Canada’s premiers say they are “united” in wanting to take action on the affordability crisis facing Canadians, including the struggles they say are being faced due to carbon pricing across the country.
Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston, who chairs the Council of the Federation and hosted his provincial and territorial counterparts on Monday, said the group was calling on Ottawa for fairness.
“One immediate action that we discussed as premiers that can be taken to address the affordability challenges is to ensure that all Canadians are treated fairly by the federal government when it comes to the federal carbon tax and home heating,” he told reporters at a press conference following their meeting.
Controversy erupted from coast to coast late last month when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that there would be a three-year pause on the carbon price for home-heating oil, which is widely used in Atlantic Canada and led to widespread criticism from premiers elsewhere in the country, calling it unfair.
Days after, both Trudeau and ministers said there would be no further carve-outs.
The reaction has varied from province to province, with Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe saying his province would no longer collect carbon pricing starting in January if an expansion on the pause to all types of home heating is not made. Ontario Premier Doug Ford has said carbon pricing should be eliminated across the country.
On Monday, Houston and the premiers in a communique released as they began to speak to reporters called on Trudeau to hold a First Ministers meeting in person, something they said has not happened since Decembre 2018 “despite repeated requests from premiers.” Virtual meetings were held during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Houston said they want one held completely in person now.
Asked about working with the federal government would move forward if nothing changes on the current carbon pricing plan, several Atlantic premiers including Houston, questioned the effectiveness of the plan as it stands.
“I think it’s time to have a real analytical approach to the effect of the carbon tax and is it actually achieving what it was intended to do? And I would say, no, it’s not,” New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said.
Higgs, who has entertained questions of his own province enacting a similar stop as Saskatchewan, said the country should be looking at other ways to reduce emissions around the world “by energy sources that are available here.” He added that the carbon pricing plan is “kind of made in Canada that actually sticks to just Canada,” and does not look at other possibilities.
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British Columbia Premier David Eby said while the discussion could have been divisive given how home heating differs from province to province, he argued that the premiers shared concerns around affordability and fair treatment.
However, he noted several climate-related disasters his province has seen including the 2021 heat dome and devastating wildfires seen this summer, saying his jurisdiction’s own carbon pricing plan has been effective.
Moe, however, stressed the conversation is not about which is the most effective tool to reduce emissions but about “fairness for Canadian families.”
“The issue isn’t the policy, it’s how the policy is being applied and up until now largely has been somewhat fairly applied across the nation. I don’t think anyone can say this today,” he said.
Newly-sworn-in Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew also weighed in on the discussion and how it would apply to his province when asked if he would be asking for his own carve-out, to which he said: yes.
“I think we would love it if there were a silver bullet on climate change,” he said. “But the carbon tax is not a silver bullet when it comes to climate change. Rather, it seems like it’s going to be the hard work of many separate individual initiatives that is going to move the ball forward in terms of a climate-friendly future.”
More to come…
Carbon pricing was not the only point of discussion during the premiers meeting, with the premiers detailing in their communique multiple “priority issues.”
This includes the premiers agreeing to explore legislative frameworks similar to what they said is in place in Quebec that would require provincial authorization before municipalities or public agencies enter into any agreements with Ottawa.
“Our housing and infrastructure issues can’t be solved by the federal and municipal governments acting without meaningful involvement from provinces and territories,” Houston said.
Health care, an issue Houston said was a primary focus of the meeting, also was discussed with the premiers taking questions including on provinces recruiting from other jurisdictions.
Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey said the group recognized health-care professionals were in demand but they would prevent an “aggressive, active” recruitment campaign.
“Canada has an absolute imperative to continue to provide top-notch care in our own jurisdictions,” Furey said. “Robbing Peter to pay Paul does not help advance that agenda in any way, shape or form.”
Yet he added that the premiers tackled the aspect of limiting agency nurses, saying they were seeing nurses moving from one province to another “fairly quickly” and “providing Bandaid-style care.”
The communique noted the health-care needs are not the same from province to province and to address current and future challenges “cannot be viewed as a “one-size-fits-all solution.”