National price on carbon is coming

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says she has no qualms about the government’s move to impose a national price on carbon, despite some pushback from some provinces.

Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador and Saskatchewan walked out of this week’s environment ministers’ meeting in Montreal after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood in the House of Commons to announce his intention to force all provinces to levy a price on carbon by 2018.

Provinces will have two options, either a price on carbon, or a cap and trade system. The “floor price” is $10 a tonne of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions starting in 2018, which will rise to $50 by 2022.

Some of the provinces said the move was a surprise, but McKenna rejected that characterization in an interview with CBC Radio’s The House. “We need a system that has some coherence across the country,” she said. “There is a lot of flexibility for provinces within those two systems, and they keep the money. Provinces need to design a system that makes sense for them.”

The carbon price is the cornerstone of Canada’s ambitious plan to cut emissions by 30 per cent of 2005 levels before the 2030 deadline. McKenna said the government will also push for energy “interties,” so provinces with a surplus of clean energy can sell it to neighbouring provinces more reliant on GHG intensive fuel sources.

Building retrofits, and reducing emissions from the transportation sector are other ways Canada can meet its obligations under the Paris climate agreement, she said.

The NDP and Green Party have been critical of McKenna’s adoption of the former Harper government’s targets.

“When you have targets, like the previous government, and no plan. They’re worth zero,” she said. “Canadians actually want to see action.”

She did leave the door open for more ambitious targets down the line, but said she’s principally focussed on the current plan.

“We’re certainly going to try, every five years we’re going to take stock and improve,” she said. “You can’t do everything at once.”

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Saskatchewan warming up for a fight on carbon pricing

Saskatchewan Environment Minister Scott Moe

Saskatchewan Environment Minister Scott Moe was among three ministers who left the Montreal climate change meeting in protest following Ottawa’s announcement of its carbon pricing plan. (CBC News)

One of the ministers who walked out on McKenna Monday was Saskatchewan’s environment minister Scott Moe — and there’s more fight in him. 

“We’re looking at, as the premier said on Friday, whether it’s in the capability of the federal government to assess a carbon tax on one or two or three jurisdictions. Whatever that may be,” Moe told The House host Chris Hall. “We’re looking at what all our options would be.”

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has publicly called the government’s plan to charge polluters up to $50 for every tonne of carbon emitted a “betrayal.”

Besides legal options, Moe said his government is “going to start to tell our story” — including touting its environmental strides so far. 

“What we’ve done here and what technology we may have here to offer around the world. You’re going to see us tell a more fulsome story of what Saskatchewan is actually doing and why there is not a need for a carbon tax on industry here in the province.”

Moe —  and Wall — argue Saskatchewan will be one of the provinces hardest hit by an imposed system because of its export resource industries, including agriculture, mining and energy.

“As you add costs to those industries, they can move for the most part to other jurisdictions,” he said. “And very quickly companies can shift their investments.”

Putting nuclear plants under the microscope

Environment Commissioner Julie Gelfand

Environment and Sustainable Development Commissioner Julie Gelfand holds a news conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016, after tabling the Fall Report of the Environment commissioner in the House of Commons. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The federal government’s environmental watchdog says the way Canada’s nuclear plants are inspected is “disconcerting” and needs improvement.

In a report released Tuesday, Julie Gelfand, commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, found a number of failings at the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. That’s the agency responsible for ensuring nuclear plants are safe and secure.

She said 75 per cent of site safety inspections were carried out without an approved guide.

“It would be like an airline pilot who has to do the pre-flight checklist not having it or not doing it because [they say] ‘I’ve been doing this for 30 years I don’t need to do this,” Gelfand told The House.

She said site inspections aren’t the only thing the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission does when it comes to monitoring safety at their nuclear reactors, but “it’s the most important thing.”

Senate ‘credibility’ hinges on modernization

Senate Swearing in 20160412

Senator Peter Harder. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The Liberal government’s representative in the Senate says he wants to see members of the Red Chamber organized by region, rather than along traditional party lines, a move he says is necessary with Independents poised to become the biggest group in the upper house.

“I think that we may go through a period of some experimentation. I, myself, am biased to the notion of regional divisions for organizational purposes and leaving open a wider number of groups for affinity around policy or other associations,” Senator Peter Harder told The House.

“But the reality is that duopoly of control that the parties have enjoyed in the Senate, is over.”

The Senate’s modernization committee recommended this week that the upper house expand the definition of “caucus” to include groups of nine or more senators “formed for a parliamentary purpose,” to solve some of the current inequities faced by Independent senators.

That report also recommended allowing TV cameras in the chamber, and changing the rules around how the Senate Speaker is selected.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is poised to fill the current 21 seat vacancies this fall, bringing the number of Independents to 44 members in the 105-seat upper house. (The Conservatives have 40 seats, and the Liberals have 21.)

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