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Federal Minister Jean-Yves Duclos praised Quebec’s leadership in fighting climate change on Tuesday, and said Quebec Premier François Legault will try to persuade reluctant fellow premiers to put a price on carbon pollution.
Duclos, the federal minister for families, children and social development, made the comments in Montreal while outlining the federal government’s plan to put a price on carbon emissions in four provinces that have not gone far enough to satisfy the federal government.
In Manitoba, Premier Brian Pallister branded the federal government's plan "unfair" and New Brunswick's environment minister said it "defies logic."
Premier Legault, who assumed office last week after a landslide victory on Oct. 1, met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau 10 days ago to discuss climate change issues, according to Duclos – and the conversation went “really well.”
“Premier Legault indicated that he was fully supportive of the agenda of putting a price on pollution and he would be trying to convince other premiers who seem not to understand that a price of pollution is important,” Duclos told National Observer at an event in Montreal.
Duclos made the comments at the Maison du Développement Durable, the Montreal headquarters of eight environment groups such as Équiterre and the David Suzuki Foundation.
He was referring to statements made by Legault after the premier's first formal meeting with Trudeau at the Francophonie summit in Armenia. At the time, Legault said he would help the prime minister defend the carbon market, noting that he was defending a market and not a tax, the Canadian Press reported.
Duclos was part of a wave of ministers in Trudeau's cabinet who were dispatched across the country on Tuesday to explain the prime minister's plan to put a price on carbon pollution.
“Quebec has demonstrated a plan that has worked for many years that achieves those two things, putting a price on pollution while growing the economy. Other provinces unfortunately — and they all happen to be led by Conservative governments — other provinces are not able and are not willing to show that level of leadership,” Duclos said.
National Observer was the only media outlet to ask Duclos questions at the Montreal event.
Quebec is not affected by the federal government’s plan announced Tuesday to apply a carbon price in Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and New Brunswick in April. These are all provinces that have not put their own minimum price on the heat-trapping pollution. Residents will get rebates through the tax system for the higher cost of fuel.
“Premier Legault indicated that he was fully supportive of the agenda of putting a price on pollution and he would be trying to convince other premiers who seem not to understand that a price of pollution is important,” said @jyduclos #carbontax
Since 2012, Quebec has participated in an international carbon market with California that places a cap on pollution, and allows Quebec companies to buy and sell allowances to stay within the limit.
Quebec’s carbon market has generated over $2.6 billion for the province so far, according to a government press release in August. In July, Ontario Premier Doug Ford pulled Ontario out of that carbon market.
On CBC radio on Tuesday morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau blasted conservative politicians across the country who refuse to implement climate change policies. Minister Duclos was quick to clarify that Quebec’s ruling Coalition Avenir Quebec party, which sits to the right of the political spectrum, is not included in that group.
“Today’s announcement is a sign of leadership from the federal government […]," Duclos said. "It’s also a sign of the value and the importance of Quebec’s leadership in fighting climate change. It’s a sign that when we work together we can achieve both a better environment and economy.”
Annie Berubé, Équiterre’s director of government relations, welcomed the federal government’s plans. She told National Observer that it's a “good thing that Quebec is not subjected to the federal carbon price” given the significant revenue from the California-Quebec carbon market.
“By being an early adopter of carbon pricing, [Quebec is] avoiding the imposition of a carbon price by the government. It’s really a ‘made in Quebec’ solution,” she said.
While Duclos said that Legault’s government is “perfectly aligned with the previous [Liberal] government in saying that it agrees with putting a price on pollution,” Berubé said there are other areas where the new government has diverged from its predecessors — and not in a good way.
While it's “too early to tell” given that the government is only a week old, she said, Équiterre was “concerned about the building of numerous new highways in Quebec which will only drive more car traffic and congestion. This was not a policy of the former Liberal government and it will also increase greenhouse gases in the province.”
During his election campaign, Legault unveiled plans to widen Highway 30, an artery cutting through Montreal’s south shore, on top of plans to extend or widen highways 13, 15, and 19 — all highways that service the island of Montreal.
A spokesperson from the Quebec government cabinet said neither the premier's office nor the office of MarieChantal Chassé, newly-appointed minister of environment and the fight against climate change, could provide a comment for National Observer on Tuesday.
Manitoba premier calls carbon price unfair
In Winnipeg, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said the plan is unfair and will still hit people in their wallets.
"It's just taking money and giving it back. You know, Liberals have been famous for distributing money and trying to get credit for it for a long, long time," Pallister said Tuesday.
"We'll have to see the details but it looks like you'll get about 75 per cent back and (the federal government) will keep 25, and they'll put it into various programs which no doubt will be used for the purposes to which they might put them politically."
Pallister's description was far different from the federal government's explanation. Jim Carr, Manitoba's senior federal cabinet representative, said all the money raised will be returned to Manitobans — 90 per cent through rebates to individuals and 10 per cent to schools, hospitals, small businesses, universities and Indigenous communities.
On Twitter, former three-time mayor of New York City, said he is glad to see Trudeau's plan to price a price on carbon pollution. "Alongside his pledge to eliminate coal by 2030, this policy will help protect public health and the environment," Mike Bloomberg tweeted.
Glad to see Canadian PM @JustinTrudeau announce his country’s plans to put a price on climate pollution. Alongside his pledge to eliminate coal by 2030, this policy will help protect public health and the environment. https://t.co/RWnNYXbBdS— Mike Bloomberg (@MikeBloomberg) October 23, 2018
Saskatchewan's Moe says province will fight
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said families won't be better off because they will have to pay more for electricity and gas.
"Most of us have to drive a lot. We drive to work. We drive for our kids' recreation and their school and we have to heat our home on some very cold days in this province," Moe said. "Saskatchewan will continue to fight the carbon tax and this new Liberal vote-buying scheme."
New Brunswick minister says the carbon tax defies logic
New Brunswick's environment minister Andrew Harvey said the federal government's plan defies logic.
New Brunswick has the highest tax on gas and diesel of any province in the country, but the federal government is saying it has to do more.
Ottawa asked all provinces to put a minimum price of $20 a tonne of emissions by Jan. 1.
New Brunswick's Liberal government had proposed to repurpose some money already collected in gasoline taxes in lieu of a new carbon tax.
"We've done enough in New Brunswick with taxes and consumers in New Brunswick shouldn't be paying any more in tax," Harvey said Tuesday.
"We have a higher price than a province like Alberta. They are penalizing New Brunswick but not penalizing Alberta, it defies logic, the federal approach here. We don't accept it at all," he said.
New Brunswick is in a state of flux because no party won a majority in last month's provincial election.
Tory Leader Blaine Higgs, who could become premier early next month, has said he refuses a carbon tax and will join a lawsuit with other provinces if he takes office.
However on Tuesday, Higgs said he wanted to take a closer look at the federal proposal.
"We oppose any carbon tax of any kind, but what we have said in the same vein, we have said we will ensure New Brunswickers get a full rebate. We're interested in getting more details on what the federal government has proposed, but our goal is that New Brunswickers will not pay any additional tax," he said.
New Brunswick's Green leader, David Coon, said he's pleased the federal government is moving on the carbon tax right across the country, but says the Trudeau government is giving big polluters a "free ride" by only making them pay the tax on between 10 and 20 per cent of their emissions.
With files from The Canadian Press
Editor's note: This article was updated at 8:30 am ET on Oct. 24, 2018 to clarify that François Legault's comments were made publicly at the recent summit of the Francophonie in Armenia in October 2018.