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Will Trudeau use the carbon tax as political cover to approve the Kinder Morgan pipeline?

Premier Rachel Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Photo by Jason Franson/ Canadian Press.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced this week that he will implement carbon pricing in Canada.

The Toronto Star reports, “The Liberal government on Monday [October 3] unveiled their intent to establish a floor price on carbon pollution nationwide of $50 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2022. Provinces will have to meet or exceed that price, either through a direct price on carbon or a cap-and-trade system. If a province fails to establish a pricing on carbon, Trudeau said the federal government would impose a carbon price in that jurisdiction. …The Liberals insist carbon pricing will be revenue neutral and that taxes will remain in the provinces where they are collected.”

The federal government intends to charge $10 per tonne of carbon starting in 2018 and increase that by $10 each year until it reaches $50 a tonne in 2022.

Just prior to the federal government’s announcement, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow commented, “I’m critical of carbon tax because I think we need better regulation. I worry about market solutions for structural problems”

CBC notes, “The federal carbon price — even at $50 per tonne — isn’t high enough to match estimates of what’s needed for Canada to meet its Paris commitment of lowering emissions by 30 per cent of 2005 levels by 2030. A report last month by Simon Fraser University economist Mark Jaccard said the price on carbon would have to rise to $200 per tonne by 2030 to meet that commitment, if Canada relied on emissions pricing alone.”

And back in February, even The Globe and Mail editorial board commented, “Decisions by some provinces to put a price on carbon, through taxes or a cap-and-trade system, should slow the increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Higher oil prices that reduce consumption might also help. But to produce the kind of sharp drop needed between now and 2030, Canada will have to amputate, not nip and tuck.”

Our US-ally Food and Water Watch has noted, “The same failed economic myths that support the desire for water markets support the idea of pricing pollution. We’ve already documented the problems with pricing pollution, including carbon, through cap and trade. …[In addition, a carbon tax is] a regressive tax is one that hits households with lower income harder than those with higher income. …Pricing [also] relies on the idea that ‘market signals’ are the best way to regulate pollution. …We should be clear, polluting companies want to have a set cost [that they] pass on to us, instead of having to [reduce] their pollution.”

This week Alberta premier Rachel Notley said, “As far as we’re concerned, we can’t be talking about the sort of prices that got rolled out today until we get a commitment from this federal government that they’re going to move on this fundamentally important economic piece that Albertans need. We need Canada to have our backs. And we need to get a pipeline.”

By that, she is most likely referring to the 890,000 barrel per day Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline that the Trudeau government is expected to approve on December 19. So, in other words, she might support a carbon tax if Trudeau approves a pipeline that would, beyond endangering 1,309 watercourses on its route from Alberta to British Columbia, generate an estimated 270 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions over a 35 year period.

It is believed that the Trudeau government will approve the Trans Mountain pipeline because: 1) it wants to approve at least one pipeline in their first term, 2) Trudeau has previously expressed support for Trans Mountain, 3) the pipeline has already been approved by the National Energy Board, 4) the NEB is not scheduled to make its recommendation on the Energy East project until March 2018 at the earliest, 5) China says an approval of an export pipeline is a pre-condition to starting ‘free trade’ negotiations, 6) the federal deficit is growing and the Liberals see revenue in the pipeline, 7) the Liberals are high in public opinion polls and have political capital to burn, and 8) Trans Mountain would have a lower electoral impact than Energy East, given there are more Liberals seats in Quebec, than British Columbia.

Neither Trudeau’s carbon tax plan and Notley’s “climate leadership plan” (that allows for a 40 per cent increase in tar sands production) addresses the demands of The Peoples Climate Plan: bold climate action to a 1.5 degree Celsius world by keeping fossil fuels in the ground, a 100 per cent renewable economy by 2050, justice for Indigenous peoples and just transition strategies for workers.

And while Trudeau may have received some praise for ratifying the Paris climate agreement this week, the pledges made by signatory countries would still mean a global temperature increase of between 2.7 and 3.9 degrees Celsius.

Trudeau’s carbon tax cannot be used as political cover to approve the Trans Mountain pipeline.