The first ministers’ meeting in Vancouver ended last week with a broad agreement between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the premiers on the need to move forward on national carbon pricing.
While Ottawa initially seemed prepared to impose a minimum Canada-wide carbon price of $15 per tonne if the premiers failed to agree, Trudeau eventually yielded to a much more ambiguous commitment to adopt “a broad range of domestic measures, including carbon pricing mechanisms adapted to each province’s and territory’s specific circumstances.” And that will come only after an additional six months of further discussion.
During this time, working groups will be tasked with assessing four areas related to climate change: clean technology, innovation and jobs; carbon pricing mechanisms; specific mitigation opportunities; and adaptation and climate resilience. The process will be managed by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment.
The premiers are planning to meet again in October to finalize a national strategy to begin to be implemented in early 2017. Federal environment minister Catherine McKenna said that at that time new climate targets are to be unveiled that go beyond those submitted to the United Nations ahead of last year’s Paris climate summit.
Trudeau presented Thursday’s agreement as a sign that “we have agreed to carbon pricing mechanisms right across the country,” according to the Globe and Mail. But Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, the loudest critic of a national carbon price, signed off on the declaration telling reporters he was confident that his carbon capture and storage efforts would be counted as a pricing mechanism.
“If there is a notion that this is some sort of licence to pursue a national carbon tax,” he told reporters, “I will be in disagreement with that.”
Within days of the declaration, Trudeau was hit by comments even from the premiers of two provinces committed to carbon pricing, who cautioned against efforts to go further than current targets just yet. Both Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne, who is set to introduce a provincial cap-and-trade scheme, and BC premier Christy Clark told the CBC that their two provinces were not on track to meet the targets that are already in place.
Climate policy watchers privately cautioned however against a pessimistic take on the summit’s grumbles. It is the first time a prime minister has sat down with his provincial and territorial counterparts to craft a national climate policy. In addition, apart from the three territories that are unhappy with a national carbon price, Saskatchewan is the only province without an existing pricing scheme or plans for one. Moreover, the province heads into elections in April, with the premier unlikely to be very accommodating towards a discussion of a tax increase ahead of the polls.
Energy economist Mark Jaccard helped design BC’s carbon tax, and he still supports it. But he questions just how politically viable a stringent tax—at the level needed to meet climate targets—can really be. So he also continues to explore how other policies that the public find more acceptable could work.