11/02/2016 10:34 EDT | Updated 11/02/2016 10:53 EDT

Putting A Price On Pollution Boosts Saskatchewan's Case For A Pipeline


An important debate is underway in Saskatchewan about how best to combat the accelerating impacts of climate change. Significant tax reductions should be part of the package.

With more frequent, more severe and more damaging cycles of droughts and wildfires, storms and floods, it's clear that a more extreme and volatile climate is costly for Saskatchewan. Virtually everyone agrees that we need to prevent the worst consequences, as much as possible, and adapt to what we can't avoid.

The solutions aren't easy, but the problem can't be just wished away.

As shown in the Saskatchewan government's recent "White Paper on Climate Change," there's a lot of common ground about the investments needed in new technology and adaptation. The Government of Canada is already helping with such initiatives and will continue to do so. But that alone will not solve the problem.

Canada also needs "carbon pricing" -- that is, putting a price on the pollution that causes climate change.

It's an odd thing about our society that we charge heavily for good things like fresh water, but almost nothing at all for damaging things like air pollution. A price on pollution would create an incentive to slow carbon emissions and stimulate technological innovation.

For example, it would strengthen and expand markets for Saskatchewan's important "carbon capture and storage" (CCS) technology. Not only can CCS help remove significant volumes of carbon coming from local coal-fired power plants, it can also be sold globally to countries like China and India. But it's expensive, and the economics aren't sufficiently attractive if pollution is essentially free.

Pricing carbon would also strengthen Saskatchewan's case for greater pipeline capacity to transport our valuable natural resources.

Support for the idea crosses party lines and jurisdictions.

One version of pollution pricing was first implemented 10 years ago in British Columbia, which now has the strongest economy in the country and the best record for slowing emissions. Different but essentially equivalent pricing approaches have since been endorsed by Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, as well as the new premier of Manitoba.

The principle has been described by Reform Party founder, Preston Manning, as "a good idea" which he "wholeheartedly support(s)." It's also advocated by Mark Cameron, former senior policy advisor to Stephen Harper.

In the private sector, the executives leading Canada's major petroleum and mining companies endorse the concept. So do insurance companies and financial institutions, because they see big losses accruing from the damages caused by climate change. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has long been an advocate, as are many municipal leaders because of the serious risks to their infrastructure.

While a price on carbon needs to embrace the whole country, each province needs the flexibility to devise its own system to meet the national standard. Importantly for Saskatchewan:

  • Farm fuels and other provincial sensitivities can be exempted from pollution pricing. The goal is to cover some 70 per cent of harmful emissions. So that leaves room for flexibility.
  • All the revenue raised from a price on carbon in any given province will remain entirely in that province and totally under provincial control.
  • The Saskatchewan government estimates it would gain some 2.5 billion annually and it alone will decide how to use it.
  • With that revenue, Saskatchewan could totally eliminate its provincial personal income tax.
  • Or it could offset most of the property tax burden on farmland, homes and small businesses.
  • Or it could take a big chunk off both income taxes and property taxes, and still have room to invest more in low-income families, healthcare, universities and municipal infrastructure.
  • Whatever the mix of benefits, Saskatchewan will determine its own priorities -- to be fair and competitive, and to generate jobs, growth, investment and innovation.

In addition, the Government of Canada will make other substantial investments in Saskatchewan to help drive greater economic growth and well-being.

This could well include major science and technology projects like CCS and others. It could also include smart new power grids to link large emitters to hydro power with no emissions at all. Federal investments could also support large-scale water conservation and development systems to better manage damaging prairie floods, while expanding the province's economic base through irrigation and more diversified agriculture.

All of this enhances the economic and environmental credibility needed to get our vital natural resources to market.

The bottom line is a more prosperous, diversified, cleaner and successful Saskatchewan.

Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook

Also on HuffPost: