Some premiers would rather ‘complain’ than make carbon price alternative: Trudeau

Click to play video: 'Some premiers would rather ‘complain’ than make carbon price alternative: Trudeau'
Some premiers would rather ‘complain’ than make carbon price alternative: Trudeau
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that premiers are welcome to come up with their own pollution pricing systems that use the federal backstop, but it seem like some would rather "complain." – Apr 1, 2024

Liberal Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey is calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to call an “emergency meeting of leaders from across the country” to talk about potential alternatives to the federal carbon price increasing to $80 per tonne.

When asked about the call for a meeting, Trudeau said that provinces have always had the ability to come up with their own alternative plans that include the minimum carbon price.

“So, all those premiers that are busy complaining about the price on pollution but not putting forward a concrete alternative that they think would be better for their communities are just playing politics,” Trudeau said at a news conference in Scarborough, Ont.

“Every province has the opportunity to put forward its own plan as long as they are fighting climate change to the same level that we’re asking all other Canadians to do. That’s what a federal backstop is. But we’re not seeing detailed plans from the premiers on this. They’d much rather try to complain about it and make political hay out of this.”

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Trudeau concluded by saying that the carbon price is expected to contribute to a third of Canada’s emission reduction for 2030 and rebate cheques are set to go out on April 15.

The annual increase took effect on Monday, rising from $65 per tonne. At the pumps, this translates to the carbon price on fuel rising from about $0.14 to almost $0.18.

“The threat of climate change is pressing. There is wide consensus that decarbonization is imperative; no serious counter arguments remain. The only question is how best, at this time, to do so. Realizing our shared climate goals depends on an orderly green transition that brings society alongside instead of fueling dissent,” Furey wrote in a letter posted on X.

“I am grateful you have expressed the federal government’s openness to revisit provincial and territorial carbon pricing solutions, yet this remains a federal instrument. We need a constructive approach to decarbonize our environment without placing the burden on individual families who simply do not have viable alternative options.”

Furey, along with other premiers, has been calling for at least a pause on the increase, citing cost-of-living challenges. This includes the premiers of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Click to play video: 'Alberta premier tells HoC committee planned carbon price increase is ‘inhumane’'
Alberta premier tells HoC committee planned carbon price increase is ‘inhumane’

In response, Trudeau wrote the opposing premiers, saying they are welcome to come up with alternative plans, like British Columbia, Quebec and the Northwest Territories have, that meet the federal minimum price.

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Speaking in Nanaimo, B.C., Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre accused Trudeau of threatening provinces into making carbon pricing plans.

“Right now, Justin Trudeau has basically threatened B.C. He said either B.C. will bring in its own carbon tax or if it doesn’t, the Trudeau government will force one from Ottawa,” Poilievre said.

“By removing that threat, British Columbians can elect a commonsense provincial government that can axe the tax here in B.C.,” Poilievre said.

The B.C. Liberals, now known as B.C. United, first introduced its carbon price in 2008, 11 years before the federal fuel charge took effect.

British Columbians will head to the polls later this year, where an election must be held before Oct. 19.

When asked how he would reduce emissions, Poilievre said his government would make alternatives like small modular reactors, tidal power, and carbon capture and hydroelectric dams less expensive.

“In other words, when Trudeau proposes taxes, I propose technology. Where he proposes to raise the cost of traditional energy we still need, I propose to lower the cost of alternatives,” Poilievre said.

Outside speeding up project approvals, Poilievre did not get into specifics of how exactly he would lower costs of these alternatives.

Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew says he plans on presenting a new plan for carbon pricing in the province. Manitoba is the lone province where both the federal industrial and fuel carbon prices are in effect. The Yukon and Nunavut are also both under the dual federal price.

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When asked why the prime minister believes Liberal and NDP premiers in the case of Furey and Kinew are not supporting the carbon price, Trudeau did not answer directly, instead posing his own question.

“I think the question is why are so many conservative politicians and provincial premiers opposed to a plan that is extraordinarily powerful in fighting climate change and sparking innovation and puts more money back in the pockets of Canadians? We hear premiers across the country worried about the cost of living for their citizens, and yet they want to scrap cheques that leave more money in people’s pockets,” Trudeau said.

Trudeau and his ministers have been adamant that eight out of 10 households where the federal fuel price is in place receive more in quarterly rebates than they pay. In Newfoundland, for example, the average rebate for a family of four is $298 every three months.

That financial breakdown is backed up by a March 2023 parliamentary budget officer report, but that same report does say most households see greater net costs when broader economic factors, like lost employment and investment income, are included.

The report notes that the alternative is based on having no other climate policy, noting any action taken will come at a cost.

Still, Premier Furey and others say their constituents are feeling the increasing fiscal pinch associated with the increasing pollution price. The goal of the charge is to change behaviours, but Furey argues this isn’t possible in some circumstances.

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“Today, a gas-powered truck drives fishing gear to the wharf in a rural Newfoundland and Labrador community. After April 1, there will be an additional carbon tax, but that same truck still must drive fishing gear to the wharf. There are no alternatives available. So, the key intent of this policy, to lower emissions, is not being achieved at this time,” Furey wrote.

A recent report from the Canadian Climate Institute estimates the federal fuel charge accounts for eight to 14 per cent of Canada’s emission reduction. The carbon price on industrial emitters, which most premiers don’t take issue with, is estimated to be responsible for 20 to 48 per cent of emissions reductions.

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