Manitoba premier Brian Pallister is looking to talk tough with the federal government, essentially daring them to increase the carbon price that he’s instituting in his province with a threat to take the federal government to court if they do. This after Pallister’s government already explored the notion of taking the government to court over the imposition of a federal carbon price backstop in the first place, and deciding that it wasn’t something they could win. For reference, Pallister’s government says they’ll implement a $25/tonne carbon tax, and leave it there rather than raise it every year (the point of which is, of course, to drive businesses and consumers to make choices that mean paying fewer of these carbon prices), and Catherine McKenna is basically saying “That’s great, but if your price doesn’t increase in 2020 like it’s supposed to, we’ll charge the difference.” While Pallister is trying to stand with other small-c conservative leaders – most of whom aren’t yet in office – I’m really not sure where he thinks he has the legal footing on this one.
Why does this matter? Well, recall the Environment Commissioner’s report last week that was done in concert with provincial auditors general, and as Paul Wells points out in this excellent piece, they could demonstrate that it wasn’t just the Harper government not doing their part (as McKenna was so quick to focus on), but rather the provinces weren’t doing their part either – especially those who were talking a good game. Nobody is taking this seriously, and the ability to hit our targets gets further away. And in the midst of Wells’ excoriation of these political leaders and their big talk on the environment, he drives home the message that we can’t believe any of them. And he’s right. Which is why we can’t believe Pallister’s rhetoric in this either, as he claims that his province’s plan is better than the federal one, so they shouldn’t have to add the increased carbon tax as part of that. Sorry, but no. The common carbon price across the country is about more than just reductions as it is about preventing carbon leakage to other jurisdictions in the country (and possibly elsewhere, depending on how well its designed), and he should know that. But just like the federal conservatives playing cute with trying to insist that McKenna should be able to tell them exactly how many megatonnes a $50/tonne carbon price will reduce, it’s not how this works. A carbon price is not a scrubber in a smokestack – it’s a market mechanism that is supposed to drive demand and innovation, and it works in jurisdictions where it is implemented properly. It’s not just about a claim that their system with a lower price will be better, which is a claim we shouldn’t believe anyway. It’s time for everyone to play hardball with politicians and these promises, and that means more than just disingenuous questions or demands, but actual accountability for what mechanisms are supposed to do and how they’re being implemented.