After First Balking, Premier Clark Agrees to Sign National Climate Deal

Two changes to ‘pan-Canadian framework’ allowed BC to participate, Clark says.

By Andrew MacLeod 10 Dec 2016 |

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria and the author of A Better Place on Earth: The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia (Harbour Publishing, 2015). Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark said she would sign an agreement to put a price on carbon emissions across Canada despite having threatened at the eleventh hour to withhold her signature.

Two changes to the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change allowed B.C. to participate, Clark said. The premiers of all provinces and territories except for Manitoba and Saskatchewan said Dec. 9 they would sign on.

For five years Clark has been saying the B.C. carbon tax, introduced in 2008, should not rise until the rest of the country caught up and she reiterated this at a news conference after the meeting of premiers, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and First Nations leaders.

“There was an issue of fundamental fairness that we needed to see resolved in the agreement,” she said. “We wanted to make sure that there was agreement, or we would agree, that everybody else has caught up before we agree that our carbon tax will go up.”

An annex to the agreement gives B.C. the opportunity to say whether or not the province believes the rest of the country has caught up, Clark said.

The annex also allows the province to decide whether to continue with the carbon tax or to use a different method to put a further price on carbon emissions, she said.

“Those are two great protections for the province of British Columbia that will make sure that it’s fairer to the people of our province,” she said.

B.C.’s carbon tax, which returns revenues raised to corporations and individuals through other tax cuts, has been at $30 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions since 2012. The federal plan won’t require provinces to reach that level until 2020 and will then move on to $50 per tonne by 2022.

When federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna in September announced environmental approval for the Pacific NorthWest LNG proposal to build a liquefied natural gas terminal at the mouth of the Skeena River in B.C., she said B.C. had agreed to raise its price on carbon in line with the federal plan.

Matt Horne, the associate regional director for B.C. at the Pembina Institute environmental group, said Clark’s hesitation to sign the federal agreement made little sense. “There’s an inconsistency in her arguments.”

On the one hand, the province claims to be a leader fighting climate change and to have done so without hurting the provincial economy.

As recently as Nov. 16, when B.C. won a “Momentum for Change” award at the 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 22) Low-Emissions Solutions Conference in Marrakech, Morocco, Clark stressed the compatibility of the carbon tax with economic growth.

“Around the world, governments are grappling with the challenge of fighting climate change while fostering economic growth,” she said in a press release. “As B.C.’s revenue-neutral carbon tax shows, and this award recognizes, it is possible to reduce harmful emissions while growing the economy, creating jobs and driving investment into cleaner options.”

Now, said Horne, Clark seems to be saying that she’s worried that raising B.C.’s carbon tax beyond the price on emissions in other provinces will put her province at a disadvantage.

The argument makes little sense given that any move from the other provinces and territories under the agreement would bring them closer to the price on carbon in B.C., he said. “Even if there’s not perfect comparability, the gap is going to be smaller than we have today.”

Instead of posturing on the federal stage, B.C. should be paying closer attention to where it is headed on carbon emissions, Horne said.

It already looks like B.C. will miss its 2020 target by a wide margin, and if the province keeps its current policies, there’s a “massive gap” to be closed to meet the target for 2050, he said.  [Tyee]

Read more: Energy

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