One of the challenges of being in government is that sometimes the core message a government is attempting to promote may become overshadowed or even buried by other unintended events sometimes of the governments own making.
Such was the case back in November when the Liberals announced plans to “speed up” the end of coal power in Canada by the year 2030. Unfortunately for the Liberals breaking news of the Prime Minister and his cabinet’s cash for access fundraising events quickly buried the coal announcement and as a result it received little public scrutiny.
I believe many Canadians support the idea of reducing the use of coal power in Canada and on the surface would embrace the Liberal government announcement to accelerate the end of coal power in Canada. As much as the Federal Liberal government would like to be viewed as taking action against coal power, in reality many of Canada’s coal power producing provinces have already either eliminated the use of coal power, such as Ontario, or are well on the way to doing so as is the case in Alberta. Meanwhile provinces such as BC, Quebec and Manitoba do not currently generate any significant amounts of coal power. So what provinces currently are Canada’s largest generators of coal power? The answer is Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia.
Interestingly enough the Liberal government has quietly made side deals with both Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia that will allow these provinces to continue to generate and use coal power beyond the 2030 deadline. In other words, the announcement to accelerate the end of coal power by 2030 was really more for show than substance. Fortunately both of these provinces are taking other measures that will help reduce the GHG emissions from their respective coal power sectors.
Another somewhat overlooked government announcement was a new national agreement on carbon. What is interesting about this particular national agreement is that it is not truly national. Both Manitoba and Saskatchewan have refused to join this agreement and British Columbia has secured what could be interpreted as a future veto. Also of interest is the fact that the agreement is not a centralized national strategy and instead allows provinces to independently follow their own strategies. As an example in British Columbia a revenue neutral carbon tax is used while Ontario prefers a cap and trade system.
Why is this fact of interest? As an example in Ontario under their Cap and Trade system already it has been quietly announced that some of Ontario’s largest polluters such as steel and smelter plants are being exempted from the regulations. Likewise here in British Columbia greenhouse growers have also been largely exempted from carbon tax while industries such as cement production also receive taxpayer provided relief to offset carbon tax expenses. Ironically one of Saskatchewan’s arguments against a carbon tax is that it is pointless to tax industries only to return that same money in the form of subsidies or other relief related exemptions.
The point of my report today is not to debate the merits of a carbon tax or coal power production in Canada but rather to illustrate the government efforts to tackle these GHG emissions related industries may be more for appearance of taking action than actual substance. Considering that the United States is currently moving in a different direction under the incoming new administration it will be critically important to keep a close eye on both Canada’s competitiveness and the effectiveness of the Liberal government policy in this area. I welcome your comments, questions and concerns on this or any topic before the House of Commons and can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.