Politics

Premiers Higgs, Smith call on MPs to abandon carbon pricing program

Conservative premiers continued their war on the Liberal government's carbon pricing policy Thursday, telling MPs on a parliamentary committee that the planned increase to the price should be scrapped along with the entire federal program.

Premiers of New Brunswick and Alberta appeared before committee after Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe

A dump truck works near the Syncrude oil sands
A dump truck works near the Syncrude oil sands extraction facility near Fort McMurray, Alta. Alberta Premier Danielle Smith told MPs on a parliamentary committee Thursday that the price on carbon should be eliminated. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Conservative premiers continued their war on the Liberal government's carbon pricing policy Thursday, telling MPs on a parliamentary committee that the planned increase to the price should be scrapped along with the entire federal program.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs made their arguments before the government operations and estimates committee, a day after Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe appeared to make similar arguments.

Smith said the planned increase from $65 to $80 per tonne, scheduled for April 1, should be called off. She also described the plan to increase the price to $170 per tonne by 2030 as "reckless," "immoral" and "inhumane."

"The added pressure will ruin countless lives, futures and dreams. It's a weight that Canadians can't bear," Smith said. "It's why Alberta has been calling on the federal government to eliminate the carbon tax since 2019."

Smith said inflation over the past two years has increased the price of everything in her province, forcing families and businesses to make deep cuts to survive, and now is not the time to raise the price on carbon emissions.

The operations and estimates committee is tasked with studying government spending on things like Canada Post, the Transportation Accident Investigation and Safety Board and Shared Services Canada.

But the Conservative chair of the committee, Kelly McCauley, invited the premiers to appear and voice their opinions about the carbon price over protests from Liberal members of the committee.  

A back and forth debate raged for the first 25 minutes of Thursday's meeting as Liberal MPs and McCauley traded barbs on the relevance of the witnesses and the process through which they were invited.

WATCH: N.B. premier wants LNG exports to Europe:

N.B. premier wants LNG exports to Europe

2 months ago
Duration 2:48
Premier Blaine Higgs, testifying at federal committee about the carbon tax hike — which he opposes — made a push for exporting LNG to Europe, saying there's increasing demand for the liquified natural gas in countries like the Czech Republic.

The federal carbon price, or backstop, does not apply in Quebec, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories because they have their own carbon pricing systems that meet the federal standard.

In provinces using the federal backstop, the price on carbon is applied to emitting fuels through fuel charge rates that vary from fuel to fuel based on the amount of CO2-equivalent emissions they generate when burned. 

Ninety per cent of government revenues from the carbon tax are returned to households through a rebate program. The other 10 per cent is directed to programs to help businesses, schools, municipalities and other grant recipients reduce their fossil fuel consumption.

The parliamentary budget officer has consistently found that nearly all households receive more from the carbon tax rebate than they pay in direct and indirect costs. Only households in the highest income quintile are projected to pay out more than they receive — because they consume more.

Exporting low emissions abroad

Both Smith and Higgs called for an alternative greenhouse gas emissions reduction policy centred on article six of the Paris climate change agreement.

According to that provision, countries can voluntarily work together to transfer carbon credits earned in one country to another country to help them meet their climate change targets, providing none of the emissions are double-counted. 

"If we could simply reduce China's reliance on coal by 20 per cent, that would offset all of the emissions of all of Canada," Smith said.

The inside of a massive liquefied natural gas storage tank is seen under construction at the LNG Canada export terminal, in Kitimat, British Columbia
The inside of a massive liquefied natural gas storage tank under construction at the LNG Canada export terminal in Kitimat, B.C., in 2022. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Higgs said Canada has to "think bigger" and realize that cutting emissions in Canada — at what he said was a great cost — won't significantly cut global emissions.

"We can do so much better. If we're sitting idle, costing people more money and we're not impacting world emissions, who are we fooling?" he asked.

"Maybe the Paris accord should be modified to say those nations that can have a greater impact should have an opportunity to do so."

Higgs said he would like to see New Brunswick's liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry developed further. He said he could sign a 20 year supply agreement with the Czech Republic tomorrow if he could guarantee a supply.

smoke and steam rise from a coal processing plant
Smoke and steam rise from a coal processing plant that produces carbon black, an ingredient in steel manufacturing, in Hejin in central China's Shanxi Province. (Sam McNeil/The Associated Press)

"We could ship to Europe and shut down coal plants. That's the plan, simple, and it would create $3 billion of investment in Saint John," Higgs said.

In order for that plan to work, China or European nations would have to agree to transfer credits for emissions reductions from their home countries back to Canada.

The Climate Institute says article six will not help reduce emissions in Canada through exports of LNG to China or Europe. It points out that if China or a European country pays the market rate for LNG, they have little incentive to give Canada part of the credit for emissions reductions.

The Climate Institute says that in order to get credit for exporting LNG, Canada likely would have to offer some kind of financial incentive. That, said the institute, raises the question of why Canada wouldn't use the LNG itself and keep the credit for greenhouse gas reductions.

WATCH | Conservative premiers bring compaints against carbon tax to committee: 

Conservative premiers bring war against the carbon tax to Parliament Hill

2 months ago
Duration 2:00
Conservative premiers Danielle Smith, Blaine Higgs and Scott Moe brought their battle against the federal carbon pricing regime to a Parliament committee in Ottawa. Alberta's Smith called the tax immoral, ideological and reckless. The Liberals accuse them of misleading Canadians.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford also addressed carbon pricing at a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday. 

Ford said that he prefers investing money in public transit and low-emissions industrial innovations that can turn emitting industries into zero emissions firms more quickly.

"There's other ways of reducing emissions other than digging into people's pockets and punishing companies," he said. 

For the second straight day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused conservative premiers and the federal Conservative Party of misleading Canadians on the climate debate. 

"The premiers, conservative premiers specifically, are misleading Canadians," Trudeau said in Vancouver Thursday.

"The Conservative opposition in Ottawa and the Conservative leader are not telling the truth to Canadians."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Peter Zimonjic

Senior writer

Peter Zimonjic is a senior writer for CBC News. He has worked as a reporter and columnist in London, England, for the Daily Mail, Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph and in Canada for Sun Media and the Ottawa Citizen. He is the author of Into The Darkness: An Account of 7/7, published by Random House.