Canada’s Premiers Stand United in Call for Federal Fairness in Carbon Pricing

Host and Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston, right, speaks during a press conference at the meeting of the Council of the Federation, where Canada's provincial and territorial leaders met in Halifax on Monday. (Kelly Clark/The Canadian Press)

Canada’s premiers have coalesced in a rare display of unity, advocating for equitable treatment from Ottawa on carbon pricing, an issue that has drawn stark criticism from various provinces and territories. The leaders are pressing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for a nationwide carbon pricing pause, citing the acute affordability crisis affecting Canadians.

During a meeting in Halifax, hosted by Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston, chair of the Council of the Federation, the premiers issued a joint statement seeking fairness from the federal government’s carbon tax application, especially in light of recent unilateral changes that have sparked controversy from coast to coast.

Premiers from across the political spectrum echoed the sentiment that the federal policy must be equitable, particularly with many Canadians grappling with the economic burden during colder months. “During this inflationary moment right now, people are suffering,” stated Manitoba’s newly elected NDP Premier Wab Kinew, underscoring the necessity of extending the carbon pricing pause to other fuels to alleviate the financial strain.

The unity of the premiers stems from an announcement by Trudeau, where a three-year carbon price pause on home heating oil was decreed to aid those transitioning to electric heat pumps. This measure, however, was deemed insufficient by Western Canadian premiers, where natural gas is the predominant fuel for heating.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, voicing the sentiments of 85% of his province’s residents who rely on natural gas, declared the policy application to be unjust, reiterating his pledge to cease the collection of the federal carbon tax on natural gas in the new year. Alberta Premier Danielle Smith highlighted the cleaner aspect of natural gas, advocating for its use over less environmentally friendly options like coal, wood, and dung.

Left to right: Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston and Quebec Minister Responsible for Canadian Relations and the Canadian Francophonie Jean-Francois Roberge attend a meeting of Canada’s premiers in Halifax on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023. (Kelly Clark/Canadian Press)

In contrast, British Columbia’s NDP Premier David Eby pointed to the province’s carbon tax as an effective tool in reducing emissions, emphasizing the severe impact of climate change as evidenced by costly forest fires and flood prevention measures.

Premier Blaine Higgs of New Brunswick joined the call for extending the carbon pricing pause to all heating fuels and reiterated his stance against carbon pricing, questioning its efficacy in achieving its intended goals. Echoing this skepticism, Nova Scotia’s Houston raised the need for a thorough analysis of the carbon tax’s actual impact on emissions reduction.

Amidst this discourse, the premiers also urged Trudeau to convene an in-person First Ministers’ meeting, the first since December 2018, to address these pressing issues collectively.

As the country grapples with an affordability crisis and climate emergencies, the premiers’ unified stance sends a clear message to the federal government: policies, particularly those related to carbon pricing, must be fair and consider the diverse energy needs and economic realities of all Canadians.

Dominic LeBlanc, federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister, assured that federal programs would continue to be applied equitably across the country but made no commitments to altering the carbon pricing program.

The premiers’ meeting also addressed other priority issues, such as exploring legislative frameworks to ensure provincial authorization before municipalities or public agencies sign agreements with Ottawa. Health care was another focal point, with the leaders acknowledging the pressing needs of the sector and opposing aggressive inter-provincial recruitment of health-care professionals.