ST. ANDREWS, N.B. – Opposition to Ottawa’s carbon pricing regime overshadowed talks concerning trade issues during the first day of meetings between Canada’s premiers in New Brunswick.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford joined forces with his Saskatchewan counterpart Thursday, saying his province will intervene in the western province’s court case against Ottawa’s carbon pricing policy.
Ford and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe both voiced their opposition to the contentious federal plan, prior to the start of two days of formal talks at the Council of the Federation meeting in St. Andrews.
“I’m here to gather support among my provincial counterparts against the federal carbon tax,” Ford said in a prepared statement to reporters outside the historic Algonquin Resort.
“Ontario will support Saskatchewan in intervening in the reference case they have launched with the (Saskatchewan) Court of Appeal. This is an important step in the fight against the federal carbon tax.”
Ford, who made the announcement after a bilateral meeting with Moe late Wednesday, said both provinces are on “the exact same page” and Ontario will use every tool at its disposal to challenge a tax he says is bad for families and businesses.
Keith Stewart, a strategist with Greenpeace Canada, issued a statement condemning the positions.
“Extreme weather fuelled by global warming is already hurting families and businesses right across the country and will get a lot worse if our elected officials ignore the threat,” Stewart said in an email. “Attacking carbon pricing without an alternative plan to address climate change is nothing less than an unprovoked attack on our kids’ future.”
Ford’s newly elected government is scrapping Ontario’s cap-and-trade program, which would make the province subject to a federally imposed carbon price, starting at $20 per tonne and increasing to a level of $50 a tonne by 2022.
Moe, whose government continues to hold out on creating a carbon pricing scheme, said a one-size-fits-all carbon tax fails to recognize the diverse nature of the Canadian economy.
“This made-in-Ottawa carbon tax plan finds our nation now in this position,” Moe said. “We have two provinces in compliance, we have two provinces in court and we have the rest of the country not meeting the federal carbon tax backstop. Today we’re grateful that the people of Ontario … will join us every step of the way.”
Federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna said Ford’s government shouldn’t be using tax dollars on a costly court challenge.
“It’s disappointing Ontario is spending $30 million of taxpayer money on fighting climate leadership,” McKenna said Thursday. “Our government has a plan to protect the environment and grow the economy and it’s working.”
New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant was asked whether Ford and Moe’s declaration would prove a distraction to talks about freer international and internal trade.
“It’s never going to be a distraction to discuss this very important and also very complex subject,” said Gallant.
He reiterated his province would remain committed to its carbon plan, while at the same time monitoring what other provinces ultimately do.
But the arguments presented by Ford and Moe were most effectively rebutted by British Columbia Premier John Horgan and Quebec’s Philippe Couillard.
Horgan said carbon pricing has proven beneficial to his province and he wanted to use the meeting to educate his counterparts on its effect on B.C.’s economy.
He said there has been “robust growth.”
“I would say that the sky didn’t fall.” said Horgan. “There was a lot of debate around the implementation of a carbon tax in B.C. and there was a lot of concern that it would have a negative impact on economic growth. That’s not happened.”
Couillard said Quebec wasn’t about to back out of its cap-and-trade initiative with California, which Ontario had formerly been a part of.
“We are in Quebec a living example of the fact that you can have co-existing carbon pricing and strong economic development,” he said. “We have record levels of growth, record levels of employment with carbon pricing, so those who say that the two are incompatible — we are the living proof of the opposite.”
The provincial leaders were expected to discuss a range of other topics, including the U.S. trade dispute, health care, the pullout of Greyhound from bus routes in Western Canada, and the skirmish between Alberta and British Columbia over the Trans Mountain pipeline project.
Canada’s ambassador to Washington, David MacNaughton, said a meeting with the premiers Thursday explored new ways that Canada could reach out to Americans given the uncertainty over trade issues.
He noted the premiers have been helpful in reaching out to U.S. politicians and businesses.
“We need to do the next step, which is to reach out to individual Americans,” he said. “We need to reach out to those who may not yet be convinced or those who have a different view or are anti-trade because of ideological things.”
Gallant emerged after the meetings wrapped up Thursday to say that talks had centered on trade issues and that the premiers had agreed to what they are dubbing the “Fox News approach” of reaching out to Americans.
That would involve appearing on news outlets that don’t necessarily share sympathetic views to freer trade in order to promote the importance of the U.S.-Canada trading relationship he said.
But as the meetings drew to a close for the day, Ford, Couillard and Manitoba’s Brian Pallister issued a statement calling for more federal help in dealing with asylum seekers who cross their borders.
All three premiers want Ottawa to review its current policy, and they also called on the federal government to fully compensate them for “impacts to services resulting from the increase in non-point of entry border crossings.”