EDMONTON – Alberta Premier Rachel Notley drew a line in the oilsands Monday when she said she will not support Ottawa’s climate change plan unless the federal government makes progress on new oil pipelines to Canada’s coasts.
“An ambitious public policy move like this, even one as worthwhile as this, needs to be built on top of a fundamentally healthy economic foundation,” Notley said at an event at city hall.
“And a new pipeline is what will give that, not only to Alberta, but to all of Canada.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a national floor price on carbon as he kicked off debate in the House of Commons over whether Canada should ratify the Paris accord on climate change.
The federal plan calls for a $10-per-tonne price on carbon starting in 2018. That would rise by $10 per tonne each year until reaching $50 per tonne in 2022.
It would be imposed on provinces that don’t at least match the tax with direct pricing or through a cap-and-trade mechanism. All revenue would go to the province or jurisdiction where it was raised.
Notley’s NDP is bringing in its own broad-based carbon tax based on the equivalent of $20 per tonne of carbon emissions on Jan. 1. That is to rise to $30 a tonne in 2018.
The tax will raise the price of heating bills and gas at the pumps, but middle- and lower-income Albertans will see some or all of that cost rebated.
Notley said that to ask Albertans to pay even more than the $30-per-tonne level – and to help the rest of Canada – the federal government needs to couple its climate plan with action on energy infrastructure such as a pipeline.
“Albertans, as you know, have contributed to Canada’s prosperity for many, many years,” she said. “For us to continue doing that, in order for us to come back from the oil-price crash that we’re all experiencing, we need Canada to have our backs.”
Notley had not previously tied support for a climate change plan to infrastructure, but did say it was hoped Alberta’s actions would build “social licence” to remove the province’s climate record as an impediment in discussions.
Tim McMillan, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said he is pleased that Notley tied in pipeline demands with carbon pricing.
“Obviously, we are supportive of anyone who will champion the market access concerns. That’s a priority for CAPP, for our members,” McMillan said.
McMillan also said carbon pricing needs to be part of a bigger strategy that includes consideration of the impact on the competitive standing of Canadian companies.
Alberta is being hammered by low oil prices that have turned multibillion-dollar budgets just a few years ago to a forecast $10.9-billion deficit this year, and unemployment and office vacancy rates are rising.
A pipeline to the coast would allow the province’s oil to fetch a better price on overseas markets.
Opposition Wildrose Leader Brian Jean said now is the wrong time for any carbon tax, given Alberta’s economic situation.
And, he added, Notley should not be offering any quid pro quo.
“Tying a single pipeline approval to (carbon) taxation sets a dangerous precedent. Alberta needs to make it clear to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this will never be acceptable,” said Jean.
“Our province’s economic interests should not be held hostage by politicians in Ottawa.”
Rick Fraser, energy critic for the Progressive Conservatives, said he was heartened to see Notley try to get some action on a pipeline. He said Trudeau’s announcement creates more uncertainty as there’s no guarantee the floor price won’t go even higher.
“A lot of people are trying to figure out how this is possibly sustainable, politically and economically,” Fraser said.
Mike Hudema of Greenpeace Canada said Notley is not showing leadership on climate change.
“It’s incredible that the Alberta government would withhold its support for an action to combat climate change until it gets a new pipeline that further accelerates the problem,” said Hudema.
“The Alberta government needs to realize that new pipelines aren’t compatible with a climate-safe future.”