North

Carbon pricing scheme to reflect North's 'specific challenges'

Canada's northern territories, whose leaders have joined forces to express concern about a carbon tax, are now trying to figure out whether they will be subject to the same carbon pricing scheme as the provinces.

All 3 Northern territories have expressed fears a carbon tax could hurt the economy

Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski, N.W.T. Premier Bob McLeod and Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna in Dawson City, Yukon, in April. The three premiers have all expressed concern over what carbon pricing will mean for their territorial economies. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)

Canada's northern territories, whose leaders have joined forces to express concern about a carbon tax, are now trying to figure out whether they will be subject to the same carbon pricing scheme as the provinces.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday that provinces and territories have until 2018 to adopt a carbon pricing scheme, or the federal government will step in and impose one. 

What's not clear yet is how the scheme will apply to the North, although the federal government has said it will work with the territories to "address their specific challenges." 

The premiers of Nunavut, N.W.T. and Yukon said earlier this year that they're afraid a carbon tax might threaten their territorial economies. Nunavut is almost completely reliant on diesel for electricity, as are many of the N.W.T.'s smaller communities and a handful of communities in Yukon that aren't connected to the territory's hydro grid.

"We're not totally opposed to a carbon pricing mechanism," said N.W.T. Environment Minister Robert C. McLeod on Monday. "Our concern was how it was going to affect the residents of the Northwest Territories."

'I think our challenge now is to try and see how best we can deal with it,' said Robert C. McLeod, N.W.T.'s environment minister, about the carbon pricing scheme. (CBC)

"The Prime Minister has the authority to impose what he did, so we're going to have to try and deal with the consequences as best we can."

McLeod said the federal government has agreed to send a "technical team" to the N.W.T. in the coming weeks, to learn more about the territory's needs.

"We've got some work to do, coming ahead of us, but I think were up for it," McLeod said.

"If it means some infrastructure improvements, with some assistance from Canada, then we're prepared to do that."

'Caught off guard' by announcement

McLeod was in Montreal on Monday at a meeting of Canada's environment ministers, where he admits that Trudeau's announcement came as a bit of a surprise, although "we had a bit of an indication that this announcement might be forthcoming." 

Ministers from Nunavut and Yukon, however, professed more surprise.

Joe Saviqataaq, Nunavut's environment minister, said everyone at the Montreal meeting was "caught off guard."

"Everyone in the room was shocked when we heard," he said.

Saviqataaq said Nunavut has serious concerns about a carbon pricing scheme, citing the high cost of living in his territory. But he also seemed confident that's been recognized by his counterparts.

"The environment ministers have acknowledged that the North is unique, and there should be special circumstances," he said.

"We can't be asked to take on any more financial burden than we already have." 

Nunavut is almost completely reliant on diesel for its power needs. (John Van Dusen/CBC)

Hot-button issue in Yukon

The Yukon government, meanwhile, has dug in its heels on the carbon tax issue. 

Community Services Minister Currie Dixon, who was at the Montreal meeting on Monday, said "the air was sucked out of the room," when word came of Trudeau's announcement.  

Yukon cabinet minister Currie Dixon said 'the air was sucked out of the room' at the provincial environment ministers' meeting in Montreal. (CBC)

"We are disappointed to see the unilateral approach announced today by Ottawa, which flies in the face of the collaborative approach that was agreed to a few short months ago," he said in a statement. 

Carbon pricing has become a hot-button issue for the Yukon government, as it prepares to call the next territorial election sometime in the coming days.

Premier Darrell Pasloski has been outspoken in his opposition to carbon pricing, saying he's always been against such a scheme. He's also said that the opposition NDP and Liberals, if elected, would "force" a carbon tax on Yukoners.

The opposition parties, meanwhile, have countered by saying that a federally-imposed carbon tax is inevitable, and it's up to Yukon to work with Ottawa to find something that works. 

​"We will continue to fight the imposition of a carbon tax on Yukoners. We believe it is our job as elected representatives to stand up for what is best for Yukon and for all Yukoners," Dixon said in a statement on Monday.

with files from the Canadian Press, Kate Kyle, Elyse Skura

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