Rearview mirrors: Western premiers and the carbon tax

Premiers Scott Moe and Jason Kenney are trying to use the federal election results to prevent action on climate change
Premier Scott Moe

Justin Trudeau’s re-election has unleashed political outrage in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is talking about Alberta’s being “betrayed.” Saskatchewan’s Premier Scott Moe sent a letter to Trudeau demanding that he cancel the federal carbon tax, build various pipelines and renegotiate the formula for equalization payments.

I’ll withhold detailed comment on equalization payments, other than to say that for many years Saskatchewan was a have-not province that relied heavily upon them. But let’s look more closely at Moe’s letter as it relates to the carbon tax and pipelines. His strident demands are likely based upon the election results in Saskatchewan and Alberta, where the Conservatives won 47 of 48 seats. On the other hand, parties supporting a carbon levy won almost two-thirds of the seats and popular vote across Canada.

Not monolithic

It is significant, too, that the results in Alberta and Saskatchewan were not monolithic. In Alberta, 28 per cent of those casting ballots voted for the Liberals, NDP or Greens, and these parties all support a carbon tax. In Saskatchewan, 34 per cent of the electors voted for those three parties. If we had purely proportional representation rather than our flawed first-past-the-post electoral system, parties other than the Conservatives would have 10 seats in Alberta and five in Saskatchewan. So Kenney and Moe cannot say that they are speaking on behalf of all their constituents.

The carbon tax

Kenney, Moe and others constantly repeat the mantra that the carbon tax will be a “job killer” and according to Doug Ford will lead to a recession. But these claims have been challenged. In a February 2019, three independent experts, including the highly respected Don Drummond, said: “Economists are virtually unanimous in the view that carbon pricing reduces greenhouse gas emissions at the lowest possible cost to the economy.” British Columbia, Quebec and California are all using some form of carbon tax and their economies are humming along.

If Moe and others are opposed to a carbon tax, what is their suggestion, if any, for a means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? There’s the rub. While Moe, Kenney, Ford, and Andrew Sheer rail against the carbon tax, or demand that various pipelines be built, they usually avoid any mention of the climate crisis.

Confronting the crisis

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which includes the world’s best climate scientists, has been issuing reports for years and they are becoming increasingly urgent in tone. The IPCC now says that global carbon dioxide emissions will have to fall by 45 per cent in 2030, and to reach a net of zero by 2050 to avoid catastrophic damage.

The Trudeau government, implausibly many suggest, has promised that it is on course to meet those targets and a carbon tax is the centerpiece of that effort. Ottawa believes the tax will encourage a market shift away from fossil fuels toward renewable sources of energy.

Tactics of delay

The strategy of opponents has shifted from denying the reality of climate change, which is no longer credible, to tactics of delay. During the election campaign, Conservatives said they would require large polluters to pay into a research and development fund for green technology. That plan appeared suspiciously akin to what was being proposed by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers which has a close relationship with Andrew Scheer. Tellingly, the proposal contained no associated targets or timetables for reducing emissions, and was described by one analyst as simply “a plan to expand fossil fuel production.”

Support on the street

While premiers Moe and Kenney attempt to delay, there is growing support on the street for climate action. On September 27 hundreds of thousands of people, 500,000 in Montreal alone, marched in 200 Canadian cities and towns. Many of them were young and they were participating in a global day of action demanding that political leaders do more to confront the climate crisis. They are looking to the future. Premiers Moe and Kenney are staring into the rear-view mirror.

Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based author and a former Member of Parliament. His latest book is Speeches That Changed Canada.


6 thoughts on “Rearview mirrors: Western premiers and the carbon tax

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  1. The underlying “logic” of politicians who claim the clean energy transition will be too expensive is basically an abstracted version of “we can’t afford to not burn our house.”

    Bart Hawkins Kreps: Pulling the Plug on Fossil Fuel Production Subsidies.
    Many major fossil fuel corporations have expressed their support for carbon taxes as a preferred method of addressing the climate change challenge. I am not aware, however, of such corporate leaders advocating the simpler and more obvious approach of removing all fossil fuel subsidies.
    Perhaps this is because they know that carbon taxes almost always start out too small to make much difference, and that every attempt to raise them will stir intense opposition from lower- and middle-income consumers who feel the bite of such taxes most directly.
    The costs of producer subsidies, on the other hand, are spread across the entire population, while the benefits are concentrated very effectively among fossil fuel corporations and their financial backers. And by boosting the supply of fossil fuels, especially oil, to a level that could not be maintained under “free market” requirements for profitability, these subsidies maintain the hope of continuous economic growth based on supposedly cheap energy.
    Among the overwhelming majority of voters without big financial portfolios, the cessation of handouts to corporations strikes me as an easier sell than carbon taxes levied directly and regressively on consumers.
    David Hughes: Using incentives to build renewables should be complemented with a program that eliminates fossil fuel subsidies of “US$1,283 per person in Canada in 2015.”


  2. John Gorman wrote an interesting article in the Globe and Mail this week that I’ll quote in part given that it provides some ideas I hadn’t considered when thinking about resolving the climate crisis. It’s begins by noting in the title – “Nuclear energy is an important part of solving the climate crisis.” ”Despite the strong growth, the percentage of emissions-free electricity in the world has not increased in 20 years. It’s stuck at 36 per cent, according to a recent IEA report. This is because global demand keeps increasing, renewables need to be backed up by new fossil fuel sources and nuclear plants are being shut down prematurely. We must face a sobering reality: Renewable energy alone is simply not enough to address the climate crisis. ..Unfortunately, many Canadians wrongly believe our future energy demands can be met with renewables alone. ….The truth is that when you consider the entire power generation life cycle, nuclear energy is one of the least expensive energy sources. That’s because uranium is cheap and abundant, and nuclear reactors – though costly to build – last for several decades. Used nuclear fuel is small in quantity, properly stored, strictly regulated and poses no threat to human health or the environment. …We need to extend the life of existing plants rather than closing them prematurely. We need to invest in new modern technologies including small modular reactors, which can be deployed in off-grid settings such as remote communities and mining sites. And we need to use nuclear alongside renewables to power the grid. We must act before it’s too late. And we can’t afford to be distracted from real, practical solutions by a completely impossible dream of 100 per cent renewable energy. .. The time for nuclear is now.”


  3. To the supporters of nuclear power I would like to point out a few problems: A major one is the problem of decommissioning the old plants. I have heard of solutions being found in “the near future” for nearly fifty years. Every one of those dangerous and derelict plants still stand as witness to failure. Then one only need to look at the likes of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. And I suppose there are only a few of those but is Chernobyl and will be dangerous, likely for centuries. Besides, nuclear advocates never mention the myriad ways there are of using climate friendly methods instead of using fossil fuels and other much more dangerous, costly, and wasteful means we are using that are damaging the climate. Climate friendly ways such as: retrofitting buildings, climate friendly new buildings, groups of buildings using geothermal sources. Use your imagination; there are many more ways in existence. There is an energy efficient home in Saskatoon that has never had a furnace. Think of the financial gains for people. Think of the work for people. Remove all subsidies for the fossil fuel industry and apply it to subsidize the transition to climate friendly actions and research for further improvements in our climate and fostering the hope that our descendants will have a life.


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