HALIFAX — Premier Tim Houston is asking Ottawa to exempt Nova Scotia from the national carbon tax, saying the federal government's signature bid to reduce greenhouse gas emissions amounts to "punishing" the province.
The Progressive Conservative premier said imposing a carbon tax on Nova Scotians would unduly penalize them because the province's existing efforts to reduce emissions already exceed federal targets.
"I actually think a carbon tax is an appropriate tool at the right time and the right place," Houston told a news conference Friday. “But in Nova Scotia, it's not necessary."
The federal carbon tax will increase the price of carbon by $15 per tonne, and then rise again every year until it reaches $170 per tonne in 2030.
Houston said the tax could cost the average Nova Scotian household more than $2,000 in 2025 and over $3,100 in 2030. He argued the province should move ahead with its own plans "rather than be punished by a 14-cent-per-litre increase in the price of gas."
He also noted that Nova Scotians already pay among the highest power bills in Canada.
On Thursday, Houston submitted a climate-change action plan to Ottawa that lists environmental goals enshrined in provincial legislation last year.
These goals include phasing out coal-fired electricity generation by 2030, pledging to have 80 per cent of the province's energy supplied by renewable sources by 2030 and requiring zero-emission vehicles to account for 30 per cent of vehicle sales that same year.
These goals are the "most aggressive benchmarks in the country and will show results," the premier said.
Kelsey Lane, climate policy co-ordinator with the Halifax-based Ecology Action Centre, said she was shocked by Houston's plan to deal with climate-change.
"We’re astonished at the lack of substance in the premier's proposal," Lane said.
Lane said she had hoped the province would introduce its own carbon pricing system because it hasn't said how it plans to reach its emission reduction targets.
"There’s no clear accountability mechanisms for how we're going to achieve that," she said. "We could have still gone further."
Houston said he's hopeful federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault will consider the province's plan "with an open mind."
The premier said if Nova Scotia doesn’t meet its targets, then the province will welcome the federal carbon tax.
Susan Leblanc, the NDP's environment critic, said she’s disappointed in the proposal.
"There isn't anything new, no new details — no actual plans," Leblanc told reporters after the premier's announcement.
Liberal environment critic Iain Rankin also said the Tories' proposal does not equate to a plan to deal with climate change.
“I wouldn't dignify it by saying that it's even a plan," said Rankin, a former environment minister. "I was hoping to see something I could critique, but this is nothing more than a PowerPoint that goes over targets that were in place.”
The province currently operates its own cap-and-trade program for large industrial emitters. The program has been in place since 2019, but it will expire at the end of the year.
Revenue from the cap-and-trade system goes to a provincial Green Fund that contributes to renewable energy and efficiency projects, such as rebates for solar home upgrades.
When asked what will happen when the Green Fund ends, Houston said the province is “committed to continuing to invest in meeting our targets.” He did not elaborate.
Leblanc said she was worried by Houston's “extremely vague” response.
“The government needs to actually invest in the programs being funded by the Green Fund and they have to put more investment into them,” she said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 19, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Lyndsay Armstrong, The Canadian Press