Are you skeptical that the Trudeau government’s price on carbon pollution is the best way to lower emissions? Blair Feltmate has a solution for you.
The head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo is chairing an arm of a new independent watchdog that will hold Ottawa to account on its climate change commitments and policies.
Feltmate said in an interview that the new institute, which is being called the Pan-Canadian Expert Collaboration, will help Canadians see if their federal government is making decisions in their best interests when it comes to tackling global warming.
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The institute will be a multimillion dollar organization, funded by government but expected to set its own agenda and operate independently. It will have three main areas of focus: clean growth, adaptation and mitigation.
It's being revealed the day after the Ford government in Ontario announced it will mandate that gas pumps in the province are affixed with a "gasoline transparency sticker" to reflect the federal carbon pricing system.
Ontario Environment Minister Rod Phillips and Ontario Energy Minister Greg Rickford demonstrated in Oakville, Ont. on April 8 how the sticker shows the extra 4.4 cents a litre, rising to 11 cents by 2022.
The sticker does not show that Ontario families are rebated the cost as part of their tax returns. Ottawa calculates that 80 per cent of families will receive more money back than they will pay. The sticker also does not mention the costs of impacts of climate change, which run into the many billions of dollars.
The group is being offered enough funding on an annual basis to carry on its work for years, well beyond the current mandate of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberals. But this funding would not be guaranteed if a new government comes to power and cancels the spending.
The details of how the funding will be transferred to the group, and on what schedule, are still being finalized.
Feltmate said the group's objective will be to start from the "goals and the aspirations" of the Trudeau government’s climate plan, the Pan-Canadian Framework, and “apply the intellectual framework to execute on that commitment.”
“How do we actually proceed to put an optimal price on carbon, to minimize carbon emissions? How do we proceed to embrace energy efficiency and renewable power, electricity storage? How do we proceed on those fronts, in a manner that will collectively benefit the country well?”
Ford's office alleges 'puppets' at institute
After this story was published, David Tarrant, executive director of strategic communications in the office of Ontario Premier Doug Ford, tweeted that it represented "a shocking abdication of journalistic standards" for National Observer. He said the author "unquestioningly parrot(ed) Liberal spin about the puppets on this elite pro-carbon tax ‘institute’."
National Observer asked Simon Jefferies, Ford's director of media relations, if the use of the term "puppets" meant that the premier's office was accusing the academics in the Pan-Canadian Expert Collaboration of bias, and whether it had evidence to back up this claim.
In addition, Jefferies was asked if Ford believed this federal body should not have been established, whether he would recommend that a future federal government pull the funding and whether the premier was against establishing a similar body in Ontario.
Jefferies said in response that "supporting a carbon tax may win you brownie points in the faculty lounge or win the praise of jet-setting Hollywood elites, but it is not the only way to fight climate change."
"Elite economists may sit in their ivory towers and lecture hard-working families about the need to make everything more expensive, but they will never understand the struggle of counting the pennies and living paycheque to paycheque."
He added "all a carbon tax does" is punish families and seniors. The federal government argues its pricing system will cut at least 50 million tonnes of carbon pollution by 2022.
"While Justin Trudeau and the federal government may take their cues from the elites, Premier Doug Ford takes his cues from the people he was elected to serve," said Jefferies. "Ontario has an environment plan which meets the targets set by the federal government without imposing a punishing, job-killing carbon tax on already stretched taxpayers."
The province introduced a proposal this year to limit the growth of pollution from industrial facilities by setting emissions to a facility's level of output. Consultations wrapped up at the end of March.
Ontario's Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks has said it is designed to be "flexible" and allow "facilities to increase production without being penalized for their success."
University of Waterloo housing some constituents
The Pan-Canadian Expert Collaboration is a grouping of over 15 organizations which won the federal government’s competition to create a new national non-profit. The competition ran from October 2018 to mid-January.
Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna said the group will be "eligible to receive up to $20 million over five years" to implement their vision.
“This institute will provide informed advice to decision makers and identify best practices to ensure future actions are informed by evidence,” the minister said in a statement.
Some of the main constituents will be housed at the University of Waterloo, Feltmate said. The group is planning on putting out a plan in September to show the path forward for each of the three areas of focus.
He said he’s focused on figuring out how Canada will adapt to the “extreme weather events that are becoming increasingly problematic in Canada,” such as floods, droughts, wildfires, hail, wind, permafrost loss and sea level rise.
Residential flooding — flooding basements, and flooding communities — is the number one cost to Canada, by far, relative to climate change extreme weather risk, for example.
Canada’s Changing Climate report, released April 1, showed the formidability of the challenge, said Feltmate. The major report received contributions from 43 government scientists and academics and found that Canada is heating up at double the average rate of the planet.
“Now the question is, what do we do as a country to address that?" he said. "Hopefully, that’s what this institute will do...we want on the ground deployment of efforts that take risks out of the system. That should be the measure of success ultimately.”
Editor's note: This story was updated at 5:51 p.m. ET on April 9, 2019 to include a quote from Tarrant. It was updated again at 8:57 p.m. ET on April 9, 2019 to include comments from Jefferies.