McKenna defends federal government’s carbon tax plan amid premiers’ opposition

The federal government has gone on the offensive to explain its newly announced plan to slap a carbon tax on the provinces and territories that did not sign onto the pan-Canadian framework on climate change.

Residents of Manitoba, New Brunswick, Ontario and Saskatchewan can expect to pay more for gas by April, while also receiving “incentive rebates” from the federal government.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe called the plan that was unveiled Tuesday “a shell game.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford called it “the worst tax ever, anywhere” and “the most divisive, most regressive tax in Canadian history.”

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna spoke to The Current’s guest host David Common to discuss the government’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Here is part of their conversation. You can click on the listen button above to hear the full interview.

You’re using a tax to attempt to change behaviour of people, to try to get people and businesses to pollute less. And yet at the same time you’re offering a rebate to some of those same people. What is my incentive to change my behaviour if you’re taxing me now but paying me later?

Well, so first of all, you will get your climate action incentive before you pay the increased energy costs. You’ll receive it through the tax system.

And in Ontario for a family of four it will be $307. But that also, you have the opportunity to save more money because you can make the decision that you’re going to invest in more insulation in your home, or you’re going to take public transit, or you’re going to use LED lightbulbs or buy a more energy efficient vehicle.

The incentive is there for you to look at cleaner solutions, and you can save money. And that’s why it works, because it sends a signal: if you pollute less, you can save more.

How do you respond to Doug Ford and Jason Kenney, Scott Moe and others who say that this plan is wrong, won’t cut pollution and will simply take money from people?

So, I mean, they’re absolutely wrong. So first of all, let’s be clear: we have said all the money is going back, in the case of Ontario, to Ontarians. And that is in our legislation. So we’re going to be very transparent about that.

This is about cutting pollution. This isn’t about taking money away from people. It’s not a shell game. Action on climate change is something we need to do.

I think the real question though, when I hear conservative politicians saying this, is what are they going to do to tackle climate change? Andrew Scheer stood up in the House of Commons with the Conservative Party [and] voted to support the Paris Agreement. Andrew Scheer said he’s going to have a plan to meet our Paris Agreement targets. We have a comprehensive plan. We have a plan that is growing the economy and —

But even this plan won’t meet those Paris targets. Even what you’re doing with the carbon tax is not enough to meet those targets to which you’ve agreed.

So let’s be clear. Our plan is much more than just putting a price on pollution. It’s phasing out coal, investing in renewables, historic investments in public transportation.

We’re taking action across the board. We’ve said we will meet our Paris Agreement target, and we’re going to do that with Canadians in a smart way.

But how do you make that sell?  Two-thirds of Canadians live in the suburbs and that means necessarily many of them are reliant on a car — a car that for many of them they’re now going to pay four cents more a litre in gas to fuel. How do you sell them on the idea that this short-term cost — this immediate cost — is going to benefit in the long run?

First of all, I will say that you will get more back more than you will pay.

Then what’s my incentive to change my behaviour at all?

Your incentive is to think, when you buy your next vehicle, “Maybe I should choose a more energy efficient vehicle.” You might also decide, “OK, I’m going to use public transportation.” You can make those choices or not. It is up to you, but if you choose to pollute less you will pay less.

What was the average amount, again, for the average family in Saskatchewan?

Every family of four will receive $609.

So $609 versus the average New Brunswick family will [get] closer to $250. Why is there that difference?

Because we said that each and every province, any money that was raised in that province goes back to the province. So it just reflects their energy mix and [in] some provinces, there’ll be different impacts.

Look, we said to provinces: “Go figure it out yourself.” Figure out your made-in-Saskatchewan plan, your made-in-New Brunswick plan, your made-in-Ontario plan, and you can decide what you do with the revenues. But it can’t be free to pollute. It just can’t be, because that doesn’t create the right incentive.

Unfortunately Saskatchewan didn’t do that —although actually they did do that for heavy emitters. They actually put a price on pollution. So Scott Moe actually partially understands that it can’t be free to pollute.

But they didn’t do a plan that met the standard we said. So we said, “OK, we’re going to step in.” But we’re going to give more money to Saskatchewan families, and they can decide what they’re going to do with it and how they’re going to reduce their emissions.

Are you prepared to fight the federal election campaign next year on this? It seems to be a defining issue.

Absolutely. You know what we’re fighting for? We’re fighting for our kids. We’re fighting for good jobs. We’re fighting for Canadians. We have an opportunity to do right by the environment, do right by the planet and also ensure that we are positioning ourselves well. I got into politics because it matters.

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