Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe flew into Toronto on Monday for a quick visit with his Ontario counterpart, Doug Ford, as the pair took turns spreading misleading information about the federal government's plan to reduce Canada's greenhouse gas emissions.
"We are facing headwinds on the competitiveness of our Canadian industries. From an ill conceived carbon tax..to a pipeline that is not (sic) owned by you and I in this room and now has no firm construction date in sight and is very important to our Saskatchewan economy and by extension to the economy of Canada," Moe told reporters.
Moe argued, without providing evidence, that the federal plan to impose a carbon tax on non-complying provinces was "a financial show thing" that will raise the prices of gas and heating to unaffordable levels for Ontario and Saskatchewan residents. The federal Liberals, however, say the plan will be revenue-neutral and leave 70 per cent of families better off by giving them a federal rebate to offset the tax. Both will begin in April 2019.
Ford threw in some false statements about science to make this case. In the Ontario premier's words, the federal plan to put a price on carbon pollution would drive up prices on every single good and service "because everything is made of carbon, one way or another."
This statement is false. Research shows it is the fifteenth most common element in the Earth's crust; found in various living and non-living things like humans, plants, limestone, coal and water. It’s in the atmosphere as part of carbon dioxide, but that only makes up 0.04 per cent of the gases in the air.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged to impose a carbon tax on provinces that have failed to introduce policies that meet a minimum federal standard to ensure that polluters are paying. This would mean that the federal tax would be imposed on provinces like Ontario, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Manitoba, to be followed by federal rebates for residents to compensate them for the extra charges they paid when they purchase fossil fuels.
People who reduce consumption or switch to alternative forms of energy, would also wind up having more disposable income under this policy.
Trudeau delivered details of his plan at an event in Ford's riding on Oct. 23.
But Ford and Moe disputed the math behind the federal government's policy.
"How do you believe a politician who says things will save you money by raising your taxes?" Ford asked in a Queen's Park press conference with Moe. "Make no mistake if Justin Trudeau gets in the way, we will all be paying higher gas prices, higher home heating costs, higher everything because we all know that the price on carbon drives up the price on every single good and service (for) Ontario families and Ontario businesses, because everything is made of carbon one way or another."
Monday October 29 marked four months to the day Doug Ford was sworn in as premier of the first right-leaning Ontario government in 15 years, and announced that he would cancel Ontario's cap and trade program. His position on the climate action program has clashed time and again with that of Trudeau's, entrenching the heated debate in a political stalemate.
"He mysteriously showed up in my riding last week,” Ford said in his remarks to reporters. "Do you know what amazes me? It amazes me that Justin Trudeau is imposing a job killing carbon tax on Canadian families and businesses. His government is weak, paralyzed, and completely incapable of getting job-creating pipelines, and there's not going to be much better trade anywhere between our provinces."
"I'm not campaigning against Justin Trudeau. I'm protecting the taxpayers of Ontario," Ford said.
It's a pleasure to host @PremierScottMoe, our partner in the fight against a carbon tax. As part of our shared commitment to economic growth, we have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to begin discussions on lowering interprovincial barriers. pic.twitter.com/ivjf6m8BVv— Doug Ford (@fordnation) October 29, 2018
The issue of climate change has been a heated debate in both provinces. Moe's visit to Toronto also comes less than two weeks after a joint Price of Oil investigation, published by Global News, the Toronto Star and National Observer, revealed that his province was failing to warn the public about pollution or punish companies for violations despite an air quality indicator that was "off the chart." The investigation found that air quality indicators were breached hundreds of times without any fines for companies, or public warnings for residents who lived nearby.
Both Saskatchewan and Ontario are involved in a court challenge against the imposition of the carbon tax — a court challenge that will cost Ontario $30 million — which Moe asked the federal government to "respect," calling the federal carbon tax a "sham" and a "vote-buying scheme."
Ford agreed with his counterpart, and when pressed on the release of Ontario’s yet to exist climate change plan in the face of a UN report that warns of dire consequences if action is not taken in the next decade, Ford said his government will come down on emitters like they've never seen before.
Ontario climate plan 'will certainly deal with issues of climate change:' Phillips
Moments after his joint press conference, Ontario's Environment Minister Rod Phillips told an Empire's Club of Canada audience at Toronto's Sheraton Hotel that Ontario will be producing "a comprehensive plan" that will address climate change next month.
Phillips assured the audience that the plan "will certainly deal with the issues of climate change," including issues of waste, air and water quality and reducing emissions. He said he had met with over 100 stakeholders from across the province as well as global organizations such as the New York Green Bank, those responsible for Australia's reverse greenhouse gas auctions, and those behind Britain's carbon fund. All three plans have been met with criticism over their long term effectiveness, as opposed to the carbon tax which was proposed by an economist who won the Nobel Prize mere weeks ago.
The Ontario government has also received 1500 responses from its ongoing public consultations, Phillips said, which had been "encouraging" and "helpful." The consultation remains open till November 16.
"Our new plan will lay out a vision for the future of environmental action," he said. He noted the need for "a comprehensive assessment" that will help understand the impact of climate change on infrastructure, pointing to the severe weather events Ontario has witnessed in the last few years, including a million dollar 2013 flood in Toronto, heat waves in 2018, and the recent tornados in Ottawa.
Phillips vowed to encourage the use of innovative technologies that will conserve energy, recognizing that conservation "remains one of the most efficient ways to reduce greenhouse gases."
The made-in-Ontario climate plan will "ensure that emissions-intensive industries are held accountable," Phillips said, by implementing an emissions fund that will "leverage private sector dollars with provincial dollars to ensure that Ontario gets the best value for money." This, he said, will ensure Ontario will have "a balanced plan" to address climate change.
The federal carbon tax, doesn't allow for any of this, Phillips said. It is "an unproven magic bullet solution" that won't fix anything, he said, as compared to Ontario's efforts to create "a straightforward plan that people can understand, something that's built from the ground up, with the objective of reducing greenhouse gases and preparing the people."
"In Ontario, we've moved beyond the days where a high tax government with a highly interventionist sentiment is going to dictate everything, every business and everyone," Phillips said. "We move beyond government heavy solutions."
B.C. and Quebec have both imposed prices on carbon through a tax in the western province and a market-based trading system in the French-speaking province. Both have also seen their economies grow after introducing their climate policies.
'Climate action should not be a partisan issue'
In Ottawa, federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna told reporters Monday that Ontario's decision to pull out of the cap and trade program has added 48 mega tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, "the equivalent of 30 new coal-fired units," she said. "We need to be working together and we're committed."
When National Observer asked Phillips about this statistic after his speech to the Empire Club, he took shots at McKenna, noting that Ontario had been trying to talk to her since August. "She seems to be, I guess, talking through media," he said, noting that he had different numbers from the Ontario Ministry of Environment, but wouldn't elaborate.
The ideological wedge between Phillips and McKenna has existed from their first and only meeting in July, Phillips told the Empire Club audience, when he told her "we don't really know each other minister, but I'm pretty sure our parents aren't getting along, so I'm not sure we're going to get along." Since then their debates have been publicly documented on Twitter.
"If she’d like to talk to us, we’d love to talk to her," Phillips told reporters, noting that she had spent the time "calling out everything she doesn't like" about Ontario's efforts on instead of "sitting down and saying what targets do we want to agree to together."
"Targets are very important to us and we haven’t been able to have that conversation. We haven’t talked about what initiatives we‘re undertaking," Phillips said. "We’ve been able to talk to every provincial government but we haven’t been able to talk to the federal government."
In an email to National Observer, a spokeswoman for McKenna wrote that the federal minister was committed to tackling climate change, collaboratively, across the country. "Climate action should not be a partisan issue," wrote Caroline Thériault. "Unlike some Conservative politicians across the country who have no plan to protect the environment and grow the economy, we know we can — and need to — do both to tackle climate change and ensure a healthy and prosperous future for our kids."
Phillips, like Ford, however believe the federal government's climate plan, including the carbon tax, is a ploy to win votes for the 2019 federal election. "I think this is obviously an important election issue that liberals want to pursue, that’s probably why they had that announcement in our premier's riding last week but I hope that electoral position doesn’t get in the way of something so important," he said.
'When did conservatives stop believing in markets?:' Schreiner
As the Ontario government continues to fight the federal government both in the political and legal arena, opposition leaders and advocates continue to be frustrated at Ford's inability to produce an alternative, and constructive, plan to replace the cap and trade program.
After hearing Phillips Empire Club speech. Ontario's Environment Commissioner Dianne Saxe said she was "not very optimistic" about Ontario's plan. "We need hard targets that are set in the long run. It sounds if we're not going to get that," she said, noting that Phillips has yet to propose "a real investment solution and regulations."
Phillips and Saxe, who are ideologically at odds with one another, briefly met after his speech and shook hands. Saxe was encouraged by his call for more private money but said the government had yet to come out with a finance plan "on how we're going to pay for dealing with those vulnerable" from climate change disasters.
In an email, Keith Stewart, a senior energy strategist with Greenpeace Canada, demanded Ford tell Ontarians exactly how his government will protect people from the dangers of climate change. "If the two premiers dislike the federal carbon price, then all they have to do is meet or beat it with their own climate policy," Stewart wrote, adding that the remarks from Ford and Moe were nothing but an "evidence-free attack on climate action."
Ontario NDP MPP Peter Tabuns told reporters that Ford "really doesn't care about this issue."
"He could've stayed with cap and trade. It could have saved Ontario's a lot of money. He could have avoided the deficit. He could show that he's treating climate as an urgent issue but he's not interested," Tabuns told reporters after the Premiers' joint press conference, noting that Ford's was "interested only in scoring political points."
"He was elected to look after Ontario. He was elected to deal with the policies here. He wasn't elected to throw away $30 million in a futile attempt to challenge the federal government on the carbon tax," Tabuns said. "That is a waste of money and frankly, his supporters should be outraged."
Ontario Green Party leader Mike Schreiner called "BS" on Ford's economic arguments against the carbon tax, noting that some of the best performing economies around the world have a price on pollution. "It is BS that it's a job-killing plan because it is not."
Ford is being "driven by ideology over evidence," Schreiner said. "Why the premier seems to be pursuing either no plan at all or the most expensive plan makes absolutely no sense, and I want to ask conservatives, when did conservatives stop believing in markets? Because the premier is fighting every market-based solution to the climate crisis."
with files from Carl Meyer