Photo: A national carbon price would score big in Paris

(Credit: Banff Lake Louise via Flickr)

By Steve Kux, Communications & Research Specialist

Over the past decade, Canadians have seen a willingness on the part of provinces to implement progressive policies to address climate change. In particular, interest has grown in using market-based strategies to encourage industries to reduce the amount of carbon pollution they put into the air.

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From Alberta's tax on its highest emitters to the B.C. carbon tax and, most recently, Ontario's decision to join Quebec and California in creating a cap-and-trade market, carbon pricing has proven effective in stimulating regional economies while looking out for the long-term interests of the global climate. B.C.'s carbon tax is still lauded as a world-leading climate action policy, despite being frozen until 2018. The work we've seen at the provincial level, however, can't compete with what would be possible under a federally guided carbon pricing strategy.

Think of Canada as a hockey team and each province as a player. If everyone jumps onto the ice with their own ideas about how to put the puck in the net, they will probably score a few goals. You might even see some truly creative play-making that leads to highlight-reel material, but in the end, it won't likely win as many games as a team with a well-coordinated strategy.

The federal government plays double duty in this metaphor, acting as coach and goalie. It's up to the coach to develop the team's strategy to play a complete game and ensure that every team member is following the rules. It's up to the goalie to make sure that outside forces (the other team/international markets) do not derail the team's efforts. If you don't have both of these elements working with the players on the ice, you're likely to get into serious trouble. You might even attract negative attention from the referee, a role played by the United Nations in addressing climate change.

In a recent interview on CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau said of carbon pricing, "We will not bring in a single program from Ottawa because the time for that has passed." This echoes Conservative Party strategy, which leaves carbon pricing up to individual provinces. The NDP has not released its environment platform, but industry critic Peggy Nash told the National Observer on August 7 that the party is committed to introducing a national cap-and-trade program.

Regardless of which party Canadians choose to govern, one of the prime minister's first major trips will be to Paris in December for the UN climate change conference, where world leaders hope to come up with legally binding commitments to avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change. Canada's federal actions so far have been widely criticized, and Paris presents a clear opportunity to alter this reputation. It remains to be seen whether our international climate action skills can live up to the gold standard of our hockey teams.

The message to Canadians who care about our health, environment and economy is clear: On October 19, voting is the most important thing you can do to protect the people and places you love. In the fight against climate change, Canadians should call on MP and PM hopefuls to show national leadership with ambitious, proven climate policy strategies, including a national carbon price. To put it another way, we need to keep our stick on the ice.

August 13, 2015

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