Economists and environmentalists alike have stated for years that one of the most cost-effective ways to cut carbon pollution is to put a price on it. Either through a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade program, make polluters pay for the emissions they generate and create an economic incentive to reduce those emissions.
In the past, some elected officials resisted carbon pricing as a key solution to climate change. But the tide is turning, as provincial governments, along with the federal government, are coalescing around a carbon pricing consensus.
By 2017, over 85 per cent of Canada’s population will be covered by a price on carbon. British Columbia has had a carbon tax since 2009. In 2013, Quebec started its cap-and-trade program, which Ontario will join in January 2017, and Manitoba will join soon after. Late last year Alberta announced a carbon tax beginning in 2017.
The conversation around pricing carbon has changed in Canada. For years, carbon pricing was falsely dubbed as a “job-killing carbon tax” by its opponents.
Contrast that with this month’s First Ministers meeting in Vancouver, where the premiers and federal government agreed that fighting climate change, including pricing carbon, would create jobs and economic opportunities.
The Vancouver Declaration may not have forged a national climate plan, but it committed the country’s federal and provincial leaders to craft one for the first time in over 10 years. That’s progress. And the declaration directed immediate work to establish “carbon pricing mechanisms adapted to each province’s and territory’s specific circumstances.”
Despite opposition to carbon pricing from some provinces, the mandate letter for the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change makes pricing carbon a key priority. The federal government has not ruled out imposing a national “floor” price on carbon if provinces don’t take action themselves.
Support for carbon pricing now spans across the political spectrum, at the national level and here in Ontario. While the Liberals push for a floor price, the federal NDP called for a nationwide cap-and-trade program in its 2011 and 2015 election platforms, and continues to support this form of carbon pricing today. And there are new voices of support coming from conservative corners. Last year, former Reform Party leader Preston Manning joined the Ecofiscal Commission to advocate for carbon pricing. Last month at the Manning Centre Conference, an annual gathering of Canadian conservative politicians and thought leaders, prospective federal leadership candidate Michael Chong said that carbon pricing and climate action would be part of his platform.
In Ontario, the government recently introduced legislation to implement a cap-and-trade program. The Ontario NDP has long called for a balanced approach to carbon pricing. And at this month’s Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario convention, party leader Patrick Brown announced his support for a revenue-neutral carbon tax in Ontario.
This means that all three major parties in the Ontario Legislature support some form of carbon pricing. The conversation has moved from whether or not to put a price on carbon to what kind of carbon pricing mechanism Ontario should have.
The fight to put a price on carbon pollution in Canada is far from over and there is lots more work to do. But the stars are aligning, politically and economically, across Canada toward a carbon pricing consensus.