Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is rejecting charges his government is being heavy-handed and interfering with its plan to impose carbon pricing on provinces that don’t act on their own.
A day after announcing that the Liberal government was moving forward on a national plan to price carbon, the prime minister defended his strategy against criticism from federal Conservatives and some provinces.
“A carbon tax is a bad idea and Canadian taxpayers will be the ones paying the tab. . . . the government should get out of the way and let the provinces do their job,” Conservative MP Denis Lebel said in question period Tuesday.
But Trudeau fired back, saying that for 10 years, the previous Conservative was “unable to work with the provinces, unable to build a protected environment.
“This is the responsibility of all levels of government. This is right for the economy. It is right for the environment. It is about time Canada had leadership on this file,” the prime minister said.
The Liberal government on Monday unveiled their intent to establish a floor price on carbon pollution nationwide of $50 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2018. Provinces will have to meet or exceed that price, either through a direct price on carbon or a cap-and-trade system.
If a province fails to establish a pricing on carbon, Trudeau said the federal government would impose a carbon price in that jurisdiction.
The plan won praise from 22 business and society leaders, including executives at The Co-operators, Uniliver, Telus and Loblaw Companies, who said that carbon pricing was the “most economically effective way to reduce emissions and stimulate clean innovation.”
The plan was not so well received among some provincial leaders.
As Trudeau made the announcement Monday, federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna was meeting with her provincial counterparts in Montreal. McKenna briefed her counterparts on the federal strategy just prior to Trudeau making the plan public.
Speaking Tuesday, McKenna refused to comment on the tensions it caused behind-the-scenes, a tempest that saw three provincial ministers walk out early from the meeting in protest.
Instead, the federal environment minister insisted that Monday’s session was a “really good conversation.”
“Politics will be politics, but we’re focused on solutions. I am focused on continuing to work with all the provinces and territories,” McKenna told reporters on Parliament Hill.
Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball said Tuesday that many felt blindsided by the l announcement. “I think there are a number of provinces that are concerned with how it unfolded,” he said, according to a Canadian Press report.
Yet the Liberals are confident that the fuss is less than it seems. Four provinces — British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec — already have plans in place to price carbon.
The federal plan takes a go-slow approach by not kicking in for two years and even then, at a modest price below what B.C. and Alberta have already set.
The Liberals insist carbon pricing will be revenue neutral and that taxes will remain in the provinces where they are collected. Yet Conservative MP Ed Fast said there is no guarantee that money will get back into the hands of Canadians.
“This is a carbon tax grab, where the federal government takes tax revenues from taxpayers, doesn’t give it back to them in another form, it simply gives it to governments across the country to spend as they see fit,” Fast told reporters.
The political furor, fleeting or not, signals the challenges that lie ahead this fall for Trudeau and his government.
The Liberals have been sharply critical of former prime minister Stephen Harper and how his Conservative government dealt with the provinces.
Now, Trudeau’s own relations with the provinces will be tested over the coming months as negotiations unfold on two key files — health care funding and the environment.
Trudeau is scheduled to meet with premiers in early December on a climate change strategy to help reach the goals laid out in the Paris accord.
Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott meets with her provincial counterparts in mid-October to discuss funding for health care, another trouble spot.
Since 2004, the federal health transfers to the provinces have increased by 6 per cent a year. Under a formula put in place by the previous Conservative government, yearly increases will be cut to either three per cent or the rate of economic growth, whichever is higher.
The Liberals are sticking with that formula but made a campaign pledge to invest $3 billion into home care. Philpott said she’s open to discussions but warned, too, that if provinces aren’t willing to guarantee that extra money will be spent on federal priorities, they might not get it.
“I’m saying I’ve got money on the table,” Philpott said.
“I want that $3 billion for home care to be in the 2017 budget, but I have a responsibility to Canadians to hear what we’re going to get for those further investments. So the provinces and territories, I’m waiting to hear from them,” she told reporters.