MONTREAL — Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall tore a strip off Justin Trudeau while frustrated environment ministers walked out on their federal counterpart Monday after the prime minister promised to unilaterally impose a carbon price in those provinces and territories that won't do it themselves.
With provincial and territorial ministers gathered for a day of climate-change talks in Montreal, the prime minister kicked off a House of Commons debate on the Paris climate change accord with unexpected news: Ottawa will set — and enforce, if necessary — a minimum price for carbon pollution.
The federal plan sets a "floor price" of $10 a tonne starting in 2018 that increases to $50 a tonne by 2022.
Wall — a longtime opponent of pricing carbon — did not pull his punches.
"The level of disrespect shown by the prime minister and his government today is stunning," he said, accusing Trudeau of reneging on his promises to collaborate with the provinces.
"This is a betrayal of the statements made by the prime minister in Vancouver this March. And this new tax will damage our economy."
Wall said Saskatchewan will be one of the hardest hit by the carbon tax, which he estimated would siphon more than $2.5 billion from the province's economy once fully implemented, and cost the average family $1,250 a year. He called it "one of the largest national tax increases in Canadian history," saying Saskatchewan would investigate "all options" to mitigate the impact.
Trudeau gave the provinces just two options for implementing the carbon price: either impose their own direct price on carbon that meets or exceeds the national floor price, as British Columbia has already done, or set up a cap and trade system, such as Ontario and Quebec are developing.
If any province or territory does not implement one of the two options by 2018, "the government of Canada will implement a price in that jurisdiction," Trudeau warned, adding that all revenue would be given to the province or territory in which it is generated.
"There is no hiding from climate change," he told the Commons on Monday. "It is real and it is everywhere."
"We cannot undo the last 10 years of inaction. What we can do is make a real and honest effort — today and every day — to protect the health of our environment, and with it, the health of all Canadians."
Trudeau's pre-emptive announcement landed like a grenade in the midst of the environment ministers' meeting in Montreal, where federal minister Catherine McKenna was supposed to be hashing out an agreement on carbon pricing with her provincial counterparts.
"The air was sucked out of the room," Yukon's Currie Dixon said of Trudeau's announcement, calling it an odd way to build collaborative policy.
And Scott Moe, Saskatchewan's minister, said, "Many westerners will see this as 'national energy program 2.0." Moe later echoed his boss's words, suggesting Trudeau's "betrayal" could have lingering effects.
"It's not a good day for federal-provincial relations," he said.
Nova Scotia's Margaret Miller said her province feels let down and surprised, saying it is already on track to make deep emissions cuts and doesn't understand Ottawa's move.
While Alberta's NDP government supports a common price on carbon across the country, Premier Rachel Notley served notice that she'll oppose the federal plan until she sees "serious concurrent progress" on the pipelines that her province needs to get its oil sands crude to tidewater.
"Albertans have contributed very generously for many years to national initiatives to help other regions address economic challenges," Notley said in a written statement.
"What we are asking for now is that our landlock be broken, in one direction or another, so that we can get back on our feet."
Quebec's David Heurtel, the chairman of the meeting, and Ontario's Glen Murray both welcomed the new federal policy, saying it fully recognizes their provincial jurisdiction.
Trudeau argued that pricing carbon pollution will give Canada a "significant advantage" in building a cleaner economy, compel businesses to innovate to find ways to reduce their emissions and create potentially hundreds of thousands of "new and exciting" clean tech jobs.
Stephen Guilbeault of the environmental advocacy group Equiterre lauded the move, even if he feels the $10 starting point is too low.
"They knew from the get-go that carbon pricing would be controversial," Guilbeault said.
"They knew they wouldn't get a consensus. It had to be done. Might as well get it out of the way now so we can talk about other things and stop arguing — which some provinces would have done until the bitter end."
Conservative environment critic Ed Fast accused Trudeau of taking a "sledgehammer" to the provinces after having promised to usher in a new era of federal-provincial collaboration.
NDP environment critic Linda Duncan and Green Party leader Elizabeth May said the plan falls short of what needs to be done, criticizing Trudeau for adopting the previous Harper government's targets for reducing emissions which the Liberals used to call weak and inadequate.
"We have the Conservative party thinking we go too far, we have the NDP thinking we're not going far enough," Trudeau observed.
"I think — like most Canadians will think — that we have got the right balance."
— Follow @BCheadle on Twitter