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Advisory panel axed by Harper makes final pitch for national price on carbon

The National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy is reiterating its plea for a national price on carbon.

Dave Olecko/Nexen

A blue-ribbon advisory group that was killed by the Harper government is issuing a final plea for a national price on carbon.

The National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy was created 24 years ago by former prime minister Brian Mulroney as he embraced the concept of sustainable development. But after a series of reports that challenged the current government's policies, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty cut off its funding in last March's budget.

The roundtable's final report, to be released Thursday, is the last in a series on climate change and is entitled Embracing the Low-Carbon Economy, something that the group suggests the Harper government has failed to do at the expense of Canada's future prosperity.

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"We just hope this will inspire action from all sectors of society," Robert Slater, the agency's interim chairman, said in an interview.

"There are huge opportunities for Canada to achieve in a low-carbon economy. But the costs in not acting are actually quite expensive."

Mr. Slater conceded the Conservative government is unlikely to embrace most of the roundtable's recommendations, but said it may cherry-pick the best ones. He added the report will still be relevant when reality of climate change creates greater political pressure on governments to act.

The government-appointed roundtable is hardly a hotbed of environmental radicalism. Its members include former Conservative MP Robert Mills, who retired in 2008; former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Pauline Browes, who served under Mr. Mulroney and Kim Campbell, and Richard Prokopanko, head of government relations for Rio Tinto Alcan Inc.

In its most contentious stance, the roundtable reiterated its call for a national carbon price. The Conservatives have hammered the New Democratic Party for its support of a plan that caps greenhouse-gas emissions and allows companies to trade credits, calling it a "job-destroying carbon tax."

The Conservatives launched the attack despite the fact that Mr. Harper once endorsed a cap-and-trade policy. The difference, they say, is that the NDP plan would raise $20-billion a year in government revenues, while their program did not propose a windfall for government. However, Mr. Harper has rejected not only the NDP version, but any suggestion of a national price on carbon, including calls from leading business groups.

The roundtable does not take a position on the exact design of such a policy, but said market prices need to account for the full-cost of production and use of energy, including the greenhouse-gas emissions that cause climate change.

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"A price on carbon is fundamental to achieving the required efficiency gains and innovative drive to support low-carbon growth," the report said.

With such a price and other policies, Canada could be a leader in a future low-carbon economy, even as it continues to exploit unconventional resources like oil sands and hard-to-tap shale gas, it concluded. Without those policies, the country will find itself desperately trying to reduce emissions that have grown too quickly, and potentially having to write off oil-and-gas and electricity assets that are no longer viable.

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About the Author
Global Energy Reporter

Shawn McCarthy is an Ottawa-based, national business correspondent for The Globe and Mail, covering a global energy beat. He writes on various aspects of the international energy industry, from oil and gas production and refining, to the development of new technologies, to the business implications of climate-change regulations. More


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