Election ideal time to hatch new plan on climate change

The Saskatchewan government has now had a look at how other prairie provinces are handling climate-change plans. Rather than following the stance of outgoing Premier Brad Wall, who vowed to go to court to fight a federal order to enact a carbon plan, the candidates vying for leadership of the Saskatchewan Party should consider the options open to the province.

Wall’s position is popular with voters, but it would mean that a climate-change plan for the province would be imposed by the federal government.

Manitoba’s government unveiled an innovative climate-change plan late last month. Having received a legal opinion that the federal government has the right to impose a plan, but would have a much harder time in court pressing the issue if the province had its own plan that meets federal objectives, Manitoba’s plan takes into consideration issues vital to the province, including agriculture.

Manitoba’s plan recognizes that farmers are “price takers,” in that they cannot pass along extra costs to customers. It’s not a nuance; it’s a fundamental reality for farmers in dealing with any kind of carbon tax. They absorb all of it.

Agriculture is responsible for 32 percent of greenhouse gases in Manitoba in the form of nitrogen from fertilizer and methane from cattle. Other than technological advances, there is little farmers can do to minimize the impacts. Manitoba’s plan recognizes that.

Key to Manitoba’s strategy is a flat $25 per tonne carbon tax for five years, after which it would be reviewed. Like other provinces, farms would be exempt from fuel tax for vehicles, though it’s not clear whether the province would exempt fuel to heat barns and grain dryers.

It would mandate five percent biodiesel in gasoline, establish targets for organic farming and support farming best practices that reduce carbon emissions.

Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said Manitoba’s $25 per tonne carbon tax must increase, but would the Liberals take the province to court over that, especially if the Manitoba government can show its greenhouse gas savings are in the neighbourhood of the federal goals?

Manitoba expects to cumulatively reduce emissions by up to 2.6 million tonnes. It’s estimated that taxpayers would pay $240 million less in carbon taxes than if they adopted the federal plan. Overall, it would collect $1.3 billion in taxes.

Climate change plans are expected to have two outcomes: to make carbon products more expensive in order to encourage use of greener power sources, and to establish a fund to support research and adoption of green technologies.

A price on carbon is part of Canada’s plan to meet its international commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The federal plan imposes a $10 per tonne carbon tax in 2018, increasing to $50 by 2022. The Manitoba government argues its strategy will reduce emissions more than the federal plan.

Alberta has a hybrid carbon tax and credit trade program in place until 2021, when it will follow the federal plan (It is expected to raise $5.4 billion between 2017 and 2019, of which $1.5 billion is going to the rebates.)

British Columbia’s $35 per tonne carbon tax will increase to $50 by 2022, and Ontario and Quebec are using a cap-and-trade system. Each province is tailoring its scheme to its particular needs.

Everyone except Saskatchewan.

Manitoba’s innovative path shows the benefits of provincial initiative in this area. Saskatchewan’s government should give this a good, long look.

Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen, Brian MacLeod, D’Arce McMillan and Michael Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.

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