Moe should reconsider all-or-nothing calls on carbon tax

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe’s unrealistic but unrelenting calls for a one-year break from the federal carbon pricing plan are not helping farmers resolve the legitimate grievances they have with the program.

The federal plan, while not free of flaws, is more adequately equipped to deal with the realities of climate change than the one put forward by Moe’s government.

Most Canadians voted for a party in favour of pricing carbon, which should further extinguish any hope Moe had for a moratorium on the program.

The Liberal minority government now has, perhaps more than ever before, a public mandate to price carbon. Unless struck down by the Supreme Court, carbon pricing is here to stay.

Moe is well aware of this government’s intentions, and knows his own administration had the chance to build its own climate change plan in line with federal standards — as did the majority of other provinces.

But his government didn’t do that and now Saskatchewan people, farmers included, are facing the consequences.

One of those consequences is a lack of an exemption for farmers stuck paying higher bills to dry grain. A provincial plan could have freed producers from paying such a cost.

That Moe was unwilling to sign onto a letter penned by the Saskatchewan NDP calling for an early rebate paid out to farmers drying grain is telling enough. Instead of taking an opportunity to demonstrate bipartisan co-operation to the federal government on the issue, Moe politicized it by claiming the NDP in Saskatchewan had finally come around to being against a carbon tax.

Although he did reportedly raise the specific issue of grain drying rebates during his recent meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa, Moe continues to focus most of his energy on unrealistic calls for a blanket carbon tax exemption.

In speaking with reporters following the meeting, Moe rightfully noted the “trying harvest” and subsequent grain-drying bills, using it as rationale “to put the entire (carbon tax) program on pause.”

It is clear Moe won’t concentrate his considerable energies where they can be most effective — solving Saskatchewan-specific problems within the broader federal program.

Again, getting rid of the program altogether is not an option, but early rebates in tough years, wider exemptions on farm inputs and helping to keep transport costs low are all more realistic goals for opponents to aspire for than what Moe is currently offering.

The Saskatchewan NDP plan for early rebates is gaining at least some traction in Ottawa, if for no other reason than it offers a realistic solution to the complaint of high grain-drying bills.

While some suggest the minority government is considering an early rebate to help farmers, perhaps with an assist from the Saskatchewan NDP’s federal counterparts, the official line from Liberals is that they won’t review aspects of the federal carbon plan until at least 2020. They have at least recognized the idea as a constructive suggestion.

Perhaps that changes after a new federal cabinet is sworn in. Already there is some speculation that current Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau will be replaced. As well, one wonders how much more vitriolic abuse Environment Minister Catherine McKenna can stand. If either one of them is shuffled out, it could prompt more immediate changes.

So, too, could pressures from within the House of Commons after it reconvenes Dec. 5.

For now, it is apparent from Moe’s continued frustration and Ottawa’s lack of action that current tactics are not working for anyone, notably the farmers stuck paying high grain-drying bills.

But Moe showed no sign of changing tack following his meeting with Trudeau. He accused the prime minister, who reportedly is offering “open-ended” support to farmers, of just doing “more of the same.”

Perhaps Moe should turn such criticism upon himself.

What he has been doing isn’t working, either.

D.C. Fraser is Glacier Farm Media’s Ottawa correspondent. Reach out to him by emailing dfraser@farmmedia.com.

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