Cooperators Refinery Complex

Tensions ran high as the provincial premiers met with Prime Minister Trudeau in Vancouver on March 2. On the agenda was a national approach to climate change issues. One topic up for discussion was the implementation of a federal carbon tax.

Several provinces have or are in the process of adopting carbon pricing, while Saskatchewan’s Premier Brad Wall opposes such a carbon tax.

“The timing for this is simply not now,” said Wall on Monday, speaking to reporters in Saskatoon. “If there is a national carbon tax that is a part of these agreements, or the declarations that are proposed being signed in Vancouver, I will not be signing them.”

It is unclear at this point what model of carbon taxation the federal government will follow. However, prior to his election, Prime Minister Trudeau vowed to pursue a plan whereby the federal government would set targets and principles and the provinces would have autonomy in designing systems.

To Samuel Gamtessa, an economics professor at the University of Regina who studies environmental and natural resource economics, it is important the provinces’ different economies are taken into consideration with the implementation of a carbon tax.

“We have to design our own approach. The revenue raised here should be put back into the economy here. But we must do it,” said Gamtessa. “If (Wall) is arguing for our independence when it comes to our capacity to levy the tax, use the tax and use it for our economy, that is the right approach.”

A major point of concern for Wall and other Saskatchewan residents is that such a tax would damage the provincial economy, taking $1.3 billion out of the provincial economy.

“A lot of our economy is based on fossil fuel development,” said Mark Cotes, a climatologist from the U of R. “You don’t ever see taxes disappear, you see new taxes being invented. This is a new opportunity to tax people, and of course people are buying into it. I doubt (Wall) is going to be listened to, because there is a plurality of people who are for a carbon tax.”

It is argued that a carbon tax is the most effective way to control pollution, and lessening emissions is important here in Saskatchewan with a carbon intensive economy.

“We produce more greenhouse gases than anywhere else,” said David Sauchyn, a senior research scientist at the Prairie Adaption Research Colloborative and geography professor at the U of R. “Per person, the Canadian average is 20 tonnes, and we produce 70 tonnes per person.”

Sauchyn cites BC’s carbon tax as an example of a strategy that works at lessening emissions without harming the economy. “Apparently it’s resulted in a decrease use of fossil fuels and production of carbon dioxide emissions,” said Sauchyn.

“Their economy has been outperforming other provincial economies since they’ve introduced the carbon tax. It depends on what you do with the tax revenue.”

To JoAnn Jaffe, a sociology professor at the U of R, who researches the environment and sustainable development, this new economic environment provides opportunities Saskatchewan should not miss.

“The money would be allocated towards transitioning away from a carbon based economy,” said Jaffe. “There are actually some real opportunities in this transition, and clinging to the oil and gas sector in the way that Saskatchewan has means we’re not taking seriously the opportunities that exist in this economy. We’re going to be out-competed basically.”

Following the minister's meeting in Vancouver, Wall maintains now is not the time for a federal carbon tax, and argues the province is still committed to reducing emissions.

"We have the framework in our province for a levy down the road," said Wall in Vancouver today. "That doesn't mean we advocate not doing anything. We're spending more, I would argue, per capita in Saskatchewan from a public sector standpoint in CO2 mitigation (with carbon capture and storage technology) at Boundary Dam 3...It's not a carbon tax; it's an investment in new technology."