The carbon tax and pipeline policy inevitably came up during Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to Regina on Jan. 10 and 11.
Prior to his Thursday night town hall, a contingent of Yellow Vest protestors held up pro-pipeline and anti-United Nations signs outside the Kinesiology Building at the University of Regina.
On Friday, the prime minister announced $25.6 million to help fund the second phase in developing a geothermal power plant near Torquay, Sask, west of Estevan.
The provincial government has also contributed support to this project since 2014.
In the background of this announcement, the provincial and federal governments are preparing to meet in Saskatchewan’s Court of Appeal on whether Ottawa can impose a carbon tax on Saskatchewan.
“There will be things we disagree on, but I think we all know that we do need to fight climate change. We do know we need to build a stronger economy for the future,” Trudeau said.
The court will hear arguments from Ottawa and Saskatchewan on Feb. 13 and 14. Trudeau said greenhouse gas emissions do not observe political borders and the environment is federal responsibility. Saskatchewan argues it is unconstitutional to impose a tax on some provinces, but not others.
It will be up to the courts to decide whether or not the federal carbon tax joins Saskatchewan’s Prairie Resilience.
“Our plan is actually broader based and more comprehensive than anything that the federal government has put forward,” Saskatchewan Innovation Minister Tina Beaudry-Mellor said.
“I think Saskatchewan people want to see we are standing up for very important resource industries in this province.”
Prairie Resilience focuses on performance standards for heavy emitters and growing renewable power generation.
The federal government accepted the provisions of Prairie Resilience when announcing the carbon tax framework, but still said all pollution needs to be priced.
“Our focus on bringing forward a price on pollution is very simple; there is too much pollution in our atmosphere, because for too long pollution has been free,” Trudeau said.
To help individuals and families adjust to increased costs brought on by carbon tax, Ottawa will be issuing tax rebates. Trudeau said a Saskatchewan family can expect around $200 this year at $20 per tonne, and $1,300 when carbon tax reaches $50 per tonne in 2022.
Another sticking point on energy policy, pipelines. The Saskatchewan government has railed against federal Bill C-69, which aims to overhaul the energy project approval process. This includes examining the social impacts of projects like pipelines.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe referred to it as the “no more pipelines bill” during a pro-pipeline rally Tuesday.
Trudeau said the federal government is well aware of the challenges in Saskatchewan and Alberta due to low oil prices, and that his government is committed to getting the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion built.
“We do not have markets other than the United States, and that’s why moving forward in the right way on the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion is a priority for this government,” Trudeau said.
This “right way” includes improved First Nations consultation, a key reason why the federal Court of Appeal halted the project. After this decision, Ottawa purchased the pipeline from proponent Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion when the company looked to abandon the expansion.
“I do think he is genuine, but I do think obviously they have a certain agenda that they want to fulfill,” Beaudry-Mellor said on Trudeau’s desire to build the pipeline. “We’ve heard the language change from carbon tax to price on pollution, and that’s quite deliberate obviously.”
Beaudry-Mellor added the new funding partnership on the future geothermal power plant shows there are ways Saskatchewan can work with the federal government on green energy that don’t involve a carbon tax.
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