We have entered an age in which climate policy has come to the forefront of political debate. The upcoming federal election will contrast the Liberal Party’s carbon levy and output-based pricing system against the Progressive Conservative (PC) Party’s plan to dismantle it. The PCs have not yet published their climate plan, although Leader Andrew Scheer promised to in the fall.
Nonetheless, the PCs are very clear on their stance against carbon pricing in Canada. Recently, Scheer referred to repealing the carbon levy as “job number one” in a town hall in New Brunswick. Climate change policies arguably contributed to the downfall of the Ontario Liberal Party and will likely be used as a wedge issue by the United Conservative Party against the incumbent New Democratic Party government this May in Alberta.
But while the ebb and flow of climate policies remain on the front page, the constant attacks carried out by conservative leaders in Canada and the United States on these policies remain ideologically hypocritical.
A tenet of Canadian and American conservative ideology is the decentralization of power and the rejection of ‘big government.’ These aspects of conservative ideology, whether masked as the colloquial states’ rights or federalism, are being opportunistically bent in different ways to fit the arguments used against climate policies. Here’s what’s going on:
Ontario, New Brunswick, and Saskatchewan have each filed lawsuits against the federal government after it implemented a carbon pricing system to replace the purportedly inadequate provincial systems. The provincial governments argue that the implementation of the carbon levy and the output price-based system is unconstitutional. The Ontario government’s factum challenging the carbon levy and output-based pricing system presents its case as follows: “Greenhouse gas emissions are not a single, distinct, and indivisible matter which Parliament can regulate under its jurisdiction over matters of a national concern without fundamentally disturbing the balance of federalism.”
In other words, a regulation on carbon emissions would be a governmental overreach, since regulating greenhouse gases would inevitably involve controlling other intermingled emissions.
In Saskatchewan, Premier Scott Moe recently said that “the imposition of carbon pricing on provinces whose climate change plans do not fall in line with federal plans does not make sense according to our Canadian constitution, and fails to respect the sovereignty and autonomy of the provinces with respect to matters under their jurisdiction.”
In another instance at the Saskatchewan factum, Ontario’s environment minister Rod Phillips said that “the provinces are fully capable of regulating greenhouse gas emissions themselves.”
It is worth noting that Saskatchewan has a form of carbon pricing; the federal government is only implementing the backstop where it judges there to be insufficient pricing coverage.
The United States
Andrew Wheeler, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is currently fighting with the California Air Resources Board (CARB), a department within California’s EPA, over regulations involving clean fuel standards. The EPA wants to standardize these regulations across the country, which, for this administration, entails weakening them, even though more than 10 states including New Mexico, Maine, and Massachusetts have used California’s regulations as a template.
In an interview with Bloomberg, Wheeler argued that the “states should not have authority over CO2 emissions. California is an important player — an important part of this — but this is not a two-sided negotiation for a national standard.”
These two arguments are conflicting. Canadian provincial and some US state leaders argue that the provinces and states should have jurisdiction over the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions and should therefore be the ones to implement these regulations. Meanwhile, the Canadian government and acting head of the EPA in the United States disagree, claiming federal jurisdiction over state environmental policy.
Instead of coming up with solutions that will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the impact of global climate change, politicians are opportunistically attacking climate policies based on ideology, completely and utterly missing the point. It’s not about provinces, states, or federalism — the world is at stake.