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Column: From the Hill — Long-awaited initiatives

Richard Cannings, MP for South Okanagan — West Kootenay said new climate action plan is a step in the right direction.

In late November, the federal government introduced a new climate action accountability act, then followed that on the last day of the fall session with a climate action plan. 

These are long-awaited initiatives. In the decades since climate change was identified as the number one issue facing the globe, through pacts at Kyoto, Copenhagen and Paris, Canada has never had a real plan to tackle this crisis, nor legislation that ensures that governments take necessary action. 

In 2006, the NDP introduced climate accountability legislation that passed through the House of Commons but was killed by unelected Conservative Senators.  Since then, nothing.

Canadians are ready for this.

In recent polling, two-thirds said they want Canada to be one of the leading countries in the world in the shift toward clean energy.  Ninety percent think we need a strategy to help sectors be more competitive in this emerging green economy. 

The new climate action accountability legislation calls for five-year checks on whether Canada is on track to meet climate targets.  Unfortunately, it puts the first of those checks ten years from now.  Experts tell us that the next decade is the most critical for action — so why wait until that is over before seeing how we’re doing? 

We need to have a mandatory target for 2025.

The Liberals say their climate plan will allow us to exceed their 2030 target — which is a good thing because that target, originally set by Stephen Harper, would not get us close to our Paris commitments. 

The one measure that has garnered a lot of attention is a decision to continually step up carbon pricing until it reaches $170 per tonne by 2030, increasing the price of gas by about 27 cents per litre. 

This would signal to consumers that the cost of fossil fuels will continue to rise and that shifting to other energy sources would save more and more money.  It’s not a normal tax in the usual sense in that the funds raised are generally returned equally to consumers independent of how much they paid in. 

The Parliamentary Budget Office review of the federal carbon pricing system found that “most households will receive higher transfers than amounts paid in fuel charges” and “lower income households will receive larger net transfers than higher income households.”

Carbon taxes do expose some sectors to unfair competition when exporting to countries without such taxes, such as the United States. 

There are ways to deal with this, especially trade-legal border adjustments that reduce or eliminate the difference.  I’ve been calling on the government to bring these in and I’m happy to hear that they are now considering these measures.

The federal carbon pricing is for provinces without similar taxes. British Columbia has had a carbon tax since 2008 and since then has had one of the healthiest economies in the country, while per capita emissions have decreased. 

And if $170 per tonne sounds like a lot, Sweden charges its citizens $177 per tonne, resulting in a decrease of 27% in carbon emissions and a GDP increase of 83 percent since their carbon tax was introduced.

While the carbon tax will only get us part way to our targets, economists consider it the cheapest way to reduce emissions. 

Other measures will be needed, and the government proposes spending $15 billion in the coming years on various initiatives to do that.  While it is clear that $15 billion is nowhere near enough, and a lot depends on provincial cooperation, the plan does present — at last — an opportunity for Canadians to engage in this most important discussion on our future. 

Richard Cannings is MP for South Okanagan — West Kootenay