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Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall stands alone against federal carbon-pricing plan

The Point Aconi Generating Station owned and operated by Nova Scotia Power Corporation, Point Aconi in 2011.

Lee Brown/The Canadian Press Images

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's plan for a pan-Canadian climate strategy got a major boost Monday when governments in Nova Scotia and Manitoba announced their intention to adopt carbon pricing in their provinces.

However, less than three weeks before a first ministers' climate summit, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall threatened Monday not to sign any deal unless Ottawa withdraws its carbon-pricing plan.

The Liberal government has come under fire since the U.S. election from critics who argue Canada should not proceed with carbon pricing because U.S. president-elect Donald Trump has pledged to reverse direction on climate policy south of the border. Conservative opposition critics say the divergence would cause competitiveness issues for Canadian business.

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But Ottawa is proceeding with its long-planned strategy, including an announcement Monday to phase out the use of traditional coal-fired power plants by 2030, with some exceptions for provinces that can demonstrate equivalent emissions reductions while keeping a coal facility open.

"Tackling climate change is both a challenge and a huge opportunity," Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said Monday in announcing the coal plan. "This opportunity will attract the investments required to build a clean energy economy that will position Canada for great success in generations to come."

Saskatchewan's Premier Wall has slammed the federal government for proceeding with its carbon-pricing plan despite a Trump presidency, and on Monday, he condemned its proposed coal regulations.

"These actions have severely undermined the December meeting and have exposed the Prime Minister's disingenuous commitment to federal-provincial collaboration," he said in a statement. "We will continue to strongly oppose any attempt to impose a federal carbon tax on Saskatchewan and will not support any agreement at the December [first ministers'] meeting unless the proposed federal carbon tax is withdrawn."

However, Mr. Wall now appears to be the lone opposition voice.

Last month, provincial environment ministers stormed out of a federal-provincial-territorial meeting in protest over Mr. Trudeau's unilateral announcement on carbon pricing. Only Saskatchewan is now refusing to adopt its own plan.

The federal plan would require provinces to impose a $10 per tonne tax in 2018, rising to $50 by 2022, or adopt a cap-and-trade plan that meets or exceeds Ottawa's 2030 targets.

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British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec – four provinces that represent 80 per cent of Canada's GHG emissions – all have implemented or announced either a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade plan. Two other provinces, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador, say they are working on carbon-price plans of their own.

Nova Scotia had previously warned that it would not accept a proposal to close all coal-fired generating stations by 2030, nor would it accept a carbon pricing plan that would drive up fuel costs for motorists. But on Monday, Premier Stephen McNeil announced agreements with Ottawa on both measures.

On carbon pricing, Mr. McNeil said his province will adopt a cap on emissions in the various sectors – electricity, auto, heating – but that the government will initially provide some free allowances to meet the caps and avoid a price spike. In an interview, the premier said Nova Scotia has already cut emissions by 30 per cent so is being recognized for past action to meet Ottawa's national emission targets.

"There will be no price shock to Nova Scotians as a result of our internal cap and trade system," the premier said.

On coal-fired electricity, the Nova Scotia and the federal government agreed to reach an "equivalency agreement" that will allow the province to keep some plants open well past 2030, but will achieve emission reduction levels consistent with a full phase-out.

In a Speech from the Throne on Monday, the government of Manitoba Progressive Conservative Premier Brian Pallister said it would introduce a "made-in-Manitoba carbon pricing and climate plan" – though it is not clear whether the Manitoba effort will meet Mr. Trudeau's minimum price threshold.

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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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