Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna walks to a news conference in the Foyer of the House of Commons in Ottawa, Thursday June 15, 2017.
Saskatchewan’s premier says the federal government’s decision to deny the province access to funding for projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions unless it agrees to a carbon tax is “nothing short of extortion.”
Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna unveiled the details of a $2-billion low-carbon economy fund in Ottawa Thursday, part of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change that most provinces and territories signed in December. The money will be used to fund projects across Canada that cut emissions. But Saskatchewan and Manitoba currently aren’t eligible for most of the funding as they refused to sign the framework, which included a commitment to carbon pricing.
Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, left, and Italian Environment Minister Gian Luca Galletti attend a press conference at the G7 summit on the environment
Premier Brad Wall struck back at Ottawa in a statement on Facebook Thursday afternoon. “Withholding funds from provinces that don’t go along with the federal government’s policies represents a new low in Canadian federalism,” he wrote. “This is nothing short of extortion by the federal government.”
“This is not how I think Canadians expect the federal government to operate,” Saskatchewan Environment Minister Scott Moe told reporters Thursday. “It doesn’t speak to the collaboration that was put forward at the beginning of this process.”
The announcement was a “punitive direction from the federal government,” he said.
The majority of the money — $1.4 billion — will go to the provinces and territories to pay for greenhouse-gas reduction projects. The provinces have already suggested some projects, including building retrofits and an expanded electric-vehicle charging network in Ontario, and the connection of electricity grids in British Columbia and Alberta.
Each province and territory is eligible for a base of $30 million plus per capita funding.
The remaining $600 million will go toward a low-carbon economy challenge, to be launched this fall. Provinces, municipalities, indigenous governments and businesses can apply for money from that fund for their own projects that cut emissions. Saskatchewan and Manitoba are eligible for that part of the funding.
“Today, the rubber hits the road,” McKenna told reporters Thursday. “This is an opportunity for Canadians across the country to reduce the amount of energy they use and to save money while doing it.”
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna before a news conference in May.
The low-carbon economy fund is designed to help Canada meet its Paris Agreement goal of cutting emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, a target originally set out by the Harper government.
Moe said Saskatchewan will still apply to the $1.4-billion fund and other federal programs to pay for green initiatives, including a plan to supply half its power with renewable energy by 2030.
“We’ll be applying for this fund … and we expect to be considered for it. It’s the Saskatchewan people that have invested in the dollars that are being distributed through this fund.”
But McKenna said the money is intended for those provinces “that have supported all aspects of the pan-Canadian plan, including putting a price on carbon pollution.” She said the federal government is still working with Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and hopes they will eventually sign the framework.
To date, Wall has remained steadfastly opposed to putting a price on carbon — a key feature of the national framework. Last month, McKenna announced the details of a federal backstop carbon price, which would impose a carbon tax on any provinces and territories that don’t create their own by 2018.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is opposed to the new carbon tax
Wall has vowed to take the federal government to court if it tries to impose a tax on his province, but McKenna maintains it’s “well within the federal government’s right to take action to protect the environment.”
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister refused to sign the climate change agreement last year in an attempt to negotiate a better health-care deal for his province. But the province is currently working on its own climate change plan, though it’s unclear whether Manitoba will create its own carbon price or adopt the federal tax.
The low-carbon economy fund was originally announced in Budget 2016, with the $2 billion to be spent over two years, starting in 2017-18.
But the government revised that plan this year, announcing in the latest budget that the money will be spread over five years “following discussions with provinces and territories.”
The plan now is to spend $250 million this year, $500 million in each of the next three fiscal years, and the remaining $250 million in 2021-22.