Early this year year, the national roundtable on the environment and the economy released its advisory report on greenhouse gases.
It recommended Ottawa implement a nationwide carbon tax.
Federal Environment Minister John Baird rejected the idea outright.
“I was sitting here at the phone the day after we presented the report with all my information, material and speaking notes and Baird came down and said, ‘we’re not going to institute carbon pricing in Canada at the federal level,’” said Ken McKinnon who represents the Yukon on the roundtable.
“He just said, ‘it’s not the policy of the government of Canada to institute a carbon tax at this time.’
“That was the end of it right there — I mean, I just put all my stuff away.”
Instead of a consumer-based tax, the conservative government plans to create a carbon-trading market that would allow businesses to buy or sell permits to pollute.
Despite the snub from the federal government, the roundtable has received support from both environmental and business groups, as well as provincial governments.
“It was only a few weeks later that British Columbia took the plunge, Quebec has taken a minor plunge, and other provinces are following,” said McKinnon.
“It’s much neater to get it all done in one fell swoop at the national level, which is so much more efficient and works so much better, but if the provinces, one by one, effect the same changes that we were calling for, you win the war.
“You just do it by little battles.”
The report, Getting to 2050: Canada’s Transition to a Low-Emission Future was prepared at the request of the federal government to help it decide how to meet climate-change targets.
Canada plans to make a 65 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050.
The national roundtable has been working on the report since the fall of 2006.
Members of the group are drawn from distinguished leaders throughout Canada and appointed by the minister of Environment.
Former Yukon MP, Audrey McLaughlin served as a member in the past as well as Nobel Peace Prize nominee Sheila Watt-Cloutier.
McKinnon was appointed to the roundtable six months ago.
If a carbon tax were implemented, there would have to be special provisions for the North, McKinnon told his colleagues on the roundtable.
“I wanted to see that if there were a national carbon tax that in the North it would be revenue neutral,” he said.
“That whatever came into the federal coffers from taxing carbon in northern Canada would be introduced back into the economy of the North.”
The Nnorth is the only area in Canada that doesn’t have an absolute fuel-oil tax on heating fuel, he said.
“It’s over $1 a litre and that’s with absolutely no territorial tax at all. Just imagine if all of a sudden oil went up 15 cents or so,” he said.
“I mean it would just be the death knell of so many people and businesses in the North. So there has to be some method.”
The carbon tax announced by the BC government last month uses a similar revenue-neutral method.
All of the extra money generated is returned to taxpayers in the form of income-tax cuts.
This provides an incentive to use less fuel, without hurting the economy.
Northern Canada shouldn’t bear the brunt of the punishment for climate change, said McKinnon.
“We’re the recipients of the pollution from the United States and Canada — it all drifts our way.
“We’re not the instigators.”
The national roundtable is still working on its carbon tax proposal.
The group meets four times a year and the next meeting will take place in Ottawa in May.
For now it seems that Canada will have to implement carbon taxing on a province-by-province basis.
“So it wasn’t lost completely,” said McKinnon.
“It’s not like you work your ass off and all of a sudden the government just says, ‘Meh, that’s it,’ and it goes on a shelf and is never seen again.”