Sask. tailored carbon plan better route for agriculture

Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall has proposed an action plan for climate change that he says focuses on innovation and adaptation, not taxation. | File photo

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has judged the Canadian public guilty of contributing to climate change to the tune of 1.6 percent of global emissions of greenhouse gases, and he has now entered the sentencing phase.

Trudeau proclaimed our guilt in April when he signed the Paris agreement, aimed at curbing global warming emissions. The agreement has been signed by 191 countries, including China, Russia and the United States. Canada seeks to reduce greenhouse gases by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

The sentencing phase began Oct. 3, when Trudeau decreed provinces that don’t have a carbon pricing plan in place by 2018 will be subject to a national carbon tax of $10 per tonne, rising to $50 by 2022. Provinces can create their own carbon tax or cap-and-trade plans, so long as they meet national standards.

Alberta’s Rachel Notley recently announced a carbon tax starting next year. B.C. has had a carbon tax for eight years and Manitoba’s Brian Pallister says his province is working on a carbon plan. Quebec and Ontario are developing a cap-and-trade program.

But what of Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall’s decision, thus far, not to take part in the sentencing phase. He has shown no interest in creating a carbon plan within the province that would take into account farmers’ significant contribution to the reduction of greenhouse gases through developments such as zero tillage and efficient use of seed, fertilizer and water.

Writing in the Globe and Mail, Todd MacKay of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and Robin Speer of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association note that B.C.’s moderate carbon tax plan will see the average farmer pay $89 in carbon taxes every time he fills his combine’s fuel tank, with no real opportunity to mitigate costs.

Carbon plans are intended to direct users to make sustainable choices, such as by improving energy efficiency and using renewable energy. Yet, Canada’s farmers already embrace the former, and the latter, at the moment, is unrealistic. (As MacKay and Speer note, “a farmer can’t pull an air seeder with a Prius.”)

There is little opportunity for farmers to reduce the use of fossil fuels — including nitrogen fertilizer, which requires natural gas — and Canadian farmers face an intensely competitive global environment. All of this must be recognized in any carbon plan.

Carbon pricing supporters have already won the West, with the exception of Saskatchewan. Wall is likely loath to introduce carbon pricing, something that would quickly become known as the Wall carbon tax.

He argues that Trudeau’s plan would siphon $2.5 billion from the provincial economy, but in reality, that money would stay in the province, in the form of incentives and tax breaks.

University of Ottawa economist Nic Rivers says Trudeau’s carbon plan will cost families about $1,100 per year. A $50 per tonne carbon tax would translate into about 11 cents per litre on gas, which will hit farmers who must use heavy equipment and heat large indoor areas. Much of this can be offset with tax breaks. There is no mention of accommodations for agriculture in the federal plan.

Wall will have to choose between working with Trudeau’s carbon plan and developing one that is unique to Saskatchewan. Like it or not, a Saskatchewan plan is the better option.

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