This Trudeau plan will not lower emissions: Weinstein & Cohn

As we warned last month, the Trudeau government’s proposed new carbon pricing measures, put in place by the provinces but funded federally, wouldn’t be as straightforward as it seemed.

The federal Liberals unveiled its bad ideas – to impose a cap-and-trade system on all provinces and ignore provincial responses – back in 2017. At first, other provinces were happy to play along: The Harper government’s carbon tax was dismissed as merely a way for Ottawa to keep a tax on everything.

But public opposition gradually mounted – for instance, gas tax payers in Quebec voted against introducing a federal carbon tax of their own, as did Ontario residents. A year later, on the eve of the federal budget, Stephen Harper’s cabinet was stampeded out of office – ushered out, miserably, by Justin Trudeau.

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Open this photo in gallery A screen shot from a Liberal budget speech explaining the federal government’s carbon tax plan shows that it’s not going to solve the problem, it’s only contributing to the problem.

The Liberals’ anti-carbon-tax plan has suffered public embarrassment, too. Since the budget’s publication, Ontario’s Doug Ford has dropped the promised carbon tax to 4.5 cents a litre. Progressive Conservative Justin Trudeau, who’s shown more courage than Doug, recently floated a “federal cap-and-trade pilot program.” It’s all incredibly confusing and offensive to a federal government that – I kid you not – is supposed to be helping the provinces deal with their carbon-tax woes.

It would be more understandable if the federal government was taking clear steps to tackle the rising costs of fossil fuels, as Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne has (fairly) been trying to do. Instead, most federal Liberal action is basically lip service. They’ve contributed only $81.5-million since 2006 to the Canadian Clean Energy Challenge, which invests $15-million annually in clean energy projects. There’s another $175-million ($525-million total) available for new investments, according to government figures. This is such a tiny amount to fund this huge national environmental and health crisis, it’s unbelievable.

Carbon emissions are still rising in Canada and, in fact, they’ve reached levels not seen since just before the publication of the modern UN climate change treaty, the Paris Climate Agreement.

In 2017, Canada’s total emissions were 338.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. That’s a rise of 2.2 million tonnes, about 10 times higher than even the worst-case scenario. And, “the Kyoto targets remain unachieved and our emissions, though rising, are still below the pre-recession levels.”

With new proposals, the Liberal government would impose a carbon tax of $10 a tonne in Ontario, and $12 in every other province except British Columbia, which received special treatment from the Trudeau government as it was about to join the ill-fated and ultimately disastrous United States-led Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal.

Hugh MacIntyre of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released a report last month, showing that in Ontario alone the environmental harm will be greater than all-inclusive carbon taxes do to reduce emissions. He’s essentially right when he says that “carbon pricing may be necessary to be an effective environmental regulator, but in order to succeed you need to attract users and employers.”

Carbon taxes won’t fix the world’s biggest environmental crisis. It requires international action to make nations move to nuclear energy, where the price of electricity has risen by a factor of six in the past 40 years, according to the ICIJ. Canada must stick to its carbon price commitments, but it must push for international action that will actually address the crisis.

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Weinstein is a political-science professor at Western University, Canada Research Chair in Climate Change Policy, and a director of the Centre for Sustainable Climate Solutions. Regg Cohn is a political scientist at York University in Toronto. Their work on carbon pricing was published last month in the Journal of Politics: Notes from the Near North.

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