Too late for a carbon tax, says former Ontario Liberal environment minister

OTTAWA — A former Ontario Liberal environment minister says Canada has waited too long for carbon taxes to be a real solution to the country’s emissions woes and must shift its focus to massive government interventions to overhaul Canada’s transportation systems and buildings.

Glen Murray was the minister of environment in Ontario in 2017 when that province introduced its short-lived cap-and-trade carbon pricing system, which was killed off by the new Tory government just over a year later.

Murray, who is now working as a clean tech entrepreneur, says carbon taxes will take too long to work, given how quickly the planet is warming.

“If we had 40 years, 30 years, maybe that would work,” he said Wednesday.

Earlier Wednesday, a new report from Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission said carbon pricing is the most cost-effective way for the country to hit its current targets of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

It suggested that quadrupling the price, from the planned $50 a tonne in 2022 to $210 in 2030, would be enough to meet that goal.

The Liberals have said only that they will review the carbon price once it hits $50 in 2022 but have been noncommittal about raising it after that.

A federal analysis suggested setting the carbon price at $50 per tonne could achieve about 40 per cent of the emissions cuts needed to meet the existing 2030 goal.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during the election campaign he wants to exceed that target, and put Canada on a path to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. That would include having any emissions Canada still produces be captured rather than left to linger in the atmosphere.

Carbon prices are generally phased in over time, with the set price increasing usually by no more than $5, $10 or $20 a year.

That gives people and businesses time to make the adjustments that can lower than energy use and ultimately their carbon footprint.

But those adjustments can take time to bear fruit.

“Do we have enough time for incrementalism as slow-motion pricing?” Murray asked. “The answer to that is no.”

Murray said Canada has spent the better part of the last decade mired in political fights over whether carbon taxes or cap-and-trade systems are acceptable and now has “run out runway” to give them a chance.

He also said those battles have left politicians with a lack of willpower to set the price high enough to be truly effective.

Meanwhile, international scientists say the world has to cut greenhouse-gas emissions almost in half by the end of the next decade to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Canada has so far pledged to cut them by about a third and the policies in place — or on the way — leave the country significantly shy of even that.

Murray said the only way for Canada to do its part now is through enormous investments in transportation and buildings.

That could include, he suggested, building a national high-speed rail system to replace short-haul flights on airplanes with train trips, requiring half of all cars sold to be electric by 2030 and then making huge investments to make Canada a go-to place for building them, and making it a priority to retrofit all Canada’s homes and buildings zero-emissions within the next quarter-century.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said carbon prices can work but only if governments also provide people with the alternatives to make cleaner choices.

“If there’s not a better way to heat someone’s home then people are going to be left with just paying more to keep their homes warm,” he said Wednesday.

The Liberal government’s climate package has a wide range of elements, including eliminating coal-fired electricity, forcing the use of cleaner-burning fuels, capturing methane from oil and gas production, as well as incentives to buy new electric cars, investments in public transit and a new building code to reduce energy use in new construction.

But the existing plan, including the carbon tax, still leaves Canada 79 million tonnes short of its 2030 goal, a target most scientists say is nowhere near enough for Canada to contribute to halting climate change.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 27, 2019.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

carbon tax

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Hub on Ross has announced it has permanently closed. (Photo courtesy The Hub on Ross Facebook page)
The Hub on Ross in Red Deer to permanently close

The Hub on Ross in Red Deer permanently closed on Wednesday. “The… Continue reading

There were 410 COVID-19 cases recorded in Alberta Wednesday. (File photo)
Alberta records 410 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday

Central zone dropped to 160 active cases

Shaun Isaac, owner of Woodchucker Firewood in Trochu, is awaiting a new shipment during a firewood shortage in the province. All of the wood he has left is being saved for long-time customers who need it to heat their homes. (Contributed photo).
Firewood shortage in central Alberta caused by rising demand, gaps in supply

‘I’ve said “No” to more people than ever’: firewood seller

The Red Deer Senior Citizens Downtown House reopened earlier this month, after closing in March due to the pandemic. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Red Deer Senior Citizens Downtown House reopens

The Red Deer Senior Citizens Downtown House was closed for months due… Continue reading

Guy Pelletier, vice-president of the Red Deer region for Melcor Developments. (Contributed photo).
Melcor has to redesign new neighbourhood after Molly Banister decision

City council disagreed with administration’s recommendation to scrap road plans

Alice Kolisnyk, deputy director of the Red Deer Food Bank, says the agency expects an increase in demand as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Every new subscription to the Red Deer Advocate includes a $50 donation to the food bank. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Support the food bank with a subscription to the Red Deer Advocate

The community’s most vulnerable members are always in need of a hand,… Continue reading

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney answers questions at a news conference in Calgary on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. Labour union leaders are urging Albertans to sign up to protest Premier Jason Kenney’s government through rallies and demonstrations and, if necessary, provincewide general strikes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Alberta union leaders launch protest website against Kenney government

Alberta union leaders launch protest website against Kenney government

Children's backpacks and shoes are seen at a daycare in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. Alberta Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz says the province plans to bring in a new way of licensing and monitoring child-care facilities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Alberta proposes legislation to change rules on child-care spaces

Alberta proposes legislation to change rules on child-care spaces

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday October 28, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Sierra Robinson, shown in this recent handout image, 18, is one of 15 young Canadians who asked a Federal Court judge to compel Canada to come up with a climate-change recovery plan. The judge rejected their claims and the case will not proceed to trial but lawyers for the youths say they'll appeal the ruling. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Lena Fountain *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Judge rejects youths’ lawsuit that asks Canada to develop climate recovery plan

Judge rejects youths’ lawsuit that asks Canada to develop climate recovery plan

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces march during the Calgary Stampede parade in Calgary, Friday, July 8, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Culture becomes latest front in military’s fight against sexual misconduct

Culture becomes latest front in military’s fight against sexual misconduct

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
COVID-19 death rates higher in neighbourhoods with more visible minorities: StatCan

COVID-19 death rates higher in neighbourhoods with more visible minorities: StatCan

Chris Touchet works to repair H & H Tire in Jennings, La., after Hurricane Delta passed the area Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020. The day after Hurricane Delta blew through besieged southern Louisiana, residents started the routine again: dodging overturned cars on the roads, trudging through knee-deep water to flooded homes with ruined floors and no power, and pledging to rebuild after the storm. (Scott Clause /The Daily Advertiser via AP)
Hurricane Zeta hits Louisiana with flooding, power outages

Hurricane Zeta hits Louisiana with flooding, power outages

Most Read