May 18, 2017 3:49 pm
Updated: May 18, 2017 3:53 pm

It’s not a carbon tax, it’s a ‘behaviour-changing measure’: government officials

Minister of Environment Catherine McKenna responded by saying the government is working with provinces and territories to help build a more sustainable future for Canada.

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The Liberal government today released the carbon-pricing scheme it will impose on any province or territory that, by spring 2018, doesn’t have its own comparable scheme in place.

As of today, 97 per cent of Canadians live in provinces that either already have a price on carbon pollution, or are planning and working toward it, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said Thursday.

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The three per cent of Canadians left out of that equation are in Saskatchewan – the one province that continues to hold out on signing on to the Trudeau government’s climate change plan.

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Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is so opposed to the idea, he has said he’ll fight Ottawa all the way to the Supreme Court.

But McKenna isn’t concerned. Rather she’s certain imposing a country-wide price on carbon pollution is Ottawa’s prerogative.

“We’ve been working hard to work with Saskatchewan,” she told reporters, noting she’s had more than a dozen meetings on this issue with the province’s environment minister.

“But let me be absolutely clear, that it is well within the federal government’s right to take action to protect the environment.”

READ MORE: Sask. premier describes federal carbon tax plan as a ‘ransom note’

Environment Canada officials earlier in the day said a possible basis for legal action from Saskatchewan would be that the federal government cannot impose a tax on a province or territory. On that front, the feds are safe, the official said.

“This is not a revenue-raising tax,” he said. “This a behaviour-changing measure.”

Any revenue generated from whatever scheme a province develops will go right back to the province, though Ottawa is still determining exactly how that will happen; officials said they are so far looking at ways to return the funds to residents or businesses, which could help offset rising costs of energy.

Most Canadians live in jurisdictions where carbon pollution is already levied in some form.

B.C. and Alberta have carbon taxes, while Ontario and Quebec have cap-and-trade systems. Nova Scotia has said it intends to create a cap-and-trade system in 2018, and the other Atlantic provinces are gauging whether to join Nova Scotia’s plan or go it alone.

While the Liberal government is standing ready to impose the levy scheme it unveiled today, the scheme is also available to any province that doesn’t want to develop and implement its own.

Thursday’s “technical paper” on the federal carbon pricing plan details the levies on liquid, gas and solid fossil fuels Ottawa would impose in order to meet the targets Prime Minister Justin Trudeau laid out late last year.

READ MORE: Brad Wall criticizes attempt to link carbon tax with equalization payments

Canada has agreed to cut its emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. That requires a reduction of almost 200 million tonnes of carbon-equivalent emissions in 13 years, or the equivalent of taking every car in Canada off the road, twice.

In October, Trudeau announced his government’s intention to introduce a minimum price – or “floor price” – for carbon pollution of $10 per tonne in 2018, increasing to $50 per tonne by 2022.

With files from The Canadian Press

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