Canada’s three territorial premiers are standing strong in their opposition to a carbon tax for the North as they meet with their provincial counterparts in Whitehorse this week.
And some of the provinces’ premiers are now saying they have a point.
Premier Darrell Pasloski, who is hosting this week’s meeting of the Council of the Federation, has taken every opportunity to stress that carbon pricing would increase the cost of living in the Yukon. He says northerners don’t have a viable alternative to burning fossil fuels for heating and transportation.
“We don’t have other options at this point. It gets very cold in the winter and you have to heat your home,” he said Thursday. “We can’t decide to choose to use mass transit and catch the subway to go to work.”
He also argued that Yukon effectively pays a price on carbon already. “Everything that comes to Yukon, for example, comes to Yukon through British Columbia, where there is already a tax on carbon,” he said. “So it also becomes a double tax on carbon as well.”
B.C. Premier Christy Clark said Friday there’s “some merit” to Pasloski’s argument.
“I think the irony is for the territories, the impact of climate change is being felt the most, and at the same time, the impact of a carbon pricing scheme could be the most difficult for them,” she said. “So I feel like the rest of Canadians probably need to pull up our socks and think about how we’re going to support our North, that we all share, without really harming economies here.”
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley also seemed willing to entertain the idea of some form of exemption or support for the North if a national carbon price were implemented.
“At a very high level, there’s an awareness of the particularly high impact that that would have on the northern communities,” she said on Thursday.
“In principle, it’s not something that we’re unprepared to talk about. Because there’s no question, it’s a very small population with a very unequal impact that would be experienced.”
Pasloski isn’t alone in speaking out against a carbon tax this week.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall maintained his vocal opposition to carbon pricing today, saying a national carbon tax would have a “disproportionate impact” on the energy sector, which is already suffering from low oil prices. He said he welcomes the support of the territories.
“We just think now is not the right time for that, not for Canadians, not for the energy sector, not for our economy,” he said.
And Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil claimed his province already pays a form of carbon price through its power rates, which have been driven up by investments in renewable energy.
“Don’t punish us twice. Our power rates are high enough,” he said. “We don’t need a carbon tax on top of that.”
Instead, he said, Ottawa should set a national emissions target and let the provinces and territories meet it “how they best see fit.”
But their renewed opposition comes as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is not attending the meetings this week, claims the federal government will impose a national carbon price.
“We’re going to make sure there is a strong price on carbon right across the country and we’re hoping that the provinces are going to be able to do that in a way for themselves,” he told CBC’s Power and Politics on Wednesday.
This morning, Conservative MP David Yurdiga, the Opposition’s northern affairs critic, released a statement supporting Pasloski and the other northern premiers against a price on carbon.
“Whether it’s raising taxes, cutting territorial transfer payments or implementing a carbon tax, this Liberal government has shown that it is intent on destroying jobs and raising taxes for northerners,” he said.
Yukon Liberal MP Larry Bagnell said the territories must find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions during a march urging the premiers to take action on climate change in Whitehorse on Thursday.
“There are a number of ways you can reduce that target,” he said. “That will be between the premier and the federal government.”
But he wouldn’t comment specifically about whether there needs to be a carbon tax in the North.
Pasloski and the other premiers said there is to be further discussion of carbon pricing during talks today.
As of this morning, few concrete results had emerged from the Council of the Federation meetings.
As the meetings progressed, it seemed increasingly unlikely that an agreement on internal trade would be finalized this week. That agreement is supposed to break down trade barriers between the provinces and territories. But the negotiations have been complicated by arguments between provinces, particularly over the free trade of alcohol.
Pasloski announced on Thursday that the premiers will lead a trade mission to the European Union and the United Kingdom in 2017 to try and ratify a free-trade agreement between Canada and the E.U.
Talks today are expected to focus on trade, health care and climate change.
-With files from Pierre Chauvin
Contact Maura Forrest at email@example.com