Yukon Premier Sandy Silver has signed onto a new national framework on climate change, which will see carbon pricing adopted across the country.
Silver was in Ottawa last week to help finalize the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. The plan was signed one year after a global climate agreement was adopted in Paris on Dec. 12, 2015. As part of that agreement, Canada committed to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, a target set out by the former Harper government.
The new framework is intended to help Canada meet that goal.
“We got most of the premiers to sign on to this agreement. That was historic,” Silver told the News on Monday. “To come this far in a year, that alone is astounding.”
By the end of the day Friday, only Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister had refused to sign the framework.
All three northern premiers signed on, despite the fact that Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod and Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna issued a statement with former Yukon premier Darrell Pasloski last summer claiming that a carbon tax would raise the cost of living in the North.
The framework would see all provinces and territories implement a cap-and-trade system or a carbon tax of at least $10 per tonne by 2018, rising by $10 each year to $50 per tonne in 2022. The federal government will impose a carbon price on all jurisdictions that don’t create their own. The provinces and territories will be able to keep their own carbon pricing revenue, to use as they will.
Silver said the Yukon government will not create its own carbon tax, and will instead wait for Ottawa to impose one. He said that’s because any new tax in the Yukon would have to go to a referendum.
“And that would just further polarize the whole debate.”
But Silver said all of the carbon tax revenue will be returned to the Yukon, even though it will be administered by the federal government. He said that’s been an “ongoing conversation” with Ottawa since he was elected last month.
“That was one of the first things that we wanted to make sure that they were considering,” he said.
The Liberals plan to return all the revenue to individual Yukoners and businesses through a rebate.
The framework also states that Ottawa will work with the Yukon government on renewable energy projects, building retrofits and new technologies, including seasonal energy storage.
Still, interim Yukon Party leader Stacey Hassard said he’s disappointed Silver didn’t fight harder for special considerations for the North.
He pointed out that B.C. Premier Christy Clark refused to sign the deal without an assurance that B.C. won’t have to hike its carbon tax until a comparison of different jurisdictions’ pricing schemes is completed in 2020. B.C.’s carbon tax currently sits at $30 per tonne.
“It appears to me that our premier just went there and signed on the dotted line and didn’t appear to ask for anything for us,” Hassard said.
He said Silver has offered few details about how the carbon tax will be administered, aside from saying the money will be rebated to Yukoners. He argues it’s impossible that 100 per cent of carbon tax revenue will be returned to individuals and businesses.
“We know that’s a physical impossibility because you have to administer that somehow,” he said. “No matter how efficient you are, it still costs money to do it.”
Silver claims that Ottawa has assured him that none of Yukon’s revenue will be held back to pay administrative costs. He also said that more revenue will come back to Yukoners than they actually pay, because tourists and other people visiting the Yukon will pay the carbon tax, but won’t receive the rebate.
“More money gets put into it than what came out of Yukoners’ pockets to begin with,” he said.
Hassard said the other Yukon-specific commitments mentioned in the framework, including collaboration with the federal government on renewable energy and building retrofits, are things the former Yukon Party government was already working on.
“What did we gain from Premier Silver going to Ottawa other than he came home with a new tax for us?” Hassard said.
NDP Leader Liz Hanson also has concerns about the Liberals’ approach to carbon pricing. She believes some of the tax revenue should be used to fund renewable energy projects in the territory, with relief measures like rebates reserved for low-income Yukoners.
“If you’re going through all the effort to tax people and then you’re going to rebate 100 per cent of it, at what point do you say… ‘What is the purpose here?’” she said. “I’m not sure that high-income earners or wealthy people need that kind of rebate.”
Hanson also questioned how much the rebate system will cost to administer.
She said she’s encouraged that there are several references to the North and to Indigenous peoples in the new framework, but the lack of detail makes it hard to know what impact this plan will have on the Yukon.
“The devil will come in the details,” she said.
Contact Maura Forrest at firstname.lastname@example.org
This story has been updated to include quotes from Premier Sandy Silver.