Discussion on carbon pricing needed in Atlantic Canada says head of commission

HALIFAX – Governments in Atlantic Canada should be considering carbon pricing as more jurisdictions adopt initiatives worldwide, says the chairman of Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission.

Chris Ragan told a panel discussion in Halifax that the idea is a growing global trend with 40 national and 20 sub-national jurisdictions involved in either carbon tax or cap-and-trade initiatives.

Ragan said the revenues raised from a carbon tax in particular would provide governments with options to reinvest in targeted areas of the economy, while addressing environmental goals.

He said that’s a better option than increasing personal and corporate taxes, which tend to serve as a drag on the economy.

“If you actually do this as part of a tax shift . . . then at the same time you are providing greater incentives for the things that we all agree that we like, which are investment and innovation and employment,” said Ragan.

In an interview following the discussion, Ragan said shifting to carbon pricing is a matter of being at the “head of the policy parade” as worldwide demand increases for low-carbon products.

“The sooner we start making that transition, the sooner we can be satisfying the demand in the rest of the world,” he said.

A report released in November by former Ontario cabinet minister Laurel Broten on Nova Scotia’s tax system called for a carbon tax as part of a number of tax changes to improve the province’s fiscal situation.

The Nova Scotia government has not committed to the idea, but hasn’t ruled it out as part of future fiscal reform.

Cape Breton University president David Wheeler said he feels the time is right for Nova Scotia to lead the way in the Atlantic region given that oil prices are currently low. He said there would be less of a shock to consumers of gasoline and home heating oil.

However, Wheeler said revenues would have to recycled in a way that protects those on low incomes while investing in economic growth.

Atlantic Provinces Economic Council president Elizabeth Beale also supports the idea of carbon pricing, but said it would present challenges to a province like Nova Scotia in a way that it hasn’t in British Columbia, which has a well-established carbon tax.

She pointed out that B.C. has an abundance of hydro power where Nova Scotia still depends on fossil fuels such as coal for its energy needs.

“When you do it (carbon tax) here, big costs. And big costs pass through to consumers.”