OPINION | Ottawa imposing a carbon tax on Alberta bodes well for TMX project. Really.

Less than 10 days after Jason Kenney’s United Conservative government killed Alberta’s carbon tax, the federal government announced Thursday it will impose its own carbon tax on the province starting Jan. 1, 2020.

Kenney would be a winner politically even if, gasp, Ottawa does not give final approval

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa in early May. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The carbon tax is dead.

Long live the carbon tax.

Less than 10 days after Jason Kenney's United Conservative government killed Alberta's carbon tax, the federal government announced Thursday it will impose its own carbon tax on the province starting Jan. 1, 2020.

The less-than-surprising news came from federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, who used the opportunity to take a jab at Alberta's recently elected government.

"It's unfortunate because Alberta had a made-in-Alberta plan to put a price on pollution and we clearly need Alberta to be part of our national climate plan, as Alberta has the highest emissions in the country," McKenna said in Ottawa. "We need to move forward to tackle climate change."

There will be much gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair by Alberta conservatives who view a price on carbon as pretty much the fifth horseman of the apocalypse.

But they should be happy.

McKenna's carbon-tax declaration bodes well for the fate of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion expected to be announced next Tuesday.

Here's why.

Major condition removed

When the federal government initially agreed to give conditional approval to the pipeline project in November 2016, it did so because then-premier Rachel Notley had a climate plan that included the key ingredients of a carbon tax and a cap on emissions from the oilsands.

"Let me say this definitively, we could not have approved this project without the leadership of premier Notley and Alberta's climate leadership plan," Prime Minister Trudeau said at the time. "Alberta's climate plan is a vital contributor to our national strategy."

Of course, Kenney won the Alberta election in April and promptly killed Notley's made-in-Alberta carbon levy.

Thus Kenney removed a major condition for the federal Liberals to give conditional approval to the project.

However, the federal Liberals are forcing a carbon tax on all provinces that don't have their own — and by forcing a federal carbon tax on Alberta, the Liberals are putting one of the key conditions for the project back in play.

Then there's the issue of emissions from the oilsands. Currently, the industry pumps about 70 million tonnes of greenhouse gases a year into the atmosphere. The NDP promised to impose a cap of 100 million tonnes.

Kenney didn't like the cap and UCP officials even told reporters during the Alberta election campaign the cap would be scrapped along with the carbon tax.

However, just days after the election, Kenney began softening his stance.

"Right now the whole question of the emissions cap is academic because we are nowhere close to hitting it, so for us that is not a fight that we're going to get into at this point," Kenney told journalists in May, pointing out the UCP platform did not specifically promise to lift the cap.

Two key conditions

The bottom line here is that Alberta is meeting two key conditions for Ottawa to give final approval to the pipeline expansion: a cap on emissions (thanks to Kenney's equivocation); and a price on carbon (thanks to McKenna imposing a tax).

Let's not forget another obvious reason to approve the project. The federal government owns the Trans Mountain pipeline, having bought it in 2018 for $4.5 billion. It would look silly, to say the least, for Ottawa to have bought the pipeline with the intent of expanding it, and then not expand it.

Kenney, naturally, wants the project to go ahead.

That would allow him to claim victory, even though it was former premier Notley who did much of the heavy lifting (including browbeating Trudeau into buying Trans Mountain last year to keep the expansion project alive).

But Kenney would be a winner politically even if, gasp, Ottawa does not give final approval.

In the event of a "no" or even in the event of yet another delay in making a decision, Kenney could rail against Trudeau and the federal Liberals as being anti-Albertan, anti-pipeline, anti-business, anti-job, etc.

He'd use it as a rallying cry to motivate pro-pipeline Canadians (who are a majority, according to opinion polls) against Trudeau and in favour of Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer in the October federal election.

Premiers write to PM

Heck, even if the federal government gives the green light to Trans Mountain, Kenney will still find reasons to criticize Trudeau. Just look at the letter sent by six premiers (including Kenney) to the prime minister this week criticizing federal Bills C-48 (the tanker ban on B.C.'s northern coast) and C-69 (that Kenney has dubbed the "no more pipelines act").

"Bill C-69, as originally drafted, would make it virtually impossible to develop critical infrastructure, depriving Canada of much-needed investment," says the letter.

It's supposed to be non-partisan but it sounds very much like Canada's conservative premiers banding together in advance of the election.

Besides attacking the federal legislation, they're also fighting the federal carbon tax in court.

If Trudeau approves the Trans Mountain pipeline next week, Kenney will no doubt graciously thank him and then, after pausing for the briefest of moments, renew the partisan attacks all the way until October.

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