'We're all in this together': federal minister urges Sask. to sign climate plan

The Federal Ministry of Environment says the province could lose its share of the money from Ottawa's $1.4 billion clean energy fund if it refuses to sign on to the Pan-Canadian plan for climate action.

Sask. will lose $62M in funding if it does not sign by Feb. 28

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and Canada's Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna have been locked in a stalemate over Saskatchewan's refusal to sign onto the country's climate change plan and to implement carbon pricing. (CBC)

The federal minister of environment and climate change is urging Saskatchewan's leaders to sign on to a nationwide climate change bill.

"The province needs to do what all other provinces and territories have done which is support our made-in-Canada climate change plan," said Catherine McKenna.

Saskatchewan will lose $62 million in federal money for emission reduction programs if it refuses to sign on to Ottawa's plan. 

The deadline for signing the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change is Feb. 28, which  McKenna said was communicated to the Saskatchewan government, in a letter, in December. 

Saskatchewan remains the only province that has not ratified the deal. 

If that holdout continues, the province will lose its share of money — $62.05 million available over five years — from Ottawa's $1.4-billion Low Carbon Economy Leadership Fund, which typically helps finance clean energy programs. 

In a recent statement to CBC News, Sask. Environment Min. Dustin Duncan said they will only consider signing on when the federal government "relents on their threat to impose a tax on our people, industries and communities." 

McKenna said all the province has to do to access the money is sign on and support the plan.

However, there are strings attached.

Sign the deal, get the cash: Ottawa

"They need to say they support the measures in the plan and I would hope that they would do this because we're all in this together," said McKenna.

In the outline for the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change carbon pricing is a key part of the plan.

"All that is required to sign on to our climate plan is to say that you support the Pan-Canadian climate plan. That is all that's required," said McKenna.

However the report states:

  • Carbon pricing should be a central component of the Pan-Canadian Framework.
  • The approach should be flexible and recognize carbon pricing policies already implemented or in development by provinces and territories.

"When you sign on you acknowledge that putting a price on pollution is important," said McKenna.

You don't want one jurisdiction to be the place you can go to pollute for free- Brett Dolter, U of R postdoctoral research fellow

She added that each province would be in charge of designing their own carbon pricing plans — cap and trade, tax or hybrid systems are possible options to enact carbon pricing. 

In signing the plan Saskatchewan would, by extension, recognize the need for carbon pricing — something it is opposed to.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says the province should receive its share of federal money for clean energy projects

Province still owed $62M: Premier

Premier Scott Moe said the $62 million is still owed to the province, since every other province will be receiving federal dollars.

"We intend to make every effort to achieve what we can here and contribute to that here in the province of Saskatchewan," said Moe.

"We're not able to sign on the Pan-Canadian Framework for the reason that it requires a carbon tax to be implemented in the jurisdiction."

Moe added his government will "do everything that we can to reduce our emissions and do better here in the province." 

McKenna says recognition of climate change needed

If the province misses Wednesday's deadline, McKenna said the money will be funnelled to the Low-Carbon Economy Challenge —  a pot of money available for governments, First Nations and businesses looking to finance clean energy projects. 

With the deadline looming, McKenna said she is hopeful that an agreement can be reached. However, Saskatchewan's recognition of climate change and its severity was required.

"Climate change is one of the biggest challenges we face and people in Saskatchewan know that as much as anyone else," she said. "Whether it's drought or floods, rising temperatures."

"We need to be working together and everyone else has signed on." 

Currently Saskatchewan has a plan called Prairie Resilience which is opposed to a federal "carbon tax." 
Brett Dolter, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Regina, says carbon tax doesn't have to mean more tax for everyone.

Saskatchewan's plan

Brett Dolter, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Regina, said the provincial plan has a number of blind spots. For example, there is no incentive for people making their homes more energy efficient nor is there anything to encourage people to buy fuel-efficient cars. 

"Carbon pricing would fill those gaps, and until we have something in those gaps, I don't think we have a full plan here in Saskatchewan," said Dolter.

Dolter said he thinks people in the province might not understand how a carbon tax could work, which might explain the lack of support.

"A lot of people hear carbon 'tax' and they think, well, tax — that's bad. We don't want that," he said. "There's not the recognition that any money collected could be used to reduce other taxes. So it doesn't have to be a net tax increase."

Consistency is key when it comes to nationwide carbon pricing, according to Dolter.

"You don't want one jurisdiction to be the place you can go to pollute for free," said Dolter.

In September of 2018 the federal government plans to assess how effective these provincial plans are. If the plan does not meet the federal standards, a new program can be implemented.

"If provinces don't do it, there will be a price," said McKenna.