba, meanwhile, Premier Brian Palliser is vowing to fight on, describing his province as the “last stand” against carbon tax legislation, tweets reporter Sarah Lawrynuik.
“Pallister says he sees hope in the SCC ruling, says it underlines that the feds don’t have unfettered access to impose ‘Ottawa’s will’ on Manitoba,” Lawrynuik adds. “However, the SCC ruling did outline that the feds are within their right to demand a minimum threshold.”
Kenney said Alberta is looking at many options, including the New Brunswick model or perhaps Quebec’s carbon cap-and-trade system, CP writes.
“Our key goal will be to minimize the cost of any new policy on Albertans and on our economy as we struggle to recover from the COVID recession,” Kenney said Friday.
New Brunswick’s program sets a per-tonne price on carbon, then reduces the province’s gas tax by a similar amount to help neutralize the cost to consumers.
Alberta has had a carbon tax on large greenhouse gas emitters for more than a decade.
Alberta Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said Kenney has wasted precious time by not having an Alberta-friendly Plan B ready to go. Alberta had its own consumer carbon tax under Notley when she was premier.
The NDP tax on gasoline and fossil fuel home heating delivered about $2 billion a year in provincial revenue, CP says. Much of that money was rebated to low and middle-income families, and the balance funded green initiatives ranging from home renovations to rapid transit.
Kenney cancelled it as the first act of his new United Conservative government in the spring of 2019. He said the tax was expensive, intrusive, and ineffectual at combating climate change.
Notley said Albertans have been paying for that decision, contributing since the start of 2020 to a federal backstop plan rather than a made-in-Alberta program that could have delivered a bigger bang for its economy.
Notley said a greener economy and a thriving oil and gas industry are not mutually exclusive, but said leaders have to make it happen.
She said the lack of a Plan B underscores Kenney’s rigidity on adapting to climate change and the modern economy.
“He has been distracted for two years with this particular battle, which many people suggested he was not likely to win,” said Notley following the Supreme Court decision.
“He’s now saying, ‘Oh, I guess starting tomorrow I’m going to have to talk to Albertans about how to do a made-in-Alberta plan that will protect our economy and protect jobs.’ That work should have been under way two years ago.
“For this to only start tomorrow is a continuation of the weak and ineffective leadership of this premier.”
In Ottawa, meanwhile, some reporters and news analysts are pointing to the Supreme Court ruling as a possible relief valve for Conservative Opposition leader Erin O’Toole, after his party policy convention voted earlier this month against acknowledging that climate change is a reality or promising to take action. “The Supreme Court Rules,” headlined conservative-leaning columnist Andrew Coyne in the Globe and Mail. “And the winner is…Erin O’Toole?”
Veteran Conservative strategist Jaime Watt elaborates on that view in a post for the Toronto Star, calling the ruling a “political windfall” for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals that presents a “unique challenge” and a “silver lining” for O’Toole’s Conservative Party of Canada (CPC).
“Notwithstanding the inevitable protests of Western MPs who fiercely oppose any form of carbon pricing, the party desperately needs a sincere strategy on climate action,” Watt writes.
“My hope is that the settled legal case allows O’Toole some breathing room to develop a Conservative approach to carbon pricing—and in so doing, garner the party enough support in Ontario, and elsewhere, to win an election,” he adds. “A genuine Conservative climate plan could achieve what O’Toole and his predecessor have failed to do to date: prove to Canadians that the CPC is a modern party, open to change, reflective of and responsive to their concerns.”
The main body of this report was first published by The Canadian Press March 26, 2021.