OTTAWA — Canada supports putting a price on carbon emissions as part of a global climate change strategy, say newly released records prepared at the highest levels of the federal government.
Documents obtained from the Privy Council Office and Environment Canada show that, despite the fact the Harper Conservatives have repeatedly criticized the idea of a carbon tax and the NDP’s backing for such a scheme, the federal government has supported a different form of carbon pricing.
The Privy Council Office is the central department in the government that supports the prime minister’s office. The PCO documents, obtained under access-to-information information, highlight calls from the World Bank for “putting a price on carbon for developed countries” and say “Canada could support other countries implementing this proposal.”
They also say: “Canada supports the development of new market-based mechanisms that expand the scale and scope of carbon markets.”
The notes were prepared for the November 2011 G20 summit attended by Harper, one month before Canada announced plans to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement with legally binding carbon-reduction targets. The PCO records also said that Canada wanted to expand markets that require polluters to pay and allow other companies to profit from deploying technologies or other methods to reduce emissions in the atmosphere.
The records from Environment Canada say that “well-designed environmental policy” can support jobs and growth while avoiding “serious” and “significant” impacts to health, safety and the economy. The records also noted Canada, as the only country to fail in its Kyoto commitments, was facing mounting international pressure to demonstrate its own concrete actions to address climate change.
Harper’s office referred questions about both sets of records to Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, who said through a spokeswoman that the government does not support a carbon tax. The spokeswoman repeated a message the government has put out in the past: that an NDP climate change proposal from the last election to raise billions of dollars by auctioning off pollution permits as part of a market-based carbon pricing scheme — was a tax on gas, groceries, electricity and everything else.
All major federal political parties in Canada supported different forms of carbon pricing — either through a direct tax or a market-based system — in the 2008 federal election, but the Conservatives later decided to favour binding regulations in each industrial sector instead, because of the failure of the U.S. Congress to pass legislation creating a carbon market.
Several provinces, including Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec, have introduced or are implementing different forms of carbon pricing or direct taxes on greenhouse gas pollution. In B.C., a tax is applied directly to the purchase or use of fuel, with revenues returned in the form of other tax reductions.
Aglukkaq’s office told Postmedia News on Monday that Canada was an Arctic nation “playing a leadership role in addressing climate change” with its own regulations to reduce emissions from vehicles as well as coal-fired power plants, reducing greenhouse gases in the country for the first time in history.
The federal government has estimated that its regulations have billions of dollars in both costs and benefits for Canadians.
Environment Canada has said it still aims to meet Harper’s new target of reducing annual emissions by 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020, but it has repeatedly missed its own deadlines to regulate the fastest growing Canadian source of greenhouse gases in the oil and gas industry and is facing “greater international pressure to demonstrate concrete action and to outline how Canada’s national emissions targets will be met.”
“Climate change is the most serious environmental issue facing the world today and carries with it significant impacts on human health and safety, the economy, natural resources, and ecosystems in Canada and throughout the world,” Deputy Environment Minister Bob Hamilton was told in a transition binder after he was appointed in July 2012. Meantime, Hamilton was also told that strong climate change policies could help create jobs and growth.
“There is a growing evidence base supporting the idea that well-designed environmental policy, including GHG emission reduction policies, can also support economic objectives, in areas such as innovation, improved energy and resource productivity, and opportunities in global clean technology markets,” said Hamilton’s briefing notes. “There is also increasing recognition that natural resources are an important component of economic growth, along with physical and human capital, and that environmental damage and natural resource degradation can have important economic costs.”
(By Mike De Souza)