Was it a just a bad dream, or did federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault really make this absurd remark?
“How fair would it be for the rest of the federation if we started carving out exceptions for provinces?”
Guilbeault did say that. He was talking about his refusal to change the 2035 deadline for Alberta’s electricity grid to reach net-zero emissions.
At any distance from the federal towers of zealotry, Canada seems to be nothing but exceptions for provinces. Exceptions are how we stumble and bumble along as a nation.
Exceptions are often positive, most notably in Quebec and Ontario, or negative in provinces less politically important to the Liberals.
Guilbeault went on to say, regarding exceptions, “we didn’t do it for (carbon) pricing.
“We worked with all provinces to ensure that we had a fair and equitable system when it came to pricing, and we will do the same for the clean electricity regulations.”
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That is false. Quebec’s cap-and-trade pricing system — an exception granted by Ottawa — guarantees that Quebecers pay less.
This has been known for years. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation recently said Ottawa “is forcing drivers in every other province and territory to pay 14 cents per litre of gas in carbon taxes, while Quebecers pay 10 cents per litre.”
Atlantic provinces have just started paying carbon tax after Ottawa rejected their pricing plans.
The New Brunswick government, especially, is livid. It claims the provincial plan would have cut emissions by 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. That would beat the federal target by 20 years.
Quebec makes similar claims for its dubious carbon trading scheme, but that’s Guilbeault’s home province. Exception approved.
In refusing to budge on his target date for electricity, Guilbeault is actually making Alberta an exception — the negative kind.
More than 60 per cent of Alberta’s electricity generation comes from natural gas. Smith claims that transition to other sources by 2035, including some use of “abated” natural gas, simply isn’t possible without severe economic harm.
Others disagree, including the provincial NDP, which supports net zero by 2035. Rachel Notley’s party wonders, as many others do, why the province put a hiatus on green energy projects.
But there’s little doubt that Alberta and Saskatchewan have very serious challenges in meeting net zero by 2035.
Guilbeault can get tough because most other provinces have no problem at all. They’re blessed with all those dams and rivers that produce hydroelectric power. By luck of geography, they’re already most of the way to net zero.
(The following figures may be somewhat dated because provincial percentages are likely shifting by the month.)
Quebec has by far the most hydroelectric power. It accounts for 94 per cent of the provincial grid. Wind produces five per cent. Natural gas and petroleum are trace amounts.
Ontario is 25 per cent powered by hydro. Fifty-one per cent is nuclear. Wind and natural gas totalled about 10 per cent each.
For the Liberals’ key province, eliminating natural gas in 12 years is no problem at all.
It’s pretty much the same in B.C. (87 per cent hydro), Manitoba (97 per cent), and Newfoundland and Labrador (96 per cent).
Little Prince Edward Island, bless its heart, is 99 per cent wind-powered.
New Brunswick has the most diverse generation, with about 60 per cent nuclear and hydro. Thirty per cent comes from coal.
Nova Scotia is the only province with a problem as serious as Alberta and Saskatchewan. In recent years, 74 per cent of its power has come from coal and natural gas.
A target delay of a few years is reasonable for Alberta, Saskatchewan and probably Nova Scotia. Other provinces would likely go along without complaint, although we could expect some preaching from the Bloc Quebecois.
But Steven Guilbeault seems blind to anything but his cause. His talk of treating provinces equally is both absurd and insulting.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau missed a chance to fire Guilbeault when he shuffled cabinet in July.
It’s never too late.
Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald.