Premier Scott Moe says the federal government's rejection of Saskatchewan's carbon pricing pitch is "arbitrary and political."
After the Supreme Court of Canada's 6-3 decision finding the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act constitutional in March, Moe announced Saskatchewan would submit a plan to implement its own carbon pricing system for consumers.
Saskatchewan already has an approved carbon pricing system for heavy emitters.
On Monday, Moe said the federal government decided not to accept Saskatchewan's proposed consumer plan and would not accept another submission until 2023.
Moe said the plan "would have protected families, jobs and industries while exceeding the federal minimum standards, in close alignment with other provincial programs previously accepted."
He was referring to New Brunswick's plan, which provides a fuel rebate at the pump. Moe has said Saskatchewan's plan would be comparable to New Brunswick's.
"The rejection of Saskatchewan's submission can only be viewed as an arbitrary and political decision from the federal government," Moe said Monday.
Moe said the province would be evaluating the decision and "exploring all avenues possible to protect our residents from the federally imposed carbon tax."
New Brunswick's system complied with the federal government's plan for a 6.6-cent-per-litre levy at the pumps. The province also slashed its gas tax by more than four cents, leaving consumers with a net cost of two cents per litre.
Environment minister aims to even out differences
After Moe's announcement in March, federal Minister of Environment Jonathan Wilkinson said mimicking the New Brunswick plan "would defeat the whole purpose. It would defeat the price signal that exists, which is to incent[ivize] people to adopt more efficient behaviour."
In March, Wilkinson said the federal government was "looking to change and to fix on a go-forward basis" the system New Brunswick had approved.
Wilkinson has written to his provincial counterparts to say he plans to amend the federal carbon-pricing benchmark to eliminate some of the discrepancies and exemptions that have emerged as provinces implemented their own policies over the last few years.
"As we discussed, and as our respective officials have discussed over the past several months, Canada has committed to updating its approach to carbon pricing to make it more fair and rigourous," Wilkinson said in the letter sent to provincial ministers on Monday.
Governments will not be allowed to "weaken the price signal" with rebates or reductions in other gas taxes, Wilkinson wrote. In two provinces — New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island — carbon taxes on fuel were partially offset by corresponding cuts to the provincial gas tax.
In an interview, Wilkinson said the federal government is willing to work "collaboratively" with the provinces but he doesn't expect support for the changes to be unanimous.
"We are pleased to see Saskatchewan's interest in developing a made-in-Saskatchewan pollution pricing plan, and remain open to conversations with Saskatchewan about what their system could look like going forward," said Moira Kelly, Wilkinson's press secretary, in a statement to CBC on Monday following Moe's comments.
Kelly said Canadians are "increasingly feeling the effects of climate change through extreme weather events like deadly heat waves, wildfires, droughts and floods."
She said the federal government is putting a price on pollution because there will be more future warming and worse impacts from climate change "if pollution is free."
Kelly said the federal government is updating its new benchmark and the earliest any system would be in place is January 2023.
On Monday, the federal government formally committed Canada to reducing emissions by 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 by submitting its greenhouse gas emissions targets to the United Nations.
Opposition leader says Moe 'failed'
Saskatchewan NDP Opposition Leader Ryan Meili released a statement Monday afternoon saying Moe had "failed the people of Saskatchewan on carbon pricing."
"The Sask. Party's failure to present a credible climate change plan has left Saskatchewan people subject to the federal carbon tax for the last three years. Now because of the Premier's political games we will be stuck with Prime Minister Trudeau's plan for a further two years," Meili said.
The NDP said the provincial government should create a plan that uses a "means-tested rebate," is effective at reducing emissions and "recognizes and incorporates the distinct needs of rural communities and agriculture producers."