The Canadian Press notes the recent visits of Alberta Premier Alison Redford and Environment Minister Peter Kent to the Washington, DC.
In separate appearances and meetings, Kent and Redford both stressed that Canada was taking climate change very seriously and that strong measures were in the works to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the oil and gas sector … Gone was the federal talk about any form of carbon pricing being akin to a carbon tax that would raise the price of everything. Indeed, Kent took pains to stress that while Ottawa likes its regulatory approach to emissions, he was open to provinces setting up their own plans — as long as such arrangements lead to actual reductions in emissions.
So the Harper government might believe that putting a price on carbon is a terrible idea, but it respects provincial jurisdiction enough to refrain from criticizing provincial governments that decide to implement cap-and-trade systems or carbon taxes. That’s an entirely admirable and mature approach to federalism.
Peter Kent explains…
“There hasn’t been a great deal of subtlety in talking about carbon pricing…
… There are those carbon taxes where the revenues go into general revenue and do not guarantee the reduction of a single ton of greenhouse gases. (But) Alberta has a tech fund wherein their revenues are focused only, and in isolation, on technology to achieve further ghg reductions than the emitters in that province are already able to achieve.”
Less than a year ago, Mr. Kent ventured that “carbon pricing in any form is a carbon tax.” There would not seem to have been any subtlety left at that point, at least so far as the Conservatives were concerned. A few months later, Conservative MP John Williamson explained that “cap and trade or cap and tax, a price on carbon is a tax on carbon.”
Over the subsequent weeks and months, the Conservatives have repeatedly criticized the NDP’s plan to implement a cap-and-trade system: saying, for instance, that “a carbon tax like the NDP is proposing would critically hurt Canadian families” and that “the economy would be lost and family would be lost” and that “this costly new tax that will kill jobs, stall the economy and ruin winter” and so on.
So what is Mr. Kent saying now? Is he saying that carbon taxes aren’t necessarily bad? Is he saying that Alberta’s carbon tax is somehow okay or at least somehow less ruinous?
Let’s go back to CP’s report of last Wednesday—when CP paraphrased Mr. Kent as saying the federal government is not against carbon pricing. Here is what Mr. Kent was quoted as saying in that piece.
“I’m saying that carbon taxes where the taxes go into general revenues…
The general “revenue” argument is not new, but I’m still not sure how that matters if, in Mr. Kent’s opinion, any price on carbon is equivalent to a carbon tax and if, as it seems the government wishes to convey, a carbon tax is an inherently bad idea. Unless, again, we’re allowing now that a price on carbon isn’t necessarily a terrible thing…
…, as the NDP’s would, for social engineering, not for the reduction of (greenhouse gases)…
This particular matter of revenue is perhaps an interesting and worthwhile nuance to explore: that any revenue derived from cap-and-trade or a carbon tax should not be used for social programs. If that’s what Mr. Kent means by “social engineering.” This point has been raised in the past: Stephane Dion’s Green Shift used some of the revenue to reduce poverty and Brian Topp raised it as a point of concern during the NDP leadership race.
In 2011, the NDP committed almost all of the revenues from cap-and-trade to what it termed “green initiatives.” And when I spoke with Thomas Mulcair in December, I asked him about this point. He said then that “there has to be an equivalent amount that goes into environmental purposes” and “it has to be concentrated in those provinces, those areas where that money is being generated.”
Is there a possible difference between “environmental purposes” and “the reduction of (greenhouse gases)”? Maybe. But is that suddenly all that remains of this apparent disagreement over the NDP’s cap-and-trade platform?
… that’s something we would consider to be … unworthy,” he said.
So is there a kind of carbon tax that Mr. Kent would consider worthy? Is Alberta’s carbon tax worthy?
The global debate about how to reduce carbon has not really taken a hard look at how effective carbon taxes are in actually cutting emissions, he added.
Fair enough. There are certainly questions to be asked. Which approach would be most effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions? Cap-and-trade, a carbon tax or regulations. Which would be the most cost-effective and efficient option? Here is Stephen Gordon’s take. Here is Jack Mintz’s take. If Mr. Kent is willing to engage it, there is certainly an interesting debate to be had.
I asked Mr. Kent’s office two questions after reading CP’s story on Wednesday. Here are those questions, with the responses provided.
Does Mr. Kent not categorically oppose all forms of carbon pricing?
Our government has been clear: we will not implement a carbon tax.
And what is Mr. Kent’s opinion of the kind of carbon tax used in Alberta?
With regards to Alberta, the Minister was very clear in the press conference and I refer you to the following statement from the presser on Wednesday: “Well, we’ve been working in terms of our federal sector by sector regulatory process with the oil and gas sector since late 2011. We continue to work with – with the sector, with stakeholders, with the provinces – Alberta and other provinces that are blessed with oil and gas. But I think it would be premature today to talk about where we are.”
These responses didn’t seem to sufficiently explain Mr. Kent’s position on carbon pricing, so I tried again.
The minister is quoted today as saying: “There hasn’t been a great deal of subtlety in talking about carbon pricing There are those carbon taxes where the revenues go into general revenue and do not guarantee the reduction of a single ton of greenhouse gases. (But) Alberta has a tech fund wherein their revenues are focused only, and in isolation, on technology to achieve further ghg reductions than the emitters in that province are already able to achieve.” Is he saying that carbon taxes are not necessarily bad policy?
To that I was told to refer to the previous responses.