OTTAWA — Alberta’s United Conservative leader Jason Kenney sparred with federal lawmakers Monday in Ottawa over the Trudeau government’s carbon pricing policy, which he’s vowed to fight if he’s elected premier next year.
The former Harper cabinet minister returned to Centre Block to testify before a parliamentary committee on the Liberal’s controversial plan to ensure all provinces impose a carbon tax as a way to cut pollution.
Much like his federal Conservative cousins, Kenney warned that the federal regime would punish the average Canadian and small businesses through rising costs at the gas pump and climbing home heating bills.
The federal carbon price is set to rise from $10 a tonne until it reaches $50 a tonne in 2022 — and Kenney insisted the tax would likely continue its climb beyond that level in the following years.
But Environment Minister Catherine McKenna argued Monday that Ottawa’s approach contains cost-effective measures to address climate change and to grow a clean economy, particularly as communities face costly consequences from floods, droughts and forest fires.
McKenna accused Kenney and the Conservatives of playing partisan political games over the issue.
“We are taking serious action on climate change,” McKenna told reporters after question period.
“And we now have former Harper Conservative ministers flying to town to tell us all the reasons why we shouldn’t act on climate change.”
The Liberals, who maintain their plan will be revenue neutral overall, are about to pass a new budget bill that would allow Ottawa to impose a carbon price in any province or territory that doesn’t have its own.
Kenney reiterated his promise that, if his party wins power next year, its top priority will be repealing Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s carbon tax on gasoline and heating fuels.
In a news conference Monday before his committee appearance, Kenney said if the federal government tried to institute a price on carbon in Alberta that he would join Saskatchewan in its legal battle to determine whether such a move would be unconstitutional.
“We believe that it is an unconstitutional intrusion on provincial jurisdiction,” he said.
“We think that punishing people for heating their homes in the winter and driving to work is not an environmental policy.”
Inside the committee chamber, Liberal MP Jennifer O’Connell repeatedly challenged Kenney on his beliefs about climate change and whether he thinks it is man-made.
Kenney responded over and over that he agrees with the science that says climate change is caused by human activities.
His former colleagues with the federal Tories have regularly attacked the Liberals’ carbon pricing policy, which could also become an important campaign issue in the lead up to the 2019 federal election.
The Tories said they intend to continue pressing the issue Tuesday by introducing an Opposition day motion calling on the Liberals to cancel its carbon tax plan. They will insist the carbon plan will raise gas prices for consumers without helping them to heat their homes or buy groceries.