Canada's climate shift will require everyone to get on the same page -

Canada’s climate shift will require everyone to get on the same page

Clarity and collaboration are needed in Canada’s carbon-price approach to tackling climate change as a 2018 deadline looms

Petro-Canada's Edmonton Refinery and Distribution Centre glows at dusk in Edmonton. (Dan Riedlhuber/Reuters)

Petro-Canada’s Edmonton Refinery and Distribution Centre glows at dusk in Edmonton. (Dan Riedlhuber/Reuters)

Stewart Muir is executive director of the Vancouver-based Resource Works Society and writes for Canadians for Affordable Energy.

Until recently, Canadians have been broadly supportive of federal carbon pricing plans. That is changing, however, as a 2018 deadline approaches and more details of the agenda become known.

The Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth for Climate Change calls for all jurisdictions to have carbon pricing in place by next year. Yet two provinces, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, have not signed on, and both are prepared to take legal action against the federal government. The official Oppositions in at least two other provinces—New Brunswick and Alberta—are opposed to carbon pricing. The federal Conservative Party is also complicating the narrative, given that the party’s new leader has vowed to repeal the carbon pricing plan if elected prime minister.

For more than three years, we’ve been told Canadians support carbon pricing because they support action to combat climate change. It is increasingly evident that this bargain is at best uncertain. Canadians are taking stock of multiple factors and the early signs are not good; a recent public opinion poll by the Angus Reid Institute says residents are going through sticker shock as they realize that the good feeling of trying to do something positive for global climate carries significant costs and variables.

For provinces only now starting down the carbon pricing track, British Columbia offers a practical example of the policy in action. The province’s decade-old carbon dioxide emissions tax is designed to flow back its revenues to taxpayers by lowering income and other provincial taxes as a way to encourage climate-friendlier choices. But some large companies already have to pay nearly $1 million a week in extra carbon-related costs under the plan, increasing the likelihood that they will shift their production to lower-cost jurisdictions. The new B.C. NDP-Green alliance government has vowed to increase the tax, and many observers expect it won’t be cushioned by other tax cuts as under the previous government—and that will not likely be met kindly by British Columbians.

Last month, the federal government rolled out a Low Carbon Economy Fund that set aside $2 billion to make homes and buildings more efficient, helping companies cut emissions, and supporting the forest and agriculture sectors to enhance stored carbon in forests and soils. If that sounds like a positive development, less heralded were a whole new set of regulations laid out by Canadians and international academics in a recent publication, Canadian Pathways Towards Deep Decarbonization (CPDD). The Business Council of British Columbia has written a letter to federal environment minister Catherine McKenna contending that Ottawa appears to have, without approval or debate by federal Cabinet or Parliament, adopted elements of this strategy, which will add new regulations and appears to contradict the underpinning principle of carbon pricing.

A dual approach—aggressive carbon pricing together with heavy top-down government regulation—contradicts the principle of carbon pricing. It can also create unintended risk for the economy when businesses have to figure out competing and confusing regulations across jurisdictions that ultimately add costs.

Imagine if Canada optimistically takes on the climate burdens, only to discover within several years that America remains a fossil-fuelled economic juggernaut, its growth at least partly at our expense. The United States has already emerged as the world’s top producer of petroleum and natural gas, and is clearly eager to keep growing its market share. The strategy is clearly working: According to Statistics Canada data for April, Canadian imports of natural gas from the U.S. shot up 55 per cent over the past year.

Taking part in international efforts to reduce greenhouse gases is important, as not doing so will deprive Canadians of jobs and of opportunities to export innovative Canadian cleantech and clean-energy solutions to other countries. There is also the risk that policies will make some Canadian industries uncompetitive, resulting in a higher risk of carbon leakage by which stiffer regulations and higher costs cause businesses to relocate to the U.S. or other places.

A successful approach requires showing Canadians that risks are being managed effectively, particularly for Canadian natural resource and manufacturing sectors that operate in highly competitive global markets and contribute so much toward our quality of life. It means encouraging investment in existing and new solutions to help lower greenhouse gas emissions over time. And above all, it must weave together actions and obligations based on the Canadian tradition of collaborative negotiation.


Canada’s climate shift will require everyone to get on the same page

  1. Well numerous other countries have just banned gas engines……now it’s our turn.

    • The 2 US COAL burning plants that Ontario Hydro just invested in each output nearly 20,000,000 ton of CO2 annually.

      The average car outputs 5 ton of CO2 annually. If my calculations are correct. That is 4,000,000 vehicles worth of CO2 out of one plant. With both plants combined — that’s 8 million vehicles. Ontario only has 7 million registered vehicles.

      With one stroke of the pen, the Ontario Liberal Government has more than doubled its contribution to CO2 pollution. Are you picking up on the hypocrisy yet? You could BAN every gas powered vehicle in Ontario and it would not even add up to the pollution that the Ontario Liberals just signed us up for.

  2. Stop promoting the political shell game: carbon pricing is to GHG reduction what diet pop is to weight loss – not really a plan at all. Also, carbon trading and carbon tax are two distinctly different things; revenue neutral carbon tax is a complete scam but then politicians ever prefer ways of ‘doing something’ that are really just preserving the status quo. The good news for Canada should be 1) we use a world leading amount of energy per capita while only a fraction of our total energy use relies on fossil fuels, consequently if we merely reduced our per capita energy use to that of France and Germany, i.e. reduce by 46%, our use of fossil fuels would fall by more than 60%, 2) Canada has a huge untapped hydro resource (for example, Alberta’s untapped commercially viable hydro resource is 6 times their total energy demand); 3) Canada has huge untapped wind and solar potential; 4) reducing energy use and turning to low run rate capacity, i.e. wind, solar, hydro, hydro-kinetic and geothermal, will reduce total energy cost and make the economy more competitive. Some notable observations is that energy efficiency – sometimes called negawatts – have an actual negative cost of GHG reduction while reduced demand in and of itself drives down energy cost. Unfortunately, governments have traditionally focused on maximizing the profits of energy producers while paying little more than lip service to the energy cost of energy users; Canadian governments have continuously worked to increase petro company profits counteracting the increase in vehicle fuel economy.
    Electricity presents a particular anomaly where in most provinces it is some sort of wierd for-profit public utility where a combination of political interference and catering to the profitability of for-profit suppliers has resulted in the curiousity of a public utility that fails to serve the public; if there is no plan, and mostly there isn’t, there is at least a template in Quebec where low cost electricity is produced with a near zero carbon footprint. But politicians also tend to perpetuate obsolete and inefficient technology and sending good money after bad by supporting obsolete technology; this even applies to fossil fuels where Chinese coal plants produce 50% more energy per tonne of coal than even the most efficient coal plants in Canada; Saskatchewan with Harper help spent 3 times as much as an advanced coal plant would cost trying to clean up the emissions of an inefficient plant resulting in a lesser reduction in GHG – why? because the goal is to maximize coal revenues which is antithetical to increasing efficiency.

  3. carbon fees/trading/taxes, equals, price inflation on everything
    governments have never seen a fee or tax they didn’t like
    whether we like it or not, our entire way of life is carbon/fossil fuel based
    transportation, farming, construction, manufacturing, synthetics, all rely on carbon/fossil fuel/oil
    we could not live in this climate without them
    fossil fuels are a huge part of our economy
    our rich social programs would not exist without them
    eventually they will be replaced, just as coal replaced wood, oil replaced coal, & natural gas now often replaces oil
    it will happen when it is viable & makes economic sense
    climate change is always happening, & has always happened independent of man’s activities
    there was much more dramatic climate change BEFORE the industrial revolution
    good science is never “settled”

  4. Ontario is re-investing in coal-fired electricity. If you recharge your electric vehicle in this manner, you are already at a loss, as far as virtue signalling goes. Factor in the cost of disposing of lithium batteries, and the blood spilled in mining lithium, not to mention the strip-mining processes, and your average hybrid does more damage than a VW diesel.
    Smog is not reduced, and smug goes up exponentially.

  5. Fundamentally, our supply of the best fossil fuel (oil) will expire in the next 30 to 100 years (depending on your reference), so thinking of the Canada of my children and grandchildren, I would like to see us move away from carbon-source fuels at a globe-leading pace. The nations of our children’s world using the least carbon will be the best positioned for prosperity.