Justin Trudeau has a prescription for climate change

The Liberal Party leader says carbon pricing system would involve provinces, be modelled on medicare
Photo: Shutterstock

Justin Trudeau has unveiled the direction his party would take on a national carbon pricing system — but many unknowns make it hard to judge how successful the program would be, observers say.

The leader of the federal Liberal party made the announcement on February 6 in Calgary. The Liberal’s carbon pricing plan would be modeled after Canada’s medicare system: individual provinces would have the latitude to design their own policies with “targeted federal funding” to help provinces meet emissions goals.

Ed Whittingham, executive director of the Pembina Institute, said the plan left too much decision-making up to individual provinces, considering the urgency of the problem: Canada is currently far behind in its commitments to meet 2020 emissions reduction targets.

“Important questions remain, such as what would happen if provinces disagreed over national standards set using the proposed approach,” Whittingham said in a release.

But Kevin Milligan, an economics professor at the University of British Columbia, said that since British Columbia, Quebec, Ontario and Alberta have already developed some sort of carbon pricing system, it makes sense to let them continue to develop those policies, but within a federal framework.

“What I understand of this approach, when they say medicare-style system, is: medicare was something that came out of Saskatchewan. So Saskatchewan did it first, other provinces copied it, and the federal government set some standards through the Canada Health Act,” Milligan said.

“As a federal government, they can set some standards and provide some funding who meet the standards – whatever the carrots and sticks might be – and then try to coordinate at the national level, in acknowledgement that some provinces already have substantial plans in place already.”

Milligan is a member of the Liberal Party’s economic advisory council, which discusses economic issues but does not formulate policy for the party.

However, the unknown so far is how stringent federal regulations will be. For instance, while Alberta has regulations targeting the heaviest industrial emitters, that policy has been heavily criticized for falling far short of what is required to actually reduce emissions.

“On one extreme, it would be well, provinces, check a box, you’re good to go,” Milligan said. “The other extreme would be, you have to meet these very strict federal standards.”

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair has proposed a national cap and trade system.

The Conservative government has so far declined to put in place a national carbon pricing system.

The next round of international climate change talks will take place in Paris in December of this year.

jstdenis@biv.com

@jenstden 

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