Gary Doer, our ambassador to the United States, would like U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to know that Alberta imposes a “carbon fee.” Or, rather, Doer is apparently concerned that this fact, among others, has not been appropriately noted by American environmental authorities.
So, in the process of arguing that the Environmental Protection Agency has not been fair to trans-Canada’s Keystone XL pipeline, our ambassador notes this “carbon fee” at Paragraph 6 of a letter to Kerry, a letter that was apparently made public by the Harper government on Wednesday.
“The EPA chose to ignore that the oil sands are produced in the only jurisdiction supplying oil to the United States that has imposed a carbon fee, which is used to fund clean-energy technologies,” Doer writes.
The day before that letter was delivered to Kerry, Finance Minister Joe Oliver spoke with the CBC and, in that interview, he was asked about establishing a price on carbon and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s position on pricing carbon and the federal government’s role in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. (The interviewer, mistakenly, I think, refers to Trudeau’s plan as a national price on carbon).
“You don’t achieve prosperity by adding to the tax burden,” Oliver explained. “And a carbon tax would be a tax on everything and it would impact consumers, it would impact investors, it would impact everything that we buy and sell . . . A carbon tax has not proved effective in achieving its stated purpose, but it does have a negative impact on economic growth and job creation, and I think it’s the wrong policy. The $20-billion NDP carbon tax and the Liberal plan is really irresponsible at any time, but it’s particularly dangerous at this moment in our recovery.”
Three days before Oliver said that, on Feb. 6, Trudeau had delivered a speech to an audience in Calgary. In that speech, he seemed to make two points: that pricing carbon is a good idea and that the federal government should be setting national standards and coordinating provincial efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. He noted British Columbia’s carbon tax, Quebec’s move toward cap-and-trade and Alberta’s combination of regulation and “payment options.” (Ontario is moving toward some kind of pricing mechanism, as well.)
The Conservative party quickly proclaimed its objection to “Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax,” equating the Liberal leader’s talk of a “price on carbon” with the imposition of a tax on carbon. Asked to explain a Conservative fundraising email that went out in his name, Conservative MP David Yurdiga said, “No one wants to pay more taxes and, when you implement a price on carbon, it affects everything from gas to the price of groceries. Carbon pricing affects things across the board.”
On Jan. 29, the House of Commons debated a Liberal motion calling for annual meetings between the Prime Minister and the premiers.
Here, in the midst of that debate, is Maxime Bernier, the minister of state for small business, telling Liberal MP John McCallum that a price on carbon and a carbon tax are the same thing. And here is Paul Calandra, parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister, using the phrases “price on carbon” and “carbon tax” interchangeably.
Less than two months before Trudeau’s speech in Calgary, Prime Minister Stephen Harper granted an interview to the CBC. On the subject of his contention that any further regulation of the oil-and-gas sector must be done in concert with the United States, Harper was asked whether he had proposed anything to the Americans. In response, he pointed to Alberta’s system:
“This is the tech-fund price carbon levy and the, the, it’s not a levy. It’s a price and there’s a tech fund in which, in which the private sector makes investments,” the Prime Minister explained. “So look, that’s what Alberta has done, that’s a model that’s available, but you know, as I say, we’re very open to see progress on this on a continental basis. I’ve said that repeatedly to our partners in North America and we look forward to working on that.”
On Wednesday, I emailed the office of Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq to ask about the government’s position. I presented Oliver’s comments from this week and Harper’s comments from December and then wrote, “On that note, can you clarify the government’s position? What is the difference between the price on carbon that the Prime Minister supports and the tax on carbon that the Finance minister rejects?”
In response, I received the following three sentences:
“Justin Trudeau has been very clear with Canadians that he wants to impose a job-killing carbon tax on middle-class families. Our Government is taking an approach that has reduced emissions while growing the economy and creating good, well-paying jobs for Canadian families. And we have done so without a carbon tax, which would raise the price of everything—from home heating to groceries.”
So a price on carbon is a bad thing and a price on carbon is a carbon tax and a tax on carbon is unproven as a means of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and it will have a negative effect on the economy, but Alberta’s price on carbon is an argument for approving the Keystone XL pipeline and a model that the Harper government has recommended to the United States for continental coordination.
The history here is rich. In 2008, the Conservatives supported pricing carbon through cap-and-trade, while opposing a carbon tax. In 2011, the Conservatives decided that cap-and-trade, at least as proposed by the NDP, was equivalent to a carbon tax.
So far, Trudeau has only expressed support for a price on carbon. For that, the Conservatives accuse him of supporting a job-killing carbon tax. But the government seems vaguely willing to accept Alberta’s price on carbon as a “model” and at least touts that price as a thing the American government should consider when deciding whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. And oh, by the way, there were negotiations between the federal government and the provinces that would have used Alberta’s price on carbon as a model at the national level for the oil-and-gas sector.
The Harper government now claims that nothing more should be done about emissions from the oil-and-gas sector unless the United States wants to act in concert, but there is much that should be explained to defend that stance.
“There hasn’t been a great deal of subtlety in talking about carbon pricing,” Peter Kent observed two years ago.
So now there is a hint of subtlety amid the shouting.
The punchline is that within the highlight reel the Conservative party put together to demonstrate Trudeau’s support for a carbon tax is Trudeau’s call for a “mature, honest conversation about carbon pricing.”
You’ll understand it would be hell if the nation ever fell for that.