HALIFAX – Nova Scotia’s premier dug in hard against Ottawa’s carbon price scheme Tuesday, saying his province “definitely won’t” impose a carbon tax.
Stephen McNeil also backed a decision by his environment minister, Margaret Miller, to walk out of federal-provincial meetings in Montreal over Ottawa’s plan.
Miller joined her counterparts from Newfoundland and Labrador and Saskatchewan who also left Monday’s climate-change talks after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood in the House of Commons and dropped his plan on the provinces.
“We talked about it,” said McNeil. “When it became obvious, when the prime minister stood up, that they’d already made up their mind . . . it just became obvious that the minister should come home and figure out how we fit into this.”
The federal plan calls for a $10-per-tonne price on carbon starting in 2018. That would rise by $10 per tonne each year until reaching $50 per tonne in 2022.
Trudeau gave the provinces two implementation options — either their own direct price on carbon that meets or exceeds the national floor price, or a cap and trade system.
McNeil said any imposition of either measure would be “up to the government (Ottawa) to make” if his province fails to choose.
“I will not be implementing a carbon tax. We believe there are other ways to achieve (reductions) and we are hoping to work with the national government to make that happen.”
In St. John’s Tuesday, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball said many people were surprised by Trudeau’s announcement.
“I think there are a number of provinces that are concerned with how it unfolded,” he told reporters.
“It’s fair to say that people were expecting an opportunity for further discussions which would lead into the anticipated first ministers’ meeting in early December this year.”
“We want to have more discussions.”
McNeil said his province has led the country in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and has already met Canada’s target of a 30 per cent reduction in emissions from 2005 by 2030. He repeated that his province is looking at some sort of recognition for that work.
“There is a Canadian province (B.C.) that already has a carbon tax and there are others that have cap and trade,” he said. “They have not had the success at reducing greenhouse gases like Nova Scotia.”
McNeil was less definitive about Ottawa’s cap and trade option, saying he wasn’t sure whether it would work for Nova Scotia. He said the province is running models on its potential effects.
But he continued to dismiss the carbon tax, saying that it would simply put a greater financial burden on people who need to drive in a largely rural province like his own.
McNeil believes a better way would be a North American plan for the auto industry to implement further engine emissions standards.
“It would get us to what we are trying to achieve, which is a reduction in greenhouse gases,” McNeil said.
Prince Edward Island Premier Wade MacLauchlan said Tuesday his province hoped to shape a flexible approach to carbon pricing.
He said any plan adopted by the Island would have to meet the objectives of mitigating the impact of climate change while fully participating in the economic and employment benefits of a green economy.
“This isn’t just about dollars and cents. It’s ultimately about what we’re going to do to reduce our carbon emissions,” he said.
“This will require further conversations with our regional partners and Island sectors and communities to ensure we have a full understanding of its impact,” MacLauchlan said.
P.E.I. gets 75 per cent of its electricity from New Brunswick, and MacLauchlan said he would expect to work with that province on any approach.
Ball said his province is essentially already collecting about $70 a tonne on carbon pollution after doubling the gas tax to 33 cents per litre as of June 2. It was supposed to be a temporary measure as the government faces a projected $1.8-billion deficit.
But Ball said keeping the tax as a carbon price is one option the province is considering. Legislation to allow carbon pricing in some form has been on the books since the spring, he added.
Details must be worked out first, however: “What is the impact of a carbon tax for the long term on how we offer services?”
Ball said his province should be getting “offsetting” credits from Ottawa for building the $11.4-billion Muskrat Falls hydro project in Labrador. When completed, it will raise electricity rates while putting the province almost totally on renewable energy, he said.
Ball also clarified Tuesday that he never told his environment minister to walk out of Monday’s meeting.
Perry Trimper told reporters in Montreal that he was leaving “at the direction of my premier.” But Ball said that direction was, simply, for Trimper to use his own judgment on whether to stay or go.
“He has my support. I have confidence in Perry Trimper. He was there. This is far from over.”
– By Keith Doucette in Halifax, Sue Bailey in St. John’s and Kevin Bissett in Fredericton.