Trudeau’s Carbon Reduction Plan Inadequate
Dimitri Lascaris, says Trudeau’s pricing schemes is defective and not even close to what is necessary to enforce reductions
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. The Canadian liberal government of Justin Trudeau released a technical paper for pricing carbon pollution on Thursday. The paper entitled The Pan Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change is made available for public comment until June 30th. It outlines a levy system on fossil fuels for the next five years for provinces that currently are without a plan. All provinces across Canada except for Saskatchewan are complying. Here’s the minister of the environment Catherine McKenna in Ottawa on Thursday.
Catherine M.: We need a price on pollution across the country. If a province does not have a plan by 2018 then a federal option will be implemented. First, there will be a levy on fossil fuels that will be charged to the producers or distributors of the fuel. Second, there will be a price on pollution from industry. Companies that are performing well with respect to other companies will not have to pay. Importantly, should the federal plan apply, every penny collected from the price on pollution will be returned into the province where it was collected.
SHARMINI PERIES: With us to discuss the liberal’s new carbon plan, and if it will in fact lead to reduction in greenhouse gases, we are joined by Dimitri Lasacaris. Dimitri is a lawyer, journalist, and former justice critic for the green party of Canada. Dimitri is also on his way to Vancouver next week for The Real News to do an interview with Canadian environmental legend David Suzuki, the former host of Nature of Things on CBC. Thank you so much for joining us Dimitri.
DIMITRI LASACARIS: Thank you for having me Sharmini.
SHARMINI PERIES: So Dimitri, let’s assess the plan. What is the plan that Minister McKenna is proposing here?
DIMITRI LASACARIS: So it’s basically a default carbon pricing plan. It ensures that provinces that do not already have their own carbon pricing plan will have one effectively imposed on them by the Canadian federal government no later than next year, and no earlier than next year. Provinces can implement a carbon pricing scheme either by imposing a direct price on carbon, such as a carbon tax, or an indirect pricing scheme, such as capping trade. BC, Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec representing more than 80% of Canada’s population already have carbon pricing systems, albeit weak ones. The Trudeau government announced last year as we reported on The Real News, a federal plan to impose a carbon price of $10 per ton in 2018 increasing by $10 per ton per year until 2022, at which point it will apparently cap out at about $50 per ton.
Now according to the Canadian government’s technical paper released yesterday, a $10 per ton carbon price adds about two cents to each cubic meter of natural gas, and 2.3 cents to each liter of gas. That would mean that by 2022, a 50 liter tank of gas would cost about $5.82 more, that’s the whole tank, and that the natural gas heating bill for the average single detached home would rise by $264 a year. In Ontario where I live gas currently costs about, at the pump, about $1.10 per liter. So an increase of 2.3 cents per year is very modest, and frankly unlikely to have a major effect on overall consumption patterns. You know back when the price of oil was much higher, the price at the pump was obviously much higher as well, well above $1.10, and that didn’t seem to be having a dramatic impact on consumption patterns of Canadian consumers of gas. There’s little reason to think that that’s going to change now. We’ll come back to that in a minute.
The other thing I want to mention about the plan is that it’s similar to a scheme recently adopted in the province of Alberta, which is the home of the tar sands industry. That is essentially a hybrid scheme to reducing carbon emissions, which as the minister mentioned in that clip that you showed, imposes a direct levy on fossil fuels and puts a price on carbon emissions from industry. And with respect to industry emissions, the federal plan will set limits on industrial pollution, and will ensure that the more an industrial facility pollutes above its limit, the more it pays. If it’s under its limit, it can then earn credits, which it can sell. So much will depend on the details here. It’s not going to be, you know where are those limits going to be set is going to be absolutely crucial, and are there any industries that are going to be exempted to some degree or entirely from the carbon price. So that’s the overview of the plan.
SHARMINI PERIES: Would you give us some context as to why, actually political context, as to why the government thinks will help Canada reduce emissions and grow a clean economy?
DIMITRI LASACARIS: Well I think the government has come to understand, as has frankly the fossil fuels industry in Canada, that inaction is no longer politically sellable. There has to be at least an appearance of action. The purported purpose of this plan is to enable Canada to achieve its emission reduction target under the Paris Climate Accord, and that was a reduction of 30% in carbon emissions below 2005 levels, which amounts to about 523 megatons of carbon. That goal, let’s just put this in context. This is the goal that was formulated by the predecessor government of Steven Harbor. It was roundly criticized by the opposition parties, including the liberals before they came to power, but after they came to power, they suddenly adopted this as an adequate target. If that target and the other targets that have been put forward in the Paris Climate Accord negotiations are actually fulfilled, and that’s of course a big question mark including with respect to Canada, we won’t get anywhere close to the two degree Celsius limit. Certainly not the 1.5 degree Celsius limit. We’re going to see warming in the range of three degrees Celsius.
So even if the emission and reduction targets, including Canada’s, are achieved, we’re going to experience catastrophic warming. The bad news, that’s the bad news. The really bad news is that this pricing scheme won’t even get us close to achieving Canada’s emission reduction target. As York University environment professor Mark Winfield has said, it’s not even close if Canada is going to meet its promise to emission reduction targets through carbon prices, it would have to impose a price of $30 a ton now, not sometime in 2018, but now, rising to $200 a ton by 2030. Here we’re talking about $10 a ton next year rising to an apparent cap of $50 a ton.
The other thing that I think we have to bear in mind about this plan is that, and the minister was almost boasting about this in her presentation that you showed earlier, that oh the money is going to stay in the province, and the provinces are going to be free to give that money back to taxpayers. Well as a prominent Canadian environmental organization environmental defense stated yesterday, although it’s important for the government to provide assistance to low income households who are disproportionately impacted by carbon pricing, the majority of revenue from carbon pricing should be used to invest in further reducing greenhouse gas emissions and building a clean economy in Canada, and as environmental defense notes, holding shows that this is the most effective use of carbon pricing dollars and the approach that finds the most support among Canadians. So it actually enjoys popular support.
So what we have here is a plan that is highly defective. One could plausibly argue that this is really window dressing to deal with the political reality that complete inactionism and obstructionism, the kind of attitude we saw from the prior government, is no longer politically sellable. The one thing I want to conclude with is that the Canadian government, this is not a done deal. People need to understand that. The devil will be in the details. The Canadian government is inviting comment from stakeholders, and that’s a term that I personally dislike intensely because usually that’s meant to be an invitation to industry to come in and dominate the discussion, and you can be sure that that’s what’s going to happen here. As it is, there are going to be corporate interests that are going to try to weaken it further, that are going to try to make the implementation of it, of a substantial weakening of the inadequate plan that we already have in place.
It’s going to be very important that the government hear not just from corporate stakeholders, but from citizens who are deeply concerned about the climate crisis, and who are going to demand real action on climate change. So I really encourage people to take the opportunity to make their voices heard to the government.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right Dimitri, speaking of opposition to the plan, let’s take a look at the leader of the opposition, NDP’s Tom Mulcair respond to the plan.
Tom Mulcair: The NDP has always been in favor of putting a price on carbon. That’s one of the key things that’s required to start reducing the amount of greenhouse gases that we produce in Canada. That’s a given for everyone understands the purpose of that. The problem of course is as usual in the details. Here, what we’re learning is that despite all their talk the liberals have not done anything for example to reduce subsidies for fossil fuelings. That’s billions of dollars that this liberal government will give over to subsidize fossil fuels. That’s a big mistake. We also still don’t have a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Your thoughts on Mulcair’s comments there Dimitri.
DIMITRI LASACARIS: I think he’s certainly correct. When we were covering the people’s climate march in Washington a couple of weeks ago, we interviewed Alex Doukas from Oil Change International. He talked about the hypocrisy of the liberal government promising in the election campaign of 2015 quite rightly to bring an end to fossil fuel subsidies, but they haven’t done that, and only very recently began to make very modest movements to reduce those subsidies. So certainly Tom Mulcair is correct about that. He’s correct to say that this plan is inadequate, but let’s take a look at what Tom Mulcair’s record is on this issue. He hasn’t had an opportunity to govern federally, but during the 2015 election campaign a star candidate from the Toronto Center writing Linda McQuaig, went on national television and said something that is simply a scientific reality. That is that if we’re going to avoid catastrophic climate change we have to keep the vast majority of the tar sands in the ground. When she said that, it was a modest scientifically accurate statement, Tom Mulcair threw her under the bus. Tom Mulcair disavowed her statements and basically allowed people on the right to paint her out as being some sort of eco-radical when she was simply expressing the mainstream view of the scientific community.
So while I am in agreement with the substance of Tom Mulcair’s critique, his party under his leadership has hardly been a champion of dealing with the climate crisis either.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. This plan Dimitri, what does it mean for provinces like Alberta who houses large chunks of the tar sands?
DIMITRI LASACARIS: Well because Alberta has its own plan, and as long as its plan meets what is effectively the federal floor, the federal government is setting a floor on the carbon price, it’s not going to have to change anything. So as things currently stand, this is not going to have an impact on Alberta. Where it’s going to have an impact is on the neighboring province of Saskatchewan whose right wing Premier Brad Wall is resistant to any kind of a price on carbon. Really is sort of beholding to the fossil fuels industry in a shameless way. What is shaping up in regard to Saskatchewan is going to be potentially a constitutional battle because he is making noises about taking the federal government to court about whether they even have the jurisdiction to do this. Catherine McKenna in the last couple of days was very pointed in her public commentary saying we actually as a federal government do have the constitutional authority to do this.
As a lawyer, and that of Paul Cavalluzzo constitutionalists specialist we interviewed previously on The Real News, that the federal government of Canada clearly has the constitutional authority to do this. But the very beginning of Justin Trudeau’s tenure in last 2015, Catherine McKenna and her Chief of Staff Marlo Raynolds were saying we’re openly questioning whether they had the ability to do this under the law. So at least it’s reassuring to see that they have found religion on the legal issue. They understood that they do have the authority to do that, but that’s not going to stop Brad Wall of Saskatchewan from taking them to court and trying to delay the implementation of this plan.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right Dimitri, I look forward to listening to what the public have to say, and as you say a lot of corporations will be coming out and testifying at these responses to the paper, but I hope lots of citizens do too. I hope you follow it for us, and report back on it. Thank you so much.
DIMITRI LASACARIS: Thank you Sharmini.
SHARMINI PERIES: Thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.