Premier Jason Kenney isn’t saying what’s next after losing a court battle to declare the carbon tax unconstitutional — but his options appear to be limited.
“There are better ways to help the environment than by punishing people for living ordinary lives, for heating their homes and driving to work,” Kenney said following the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision to uphold Ottawa’s right to impose a price on carbon.
“The key criteria will be which approach imposes the least damage on jobs and Alberta’s economy and the least cost on Alberta families.”
But the premier didn’t say what options might be considered and the federal rules on pricing carbon are quite specific.
Before imposing the carbon tax, the federal Liberal government laid out those rules in a document called the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. It gave the provinces two choices — a carbon tax (or a hybrid system of a general tax and a levy on large emitters like the one used in Alberta) or a cap-and-trade system (which is used in Quebec).
Within either system, a province can offer “specific exemptions” (such as a fuel used in an industrial process where combustion does not occur) but overall it must “ensure that each carbon pollution pricing system applies to a broad base of emissions.”
However, there are options for a “Made in Alberta” system, the province’s big four crop commissions said in a joint release under their Team Alberta banner.
That should include reversing a decision to let a carbon capture payment program expire, said the wheat, barley, canola and pulse commissions.
“The Alberta Conservation Cropping Protocol is set to expire at the end of 2021, which removes one of the few programs that acknowledges farmers for their positive contributions to the environment,” the farm groups said in a release.
“Team Alberta insists the provincial government collaborates on the creation of a new Soil Carbon Enhancement Protocol so farmers can be compensated for the carbon they continue to sequester through soil stewardship.”
They also urged the UCP government to work with the federal government so that the national climate plan recognizes agriculture as a vital industry that has to be economically viable — something they said is threatened by a carbon tax that will hit $170 per tonne by 2030. (The tax increased by $10 per tonne on April 1 and now stands at $40.)
“A price on carbon that is embedded in a wide range of crop inputs and the cost of transporting those commodities to market will put the livelihoods of Alberta farmers in jeopardy,” the Team Alberta release stated.
Other farm groups also said the carbon levy will have a major financial impact.
The Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan said a $170-per-tonne carbon tax would up the cost of growing wheat by $12.50 an acre (mostly for trucking, rail freight, and grain drying) and this would “impact the financial stability” of farmers. Western Canadian Wheat Growers president Gunter Jochum said, “I am concerned that many family farms will be taxed so high that the next generation will leave the industry.”
However, the National Farmers Union applauded the court ruling.
“This decision clears the way for the federal government to expand efforts to support farmers in reducing emissions” said Darrin Qualman, the farm group’s director of climate policy.
The NFU said it wants policies that help “farmers move toward low-input, low-emission approaches.” Those include using fertilizers more efficiently, having more organic farming, and encouraging cover crops and cattle production systems that “maximize carbon building.”
But Alberta’s big four crop commissions say farmers are already doing their part through no-till and precision ag practices.
“Since the year 2000, Alberta soils have sequestered more carbon than emitted,” the Team Alberta release said.
The Conservation Cropping Protocol recognizes those efforts by putting a price (which is shared with a carbon aggregation company) on carbon captured in the soil by specific practices. For example, in the Parkland area, it says 0.113 tonnes of carbon per acre can be sequestered using no till. The no-till specs allow one pass of an opener with up to 46 per cent soil contact or two passes with up to 38 per cent soil contact.
However, the amounts paid to farmers under the protocol are, so far, relatively small. Using a carbon offset price of $23 a tonne and with the aggregator taking one-third of the payment, a farmer in the Parkland area would see a payment of $1.73 an acre. (For more details, go to alberta.ca)
While not saying what’s on the table, Kenney emphasized that nothing has been taken off.
“We’re going to consider all options, listen to Albertans and see what they want to do,” the premier said.