Federal environment minister says areas with carbon price lead economic growth in letter to Saskatchewan

Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna speaks during a press conference on the government's environmental and regulatory reviews related to major projects, in the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

The debate over carbon pricing continues between Saskatchewan and Ottawa. The latest phase is a letter from federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, urging Saskatchewan to adopt a carbon pricing system, saying more than half the world’s economy has some form of carbon pricing in place.

This letter is in response to a letter sent to McKenna by Saskatchewan Environment Minister Dustin Duncan at the end of February.

“Attaching a cost to pollution creates a market signal to avoid that pollution. It is a flexible, market friendly tool that lets companies and families choose what works for them,” McKenna said.
McKenna added that pricing carbon has had positive effects in the past, such as curbing acid rain.

“Four out of five Canadians live in jurisdictions that already price carbon, and those provinces are among Canada’s leaders in job creation and economic growth today,” McKenna said.

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She then goes on to outline concerns raised by Duncan about a carbon tax’s impact on Indigenous communities, farmers and rural residents. McKenna countered by saying that Saskatchewan is best positioned to design a pricing scheme that safeguards these vulnerable areas.

In Duncan’s letter, he said that Canada is too diverse for a “one-size-fits-all” method that the federal government is pitching.

“Some jurisdictions have already invested in low carbon technologies such as carbon capture and storage; some regions are blessed with rivers for hydro while others have beds of coal; and some economies are more exposed to international trade,” Duncan said.

“The government of Canada’s one-size-fits-all climate change policy is not about fairness – it’s about uniformity and federal control.”

Both Duncan and Premier Scott Moe have remained steady in saying that Saskatchewan will not have a carbon tax and that they will challenge a federal tax in court if it is imposed on Saskatchewan.

READ MORE: ‘If this does end up in court, so be it’: Saskatchewan’s premier not backing down on carbon pricing

Saskatchewan’s current carbon plan, Prairie Resilience, focuses on technological innovation to curb emissions. It does contain talk of pricing pollution for the heaviest industrial emitters, such as Regina’s Co-op Refinery.

However, McKenna has said that this plan likely will not meet federal standards. Prairie Resilience, along with all other provincial and territorial plans, will be evaluated against the federal criteria in September.

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“To be clear, we cannot accept your request not to price carbon in Saskatchewan,” McKenna said. “Among other reasons, it would be patently unfair for one jurisdiction to avoid participating in this important national effort to support clean growth and cut pollution.”

Saskatchewan has already missed out on collecting $62 million from the Low Carbon Economy Leadership fund by not signing onto the pan-Canadian climate framework.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan to lose $62.5 million if climate agreement is not signed

Moe said Saskatchewan did not sign on because part of the language is acknowledging that carbon pricing is an essential part of combatting climate change. However, he said the province still intends on applying for their share of the funding.

McKenna said that Saskatchewan’s share will be put into a challenge fund. This is money that municipalities, farmers, or other private bodies can apply to access to help fund green initiatives.

The federal minister ends her letter on a collaborative note, saying she looks forward to working with Saskatchewan on other carbon sequestration methods including the carbon capture and storage facility at Boundary Dam Three in Estevan, the plan to produce 50 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2030 plus agriculture and forestry techniques to reduce emissions.

Duncan says that the methodology outlined in Prairie Resilience is expected to be implemented in 2019, and Saskatchewan is committed to working with Ottawa to achieve emission reduction goals outlined in the Paris Agreement.

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“Climate change is a shared challenge. The Canadian federation best meets challenges when jurisdictions have the flexibility to innovate and bring forward solutions,” Duncan said.

“I hope the Government of Canada considers a more collaborative path forward.”

Minister Dustin Duncan’s February 28 letter.

Minister Catherine McKenna’s response.

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