Carbon pricing in Canada

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Carbon pricing in Canada is a tax levied on the carbon content of fuels at the Canadian provincial, territorial or federal level. Provinces and territories of Canada can create their own system of carbon pricing based on the needs and requirements of their own jurisdictions.

The federal Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act (GHGPPA), which passed in December 2018, implemented a tax which applied only to provinces and territories whose carbon pricing system did not meet federal requirements. In provinces where the tax is levied, 90% of the revenues are returned to tax-payers.[1]

Saskatchewan never had a carbon pricing system and other provinces—Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Alberta—have opted out of previous provincial carbon tax systems. Revenue from the federal GHGPPA, which is under Bill C-74, which came into effect in April 2019, is redistributed to the provinces, either through tax credits to individual residents or to businesses and organizations that are affected by the tax but are unable to pass on the cost by raising consumer prices.[2][1] The Province of Saskatchewan challenged the constitutionality of the GHG ACT in the Court of Appeal for Saskatchewan and lost in May 2019.

The first piece of legislation introduced by the newly-elected Premier of Alberta, Jason Kenney, was Bill 1: An Act to Repeal the Carbon Tax.[3]

According to the National Post, Conservatives were attempting to "make the carbon tax the single issue" of the 2019 federal election campaign.[4]

History[edit]

Quebec implements first carbon tax[edit]

In June 2007, Quebec implemented the first carbon tax in Canada which was expected to generate $2 million annually.[5]

On December 11, 2008, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson said that a carbon tax is preferable to a cap-and-trade program which "inevitably introduces unnecessary cost and complexity". A carbon tax is "a more direct, more transparent and more effective approach". Tillerson added that he hoped that the revenues from a carbon tax would be used to lower other taxes so as to be revenue neutral.[6]

2008 election proposal[edit]

An unpopular revenue-neutral carbon tax was proposed in 2008 during the Canadian federal election, by Stéphane Dion, then leader of the Liberal Party. It was Dion's main platform and it allegedly contributed to the defeat of the Liberal Party with its worst share of the popular vote in the country's history.[7][8][9]

The Conservative party, who won the 2008 election, had promised to implement a North American-wide cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases.[10] During the 2008 Canadian federal election, the Conservative party promised to develop and implement greenhouse gas emissions trading by 2015, also known as cap and trade, that encourage a certain type of behaviour through economic incentives regarding the control of emissions and pollution.[11][12]

2014 EcoFiscal commission[edit]

In 2014 public policy economists came together to begin discussions on what would become the Canada’s EcoFiscal Commission. The Commission was established with the participation of Paul Martin, Jim Dinning, Preston Manning, and Jack Mintz on November 4, 2014,[13] and became the leading advocacy group in Canada for carbon pricing.[14] They published reports in 2015,[15] 2016,[16] and 2017.[17]

2015 Trudeau[edit]

In February 2015, Justin Trudeau announced that he would impose carbon pricing if elected. The proposed system would resemble the medicare model in which provinces would design systems suitable for their needs with the federal government setting national targets and enforcing principles.[18]

Paris agreement[edit]

A special report by The Guardian in partnership with Climate Action Tracker, compared pledges made by some 200 countries that participated in the 2015 United Nations round of talks on a "new climate deal" hosted in Paris.[19] The co-authors wrote an in-depth analysis of 14 key countries and blocs, including Canada. The article, which summarized the report, said that Canada climate targets were the "weakest ... of any major industrialised economy which experts say was a "direct result" of Stephen Harper government's hard line policies" and its "promotion" of the "vast reserves of tar sands in Alberta" that are highly polluting".[20]

By December 2016 the eleven provinces and the Canadian government presented their "executive, mitigation and adaptation" strategies towards a clean economy.[21] The "extensive document"—"The Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change"—"lean[-ed] heavily on carbon pricing".[17]

By December 12, 2018, Bill C-69 was before the Canadian Senate having passed its Third Reading in the Canadian House of Parliament.[22]

In 2018, Canada passed the GHGPPA implementing a revenue-neutral carbon tax starting in 2019,[23][24] which applies only to provinces whose carbon pricing systems created for their jurisdictions, did not meet federal requirements.[24] Revenue from the carbon tax will be redistributed to the provinces.[24]

According to a report by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce (CCC) released on December 13, 2018, Canada's largest business group endorsed the carbon pricing introduced by the federal government[25] saying it offers flexibility and is the "most efficient way to cut emissions"[26][26] and "solidly backs carbon pricing."[27] According to a December 13 CTV News article, Stewart Elgie, from the Ottawa-based Environment Institute at the University of Ottawa, the CCC's "endorsement of the carbon tax as the most efficient emissions-cutting tool" and its support of "Canada's investments in clean technology at home and abroad", provides the Canadian economy with a "major opportunity...to market itself in a low-carbon future".[25]

In December 2018, the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry submitted their report based on a year-long study on the "impacts of climate change and carbon pricing on agriculture, agri-food and forestry".[28] Although some witnesses raised concerns that Canada's international competitiveness could be diminished compared with producers "who do not bear these additional, carbon-related costs". The Committee noted that a "study of the effects of British Columbia’s carbon tax — which launched in 2008 — suggested the province’s international competitiveness was not diminished".[28]:10 The report recommended that Environment and Climate Change Canada, formerly known as Environment Canada, or EC consider exemptions for agricultural activities under the GHGPPA, with "special attention to competitiveness for producers and food affordability for Canadians". The Committee recommended exempting fuels used for heating or transportation in farming activities.[28]:10

Federal legislation[edit]

The Canadian Senate passed the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act (GHGPPA)[29] in the fall of 2018 under Bill C-74.[30][31] The GHGPPA refers to charge or pricing instead of taxation. The charge which will rise to $50 per tonne of CO2 by 2022, begins at $20 in 2019[32] and increases by $10 per year until 2022. Through the GHGPPA, provinces have the flexibility to create their own solutions to deal with GHG emissions in their own jurisdictions. Through the GHGPPA all provinces are required to place a minimum price of $20 a tonne of GHG emissions by January 1, 2019.[33] The tax will be retroactive to January.[34]

The federal government will send an annual rebate ranging from $300 to $600 adequate emissions pricing plans.[34]

For example, a family of 4 in Ontario will pay $20 per month extra for gas, home heating and other costs. That family will receive $307 in annual rebates, compared to $240 in costs, leaving them $67 better off in 2019. The rebate benefit increases each year as the carbon price and the rebate both gradually rise. [35]

In her October 23, 2018 Power & Politics podcast, Vassy Kapelos interviewed Dominic LeBlanc, the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Northern Affairs and Internal Trade, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, and Ontario Minister of Environment Rod Phillips.[36]

Carbon pricing in Canada is expected to remove 50-60 MT of emissions from the air annually by 2022 which represents about 12% of all Canadian emissions. However, Canada needs to reduce emissions to 512 MT by 2030 to meet its Paris Climate Change accord. This would mean reducing annual emissions by about 200MT from the 2018 levels. In addition to carbon pricing, the government is pursuing a range of additional policies including improving fuel standards, energy efficiency, and closing coal plants.[37]

Expected Rebates for A Single Canadian in Eligible Jurisdictions

Impact on the Economy & Jobs[edit]

A May 22, 2018 report by the Parliamentary Budget Officer (OFC) showed that carbon pricing would have at most a minor impact on the economy, with an increase in GDP in 2022 of about $2 billion, or 0.1% of GDP.[38]:5

According to a 2018 report, British Columbia, which has had a carbon price since 2008, had the fastest growing economy in Canada.[39]

Canada's Parliamentary Budget Officer has estimated that the federal government will generate $2.63 billion in carbon pricing revenues in 2019-20. The vast majority of revenues ($2.43 billion) will be generated through the fuel charge; the balance, roughly $197 million, will be generated by output-based pricing. [40]

In addition, PBO estimates that by 2023-24, carbon pricing revenues will increase to $6.20 billion, with fuel charge proceed accounting for $5.77 billion and OBPS accounting for the rest. [41]

The federal government has stated that the carbon pricing system will be revenue neutral; any revenues generated under the system will be returned to the province or territory in which they are generated. Households will receive 90 per cent of the revenues raised. The remaining 10 per cent will go to support particularly affected sectors, including small businesses, schools, and hospitals. [42]

Based on this assumption, 80% of households will receive higher transfers than the amount paid in direct and indirect costs. The net benefits are broadly progressive by income group: lower-income households will receive larger net transfers than higher-income households. [43]


In the four provinces where the Government of Canada is returning proceeds to individuals and families through the Climate Action Incentive, most households will get more back than they pay as a result of pollution pricing.

Carbon price in individual provinces[edit]

By 2018, Quebec (2007), British Columbia (2008), Alberta, Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia had carbon-pricing policies in place.[17] By 2017, Metro Vancouver was "exploring road fares and other fee-based mechanisms to address traffic congestion".[17] Ontario cancelled their cap and trade system in 2018. The outlines of a new climate plan for Ontario, which did not include any carbon pricing system, was unveiled in November 2018.[33]

Manitoba, Ontario, Saskatchewan, and New Brunswick refused to impose their own emissions pricing so the federal pricing came into effect on April 1. Residents of the four provinces pay more for gasoline and heating fuel. The "starting rate added 4.4 cents to the price of a litre of gas, about four cents to a cubic metre of natural gas". The price of propane, butane and aviation fuel will also increase. Residents will receive rebates on their income tax returns. Amounts will vary with each province.[44] In Saskatchewan for example, a family of four will receive $609 in 2019.[45]

British Columbia[edit]

The Government of British Columbia introduced a carbon tax in 2008.[46]

British Columbia was the first Canadian province to join the Western Climate Initiative (WCI), which was established in February 2007 by the governors of Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The WCI became an international partnership when BC joined.[47] By 2011, BC's preference was for its existing carbon tax as opposed to the cap and trade proposed by the WCI.[48]

In 2013, Angel Gurría, then-Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), said that the "implementation of British Columbia’s carbon tax is as near as we have to a textbook case, with wide coverage across sectors and a steady increase in the rate" over a period of five years.[49][50]

According to a November 2015 article in The Atlantic, after British Columbia's provincial government introduced a carbon tax in 2008, greenhouse emissions were reduced, "fossil fuel use in British Columbia [had fallen] by 16 percent, as compared to a 3 percent increase in the rest of Canada, and its economy ... outperformed the rest of the country." This proved that carbon tax benefits were "no longer theoretical" and that they did not hinder economic growth.[46]

Quebec[edit]

In June 2007, Quebec implemented a carbon tax on energy distributors, producers, and refiners, the first Canadian province to do so. When announcing the new tax, Quebec Natural Resources Minister Claude Béchard said that industries would absorb the tax, which would total $200 million in revenue annually, instead of passing on the cost to consumers.[5] Of the 50 companies affected, the hardest hit would be oil companies, who would pay about "about $69 million a year for gasoline, $36 million for diesel fuel, and $43 million for heating oil".[5] The tax would also affect natural gas distributors who would pay about $39 million and electricity distributor Hydro-Québec who would pay $4.5 million for its Sorel-Tracy, Quebec-based thermal energy plant.[5]

Saskatchewan[edit]

The Premier of Saskatchewan, Scott Moe, has spoken emphatically against the GHGPPA.[36] The Government of Saskatchewan released a report entitled "Prairie Resilience: A Made-in-Saskatchewan Climate Change Strategy" which he said in an October 23, 2018 interview with CBC's Vassy Kapelos, has been accepted by the federal government as meeting GHGPPA requirements.[51] On May 3, 2019 the court ruled in favour of the federal government in a 155-page 3-2 split decision that concluded that , "The Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act is not unconstitutional either in whole or in part."[52] Moe said he would bring the case before the Supreme Court of Canada. [52] The federal government assured residents of Saskatchewan that they "all direct proceeds collected in Saskatchewan under the federal pollution pricing backstop system" would be paid "through direct payments to individuals and families and investments to reduce emissions, save money, and create jobs". For example, a family of four would "receive $609 in 2019".[45] On May 31, Premier Scott Moe filed his appeal of the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. He hopes the case will be heard in teh fall of 2019.[53] The government of Saskatchewan was an intervenor in the constitutional challenge submitted by the Ontario government under Premier Doug Ford to the Ontario Court of Appeal.[53]

Alberta[edit]

In November 2015 Premier Rachel Notley and Alberta Environment Minister Shannon Phillips announced Alberta's carbon tax.[14]

In his Maclean's 2015 article, economist Trevor Tombe wrote that "[p]ricing carbon is one of the most sensible policy prescriptions to address greenhouse gas emissions".[14] Tombe listed the advantages and disadvantages. The carbon tax provides a "new source of revenue for the government".[14] The tax is a "far more efficient means of lowering greenhouse gas emissions than regulatory approaches."[14] As part of the process of researching and implementing the carbon tax, the Alberta government worked with a panel chaired by University of Alberta economist Andrew Leach to study a carbon tax based on "sensible, evidence-based policy advice", which Tombe described as "a model for other jurisdictions".[14] The price of the carbon tax began at $20 a tonne in 2017, rose to $30 a ton in 2018 and was tied to a 2% increase based on rising inflation, which Tombe considered to be "reasonable".[14] Tombe estimated the impact of the carbon tax on the 3 "most carbon-intensive consumer purchases". He estimated an increase in the price of gasoline of c. 6.7 cents per litre when the $30 a tonne tax came into effect. Natural gas prices would increase by about $1.50 per GJ.[14] "[L]ow to middle-income households" would "receive compensation".[14]

Premier Kenney joined like-minder premiers, including Premier Doug Ford, Saskatchewan and Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister (PC), in a law suit against the federal Liberal government on April 15, 2019. The court ruled in favour (3-2) of the constitutionality of the carbon tax. The four provinces are appealing the decision.

The newly-elected Premier of Alberta, Jason Kenney introduced Bill 1: An Act to Repeal the Carbon Tax as his first piece of legislation. It came into effect on June 4, 2019.[3]

Ontario[edit]

The Ontario Climate Change Mitigation and Low-Carbon Economy Act, 2016 (the Ontario Act) established a standard cap and trade system which integrates with the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) providing access to an "even greater market to buy and sell the most cost effective carbon credits."[54][55] Gary Goodwin called it the "best and most integrated solution to the problem of emissions."[54]

In September 2017, Ontario joined the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) , which was established in February 2007 by the governors of Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. *April 24, 2007: British Columbia joined with the five western states, turning the WCI into an international partnership[47] with the goal of developing a multi-sector, market-based program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.and link its cap-and-trade system with Quebec’s and California’s in January 2018. This harmonized carbon market will be the second largest in the world, trailing only the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) and will feature joint permit auctions. Because it allows for permit trading between jurisdictions, linked cap-and-trade systems achieve lower-cost mitigation actions across jurisdictions than an unlinked system.[47]

Early in 2018, the newly-elected Progressive Conservative government under Premier Doug Ford, cancelled the previous cap and trade system as he had promised in his electoral campaign. In November the Ontario government unveiled the outlines climate plan which did "not include any kind of price on emissions".[33]

Ontario's Environment Minister Rod Phillips and Attorney General Caroline Mulroney announced on August 2, 2018 that they would be challenging the federal government's carbon tax plan in court with a budget of $30 million.[56]

Constitutional challenge of GHG Act[edit]

Scott Moe, the Premier of Saskatchewan, announced on August 2, 2018, that he was considering joining Ontario's constitutional challenge to the federal carbon tax.[56] Saskatchewan says that they can reduce GHG emissions without a pricing system. The province is challenging the federal GHG Act as unconstitutional in the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal.[33] New Brunswick, under Premier Blaine Higgs, through the Office of the Attorney General, submitted their intention to intervene Saskatchewan's court challenge of the federal government's carbon pricing plan.[Notes 1][57]

Output Based Pricing System (OBPS)[edit]

Most aspects of the federal government's Output Based Pricing System (OBPS) announced in December 2018, "which targets greenhouse gas emissions from large, industrial facilities", are similar to Alberta's Carbon Competitiveness Incentive Regulation (CCIR) which was also similar to Alberta's 2007 Specified Gas Emitters Regulation (SGER).[58] The three programs had a "price on carbon emissions" and a "system of allocations through which firms receive some number of emissions credits for free."[58] The OBPS rules apply to large facilities in Ontario, New Brunswick, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan, Yukon and Nunavut—the "provinces covered by the federal backstop policy."[58] The OBPS covers a "relatively small share of emissions in the provinces it affects."[58] Most emissions come from smaller emitters which "will be covered in large part by the carbon price". Leach wrote that, "Much of the coverage of this system has framed the OBPS as an exemption from emissions pricing for large emitters, but that hides the importance of the two, linked programs – the carbon price and the output-based allocation of credits."[58]

In the spring of 2018, the federal government had "proposed that all fossil fuel-burning generating stations be treated the same with the first 420 tonnes of greenhouse gases per gigawatt hour of electricity produced exempt from carbon taxes and everything above that subject to a charge."[59]

CBC reported in October 2018 that "natural gas stations face carbon taxes on emissions above 370 tonnes, oil on emissions above 550 tonnes and coal above 800 tonnes, a major concession to coal plants."[59][Notes 2]

Carbon tax and the 2019 federal election[edit]

According to a June 2018 article in The National Post, Conservatives were attempting to "make the carbon tax the single issue" of the 2019 federal election campaign.[4] The Post said that Andrew Scheer’s Conservative Party had interpreted Ontario Premier Doug Ford's election as "an explicit rejection of the carbon tax".[4]


Notes[edit]

  1. ^ In November 2018, the Attorney General of New Brunswick submitted their intention to "intervene in the Matter of the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act, Bill C-74, Part V, and in the Matter of a Reference by the Lieutenant Governor in Council to the Court of Appeal under The Constitutional Questions act, 2012."
  2. ^ According to Robert Jones' CBC article, The By 2016, the Irving Oil Refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick was the largest source of greenhouse gases in Atlantic Canada. Belledune Generating Station a 450 MW coal-fired electrical generating station owned and operated by provincial Crown corporation NB Power in Belledune, New Brunswick, was the second largest source.

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