As It Happens·Q&A

Liberals will defend carbon tax at the polls after Supreme Court win: environment minister

The Supreme Court of Canada has given the green light to the Liberal government's carbon tax, and the environment minister says Canadians will back it too.

Court rules 6-3 that federal carbon tax is constitutional despite opposition from some provinces

Federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson says there can't be a robust climate change policy without a price on pollution. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

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The Liberal government has successfully defended its carbon tax in the courts, and it will defend it at the polls too, says the federal environment minister. 

In a 6-3 decision on Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the federal carbon pricing regime is constitutional. The decision means the government can move forward with its plan to ensure every province and territory has a price on carbon emissions, despite strong objections from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario. 

Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson called it "an important step forward in the fight against climate change," and says it will likely be a key issue in the next federal election. Here is part of his conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off. 

Minister Wilkinson, you know, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Ontario, they fought hard against today's decision. The Supreme Court has spoken, given their message. What's your message to those provinces today?

First of all, just a message for all Canadians is, you know, today is an important step forward in the fight against climate change and in the fight to build an economy that's going to thrive in what is emerging as a low-carbon future for this world.

And certainly, with respect to the citizens of those provinces, who are Canadians and care about climate change just as Canadians in other provinces and territories do, I say, you know, let's work together. Let's ensure that we're working together to build the regional economies that are going to be strong.

Alberta premier reacts to Supreme Court carbon price ruling

1 year ago
Duration 1:19
Jason Kenney expressed disappointment with the Supreme Court's decision in favour of the federal Liberals' carbon tax

How do you bring them onside? Because, as you know, many people in those provinces and elsewhere do not agree with what they call a carbon tax.

Fighting climate change is a lot broader than the price on pollution. And there are lots of areas within which we are working together, and we certainly intend to work together going forward. If you think about Alberta and Saskatchewan, for example, there's a lot of interest in biofuels and in hydrogen and in carbon capture that the federal government is interested in working with those provinces on. 

Carbon pricing, though, is ... a centrepiece of your climate-change fighting policy. And so, how can you just leave it aside? ... I'm not talking about governments. I'm talking about your citizens here. How are you going to bring them onside, convince them that this carbon pricing is a good idea?

I wouldn't over-cite carbon pricing. I mean, there are a number of regulations. There are enormous numbers of investment, many areas in which there are lots of things in common between all citizens in all provinces and territories.

But can we focus on the carbon pricing? Can you answer that particular question, please?

I have heard politicians who have opposed this saying somehow this is something that actually drives ... additional costs for lower income people. That's simply false.

The majority of Canadian families actually get more money back in a rebate from the price on pollution than they pay. And that actually works in reverse order to income. So people who are actually on more modest incomes are the ones that benefit the most.

So at the end of the day, we may need to do more in terms of communicating. I do think that folks who have made exaggerated claims on the other side are going to need to perhaps be a little bit more measured in terms of how they are describing the price on pollution.

Conservative leader reacts to Supreme Court carbon tax decision

1 year ago
Duration 0:36
Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole says his party "will repeal" the carbon tax launched by the Liberal government.

Do you acknowledge what Premier [Jason] Kenny has said in Alberta, that having this carbon pricing for the industry in that province puts it at a competitive disadvantage to the United States, which does not have a carbon tax?

That's simply false, you know, and Premier Kenney knows that because the industrial pricing system is his system. At the end of the day, the industrial pricing systems are structured in such a way to protect trade-exposed industries from being disadvantaged in terms of exports. 

We do need more than just pricing in order to meet our targets. We need regulations like the clean fuels standard and methane reduction regulations. And we need investments like what Premier Kenney is talking about to accelerate the commercialization of technologies that are going to help us to reduce emissions and to grow sectors of the economy that are going to be really, really important in a future economic universe where being low-carbon and selling low-carbon goods is going to be extremely important.

You've won this at the Supreme Court level, but you are going to be increasing the charges per tonne as the years go on, reaching ... $170 a tonne in 2030. What kind of resistance are you anticipating there?

I guess it depends on where you think the resistance is going to come from. I mean, as I said before, with respect to people who pay the price on pollution in areas where the federal government has put that price into place ... a significant majority of families actually get more money back. So at the end of the day, people are actually better off. 

With respect to industrial emitters, we've worked very hard to try to ensure that they are not exposed from an export perspective. And we are working with them to help them to reduce their emissions so they can avoid the impact of the price. That's the whole point of a price on pollution.

So my view is that Canada is moving exactly in the right direction. This is a critical part of any credible climate plan. I will tell you that any Canadian climate plan that does not include a price on pollution will not achieve the targets that we have established for this country as part of the international obligations we have.

The federal Conservatives have promised to repeal your tax if they are elected. What's your message to voters?

[Conservative Leader] Erin O'Toole called for new thinking and new ideas. What we're getting is just the same old. If you clip [former Conservative leader] Andrew Scheer and you clip [former Conservative prime minister] Stephen Harper and you listen to what they say about climate change, and you hear what Erin O'Toole has to say, it's exactly the same thing.

They are creating a grave risk to the future of our children and to the future of our economy. And, you know, I say that with sorrow. I think at some point the Conservative Party needs to enter the modern era, and that means they need to have a credible approach to climate, and that includes a price on pollution.

Will you take your carbon pricing into the [next] election?

Climate change was the defining issue, in my mind, in the 2019 campaign. Canadians want their government to be taking action in a thoughtful way on climate and positioning us from an economic perspective to be prosperous in the future. And so, yes, I do think that it's going to be an election issue, in part because of the position that, unfortunately, the Conservative Party has taken.

But you know that — whatever was voted at its convention — the leader of the Conservative Party has made it very clear that he supports the necessity of climate change policy, but just not yours. Do acknowledge that?

There is no magic box here. There's no magic wand. It is hard work to reduce emissions and to be thoughtful about building an economy. And anybody who tries to actually tell you that it's easy and you can just shake a magic wand is not telling you the truth.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC News. Interview produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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