VANCOUVER – Several premiers are pushing back against federal resolve to put a price on carbon emissions as they sit down with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday to discuss climate policy.
However, the dissent didn’t appear to dampen the mood, with all the participants agreeing the talks are necessary and more collective policy action is required.
“Listen, I don’t think anyone has done enough,” said Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil on the way into the scheduled five-hour meeting.
Premier Brad Wall continues carbon tax opposition, but can’t do much if it’s approved
“But I think we need to recognize that there’s more than one way to deal with the carbon issue.”
NcNeil said that after spending heavily on hydro-electric transmission, Atlantic Canada has effectively built a carbon price into electricity rates that are the highest in Canada.
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Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski is also against imposing any additional costs on fossil fuel consumers in Canada’s North, as are his counterparts in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
“Our position now is more aligned with Yukon and Nunavut in being against any carbon pricing scheme that would penalize northerners by raising our cost of living,” Shaun Best, a spokesman for Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod, said in an email from Yellowknife.
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Brad Wall, the Saskatchewan premier who’s been leading a lonely charge against a federally imposed carbon tax, strolled into the meeting almost unmolested by the media horde camped in the halls of the Vancouver Convention Centre.
Wall cleared the air late Wednesday by saying Saskatchewan would participate “constructively” in proposed working groups that will examine four policy areas — including carbon pricing — over the next six months.
READ MORE: Brad Wall vows ‘constructive role’ as premiers sit down with Trudeau on climate
The federal government has been quietly insisting for weeks that a national carbon price, as promised in the Liberal election platform, will be imposed from above if provinces are unable to agree on their own system for pricing greenhouse gas emissions.
That unwavering stance could provide some drama in a first ministers’ meeting that is now clearly focused on process rather than immediate results.
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Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger, who like Wall faces re-election this spring, said there’s a common understanding among the premiers that action on climate change can and should take many paths.
“The do-nothing option is not there,” said Selinger, citing floods and other impacts of a changing climate already underway.
“It costs you billions of dollars to do nothing. So you might as well make a decision to do things that are going to grow your economy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and do it in a way that’s flexible.”
The first ministers meeting has taken on a fractious atmosphere amid squabbling over who was invited to the table, pipeline politics and a dispute over carbon pricing.
Expectations for the meeting — Trudeau’s second with the premiers since taking office in November — have been repeatedly lowered and the goal now is to find a common front in continuing a process toward a national policy framework.
What exactly is carbon pricing? 5 things to know
- The point of carbon pricing is to charge producers and consumers for the cost of the carbon pollution they are discharging into the atmosphere, to discourage polluting behaviour, and reward innovation in energy efficiency.Carbon pricing is done by the tonne. So what’s a tonne of CO2? It’s the amount of carbon produced by driving an average car 3,831 kilometres, or burning up 42 tanks of barbecue propane, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A tonne of CO2 would be equivalent in volume to a cube roughly eight metres high, deep and wide. There are many systems for carbon pricing that fall under two basic models. Carbon taxes are levied by government by setting a price per tonne on the production of greenhouse gases, typically on the sale and use of fossil fuels depending on the carbon content of the fuel. Cap-and-trade systems set economy-wide limits on emissions and then establish a carbon market, within which industries are allotted permits for emissions which they can buy and sell, with the costs passed on to consumers.British Columbia is the only Canadian province that currently charges a broad-based carbon tax. Alberta is adding a carbon tax in 2017. Since 2012, B.C.’s $30 per tonne tax has added 6.67 cents to each litre of gasoline purchased in the province and 7.67 cents to each litre of diesel. All revenues from the B.C. carbon tax are returned to citizens through tax cuts and low-income supplements. B.C.’s revenue-neutral carbon tax has not hampered economic growth. Quebec joined California in a cap-and-trade carbon market in 2014 and Ontario is set to start trading in the same market in 2017. Manitoba has said it intends to also join the same Western Climate Initiative market, which means B.C., Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec — representing 85 per cent of Canadian citizens and about 90 per cent of GDP — will soon place a market price on carbon. The government of Newfoundland and Labrador also has said it intends to price carbon.