TORONTO – Environment Minister Glen Murray warns Ontario industries could be hurt by the Progressive Conservatives’ efforts to delay legislation that would create a cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The government decided to invoke closure to wrap up committee hearings by May 2 on the bill designed to combat climate change, “the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced,” said Murray.
The Tories asked for 20-minute breaks twice an hour and used other tactics to slow the committee’s work to a crawl, but the government needs the bill passed this spring so it can start selling carbon credits to companies in January.
“They’re pretending to support a carbon price, and have all the rhetoric there, because they know politically it’s unacceptable not to be supporting a price on carbon,” said Murray. “They take every opportunity not to debate the bill.”
Companies need to know what their carbon emission allowances will be as soon as possible so they can prepare for the start of cap and trade next year, said Murray.
“They’re speaking to their head offices about major capital investments in their energy systems to eliminate greenhouse gases, and they need to know what the rules are for applying for funding and support,” he said.
Lawyers recommended about 50 “technical” amendments to the Climate Change Mitigation and Low-carbon Economy Act, dealing “with French language translation and which verb stands up best in court in case of legal challenges,” added Murray.
“The Tories are debating each of those, which is ridiculous,” he said. “That’s very unusual behaviour.”
However, Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown, who surprised his party at its annual convention last month by announcing he supports a price on carbon emissions, stressed Wednesday that it should be revenue neutral.
But the Liberals, he said, hope to generate $1.9 billion in 2017 alone by auctioning off emission allowances to industries.
“This should not be a justification for another Liberal slush fund,” he said.
“They’re being dishonest and taking advantage of people’s goodwill towards the environment.”
It’s the Liberals’ fault that the bill has been moving slowly through the committee process, added Brown.
“They drafted the bill. They shouldn’t need any amendments,” he said. “They’re developing a plan on the fly.”
Murray fired back that Brown’s actions undermine his claim of supporting a price on carbon, and said a revenue neutral plan would mean no financial help for people who want to buy electric cars or retrofit their homes.
“They clearly don’t understand what carbon pricing is because they haven’t been able to articulate any substance to their position except revenue neutrality,” he said.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath urged the Tories to support the cap-and-trade bill.
“I would hope that people would take seriously the need to deal with the carbon footprint that we have and reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” she said.
Under cap and trade, industries are given specific pollution limits, but can sell their emission allowances to other companies if they come in below their annual limit, or buy credits if they exceed it.
Ontario plans to join existing cap-and-trade markets in Quebec and California starting next January. Manitoba has also signed on to join in the cap and trade plan with Ontario and Quebec, but will limit it to 20 large polluters in the province.
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