The Canadian province of Saskatchewan was one of the first to recognize the country’s high price of carbon pollution and put a price on carbon pollution.
In this 2015 video: In a first for the Canadian oil industry, the Saskatchewan Party is imposing a carbon tax.
B.C. imposed a carbon tax in 2008, setting the rate at 5 cents per kilogram of carbon emissions (or 0.005% of the provincial economy). Unfortunately, not every province would be so inclined to cap and trade emissions, as mine would certainly do. Not that it matters—for B.C., the premier and her party were returned to power in 2017 with a huge majority, and neither is likely to show any sign of reversing course, though they may do a little bit of tinkering around the edges.
Saskatchewan, on the other hand, has a tiny minority government that just happened to be in power just now. And when I say “just now,” I mean “just now.” In a kind of amazing feat of political prestidigitation, that newly elected government has decided to go a little further and has created a carbon tax. The price is $30 a ton of carbon emitted, or more than one-quarter of the price of the carbon tax in B.C., and is backed by a 20-year road map and plan.
Unlike in B.C., it applies only to carbon emissions from landfills, oilsands, and a few other targeted industrial sources of carbon emissions. While the government notes that any oil, gas or coal burning will be exempt, most importantly, it would appear, there will be no refund of the carbon tax, just a tax on transporting product in pipelines and railroads and refineries.
A small but growing organization called WE, which stands for World Energy Action Mandate, aims to keep Canada as a “carbon-tax-free country” by 2035. Most of the opposition parties in Canada are opposed to the federal carbon tax. They point out that its backers include the Koch brothers and its rates are too low, and that it “keeps growing.”
The Canadian Council of Chief Executives, a leading business advocacy group, isn’t as concerned. It says that cost-effective alternatives are available, and thus any carbon tax-driven slowdown in greenhouse gas emissions is likely the effect, not the cause of, climate change.
Meanwhile, a group called Canada Compassion is organizing to keep the carbon tax from capping Canada’s oil and gas industry. Its national website is dedicated to “slow the spread of tax on energy” and its stated goal is to “reduce the cost of fossil fuels” and “produce more energy.”
This group recently ran an ad criticizing the carbon tax in The Globe and Mail newspaper, which sounds like a non sequitur until you read a response the next day.
This rhetoric and heavy lobbying by politically connected fossil fuel interests keeps non-partisan experts and anyone who is seeking more secure energy policy out of the political process.
Until the rest of Canada joins Saskatchewan’s Saskatchewan in doing the right thing and does it in time to protect its reputation and financial health, B.C.’s carbon tax will continue to be good public policy, while most of the rest of Canada—whose economies are already changing at an alarming rate—keeps on voting with its feet and its disposable income to show that it’s serious about fighting climate change and keep itself safe for future generations.
Simon, a Sierra Club Canada board member, is the author of Canada’s Reaction: Canada and its Response to the War on Coal and Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission Report, and is a board member of the Climate Action Network Canada, and a member of the Sierra Club’s International Council. He writes about politics and Canada’s carbon tax here. Follow him on Twitter here.