Environment panel never pushed carbon tax, president says

The head of a federal advisory panel on the environment says his group never suggested that the federal government adopt a carbon tax despite by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird this week.
David McLaughlin, president and CEO of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, announces a carbon pricing proposal in 2009. McLaughlin said the group, which is being discontinued, has not recommended a carbon tax. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The head of a federal advisory group on the environment says his group never suggested that the federal government adopt a carbon tax.

David McLaughlin was reacting to comments by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird in the House of Commons this week that the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy was being closed because the government didn't like its reports.

"Why should taxpayers have to pay for more than 10 reports promoting a carbon tax, something that the people of Canada have repeatedly rejected? That is a message the Liberal Party just will not accept," Baird said on Monday in response to a question by interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae during question period.

"It should agree with Canadians. It should agree with the government. No discussion of a carbon tax that would kill and hurt Canadian families."

The roundtable had its budget cut in the 2012 budget and will close its doors at the end of the fiscal year. It was set up in 1988 to provide advice on sustainable development.

McLaughlin says he has "no idea" where Baird got his figures.

McLaughlin says the group did not produce 10 reports recommending a carbon tax. Instead, the roundtable provided advice on how the government can reach its own goals.

"We never said ... 'you're not doing enough' or 'your targets aren't right'," he told CBC News in an interview. "What we tried to do is take the government's targets and say here's some advice on the best way to do it."

In 2008 and again in 2010, McLaughlin's group produced two reports outlining options for Canada to reach its 2050 target to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Both recommended a cap-and-trade system, something the Conservative government was considering at the time.

"We had said that cap and trade was a more efficient way to go, rather than a straight carbon tax right across the country," said McLaughlin. "But the idea of putting a basic form of carbon tax on everybody was not something we recommended, but it is (carbon) pricing so people can get confused I guess." 

In 2011, the roundtable again addressed the idea of the cap-and-trade system in its report about how Canada can align its policies those of the United States. But McLaughlin points out these reports were written in the shadow of the 2008 federal election and the Liberals' failed "carbon tax campaign."

"So we were certainly cognizant that recommending a carbon tax wouldn't fly at that point in time."

Baird's comments are yet another version of why the government is closing the round table. Environment Minister Peter Kent had initially said the reason was because such research can now be easily accessed through the Internet and through universities and other think tanks.

McLaughlin chuckles over that. His group has just released a report on the lifecycle approach to production in Canada — a report requested by Environment Minister Kent.

"It may seem a bit ironic in the week when people are wondering about this issue anew that we are releasing a report that was asked for by the government."

The roundtable will release its final report in June. That report will look at action by provinces and the federal government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — a report McLaughlin points out that was also requested by the Minister of the Environment.