Arctic warms: Some territories now open to carbon tax talk, want break for North

The Arctic may be warming to the federal government’s plan to implement a national carbon tax.

All three territorial leaders were firmly opposed to any talk of a price on carbon just months ago at a first ministers meeting in Yukon, but at least two territories now seem willing to listen to what Ottawa has to say.

“We recognize that carbon tax is an important tool in mitigating the effects of climate change,” said a statement from Bob McLeod of the Northwest Territories on Thursday.

“I’ve talked to (Environment) Minister (Catherine) McKenna over the past few weeks and she has a good understanding of the challenges a carbon tax would bring to the N.W.T. I appreciate the minister’s commitment to working with us and look forward to our ongoing discussions with her.”

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna sounded similarly open-minded.

“At the end of the day I’m confident that our federal partners will give us some assistance in ensuring that we try and abide by the Vancouver declaration,” said Taptuna, referring to an agreement last spring on co-ordinated efforts to fight climate change.

Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski, however, remains dead set against the notion.

“A carbon tax in Yukon will be bad for Yukon and for Yukon families,” he said earlier this week.

Northern leaders have long been concerned about the impact of a carbon tax on their jurisdictions. They say it would increase the cost of living in what are already the most expensive places to live in Canada. Not only does most of their food have to be shipped using fossil fuels, northerners can’t reduce their carbon footprint through services such as public transit.

As well, although some communities have made recent moves toward renewable power, almost all northern towns are powered by aging diesel generators.

If Ottawa wants to help the territories reduce emissions, helping them update that infrastructure would be a good place to start, Taptuna said.

“We need assistance in modifying our generating plants. Some of them are 50 years old and quite inefficient.”

Taptuna points out that while the North is most affected by climate change, it generates .01 per cent of Canada’s carbon dioxide emissions.

A spokeswoman for McKenna said the minister has worked hard to listen to northern concerns.

“There have been so many discussions and so many meetings and so many phone calls,” said Caitlin Workman. “Everybody understands each other a bit better.

“We’re committed to work with the territories to find something that works for them. Part of that is the federal government’s commitment to helping northern communities get off diesel.”

— With files from Bruce Cheadle in Ottawa. Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960