Sask. position on climate change plan may backfire

Saskatchewan’s climate-change plan is being met with plaudits from oil and agricultural groups, but it will not meet federal requirements and thus will force the Trudeau government to impose a plan on the province that could leave key decisions up to Ottawa rather than the provincial government.

That is not a responsible plan.

The federal government says provinces must impose some form of carbon pricing by 2018 — either a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system — but they must be equivalent to a tax of $10 per tonne on emissions, rising to $50 a tonne by 2022.

Whether or not we agree that a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system is useful, or even whether humans are contributing to climate change, Saskatchewan and the other provinces face that reality.

Manitoba admitted as much when it unveiled a climate-change plan that includes a $25 carbon tax that will not increase — an interesting approach that will test the federal government’s resolve — after getting a legal opinion that Ottawa has the right to impose such a tax.

Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall government says climate change plans should focus on innovation and adaptation, not on carbon pricing. There is no evidence any of the leading candidates vying to replace him in January will deviate from that. He has said the province will take the federal government to court over any attempts to enforce a carbon tax.

Saskatchewan’s plan gets it right in some areas, specifically agriculture. It recognizes carbon sequestration practices such as zero-tillage, and it won’t tax fuel used on farms. Most provincial climate change plans take all this into consideration.

Yet, there are no overall targets in Sask-atchewan’s plan for emissions reduction, and no estimates on how the plan will perform.

It is a political document that will appeal to Saskatchewan voters. Indeed, a poll suggested that 70 percent of the population supports Saskatchewan’s position not to impose a carbon tax.

It’s important to note that the federal government has said money collected through carbon levies will stay in the province where it’s generated, but it has not said that money will be returned to provincial governments. That means rebates from carbon pricing — a key part of any climate change plan — could well be determined by the federal government rather than Regina.

Alberta, which imposed a $20 carbon tax in January that will rise to $30 a tonne in 2018, plans to rebate more than $1.5 billion to households over the next five years.

Ontario and Quebec have adopted a cap-and-trade system, British Columbia has had a carbon tax since 2008, and the Atlantic provinces are still working on their plans, though they have said they will put a price on carbon emissions.

Saskatchewan stands alone in refusing to put a price on carbon.

Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna acknowledged Saskatchewan’s plan, but she said it does not meet federal standards because it mainly hits heavy industry instead of the wider economy, which is where a carbon tax comes in.

Thirty-two percent of Saskatchewan’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the oil sector, 24 percent from agriculture and 19 percent from electrical generation.

So, Saskatchewan is likely headed to court if the federal government follows through on its threat to impose a carbon pricing plan.

That may be popular with Saskatchewan voters, but if key decisions are left to Ottawa as a result of a plan that’s imposed on the province, it’s also imprudent.

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