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Wynne opens door to carbon tax in Ontario
Jan. 14, 2015
Keith Leslie

Premier Kathleen Wynne opened the door open Wednesday to a new tax to combat climate change, just months after saying a carbon tax was not part of the Ontario government's plan.

"That is not part of our plan. It is not in our plan," Wynne said after winning a majority government last June. "But we do need to have a minister who is paying attention to climate change in a way that I believe we have not done before."

Environment Minister Glen Murray was given the additional title of minister responsible for climate change and is preparing a report for the Liberal government on its options, added Wynne.

"He's going to give us advice on that," she said Wednesday. "But as you know, in 2007-08 we were already part of an agreement around cap-and-trade, and so we need to now make that real in whatever form that takes."

Ontario committed to carbon pricing in 2008 when it signed the Western Climate Initiative with California and Quebec, which have since created a joint cap-and-trade system. British Columbia also signed the WCI, but instead of cap-and-trade introduced a carbon tax that included a seven-cent-a-litre levy on gasoline, an idea Wynne would not rule out for Ontario.

"I'm not going to lay out the plan today," she said. "What I can tell you is that it will be real, it will reflect the needs of both the people and the businesses in this province, and it will focus on the balance of economic growth and the need to address our very real climate change challenges."

The province could adopt a cap-and-trade system that lets the worst polluters buy credits from companies that burn less fossil fuels, or impose a tax on all carbon emissions, including gasoline burned by automobiles.

Whatever option the province picks, it's "extremely important" that Ontario do its part in a national strategy to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, added Wynne.

"I'm not going to weigh in on what we may or may not do," she said. "We need to be leaders in terms of the discussion across the country, but globally we need to take our position and do our part."

The Progressive Conservatives accused the Liberals of trying to "sneak in" a new tax while gas prices are low, something they said Ontario cannot afford.

"Liberal history shows we can't believe their carbon tax will accomplish any objective other than picking everyone's pockets," said interim PC Leader Jim Wilson. "The Liberals are just desperate to take more of your money and will use any excuse to justify feeding their spending addiction."

Ontario's New Democrats said the Liberals should act on the legislation the province passed in 2009 to enact a cap-and-trade system by 2012.

"Five years have passed and we are still waiting," said NDP energy critic Peter Tabuns. "We have fallen three years behind Quebec and California."

Ontario Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller said British Columbia did the right thing with its carbon tax because the province also lowered income taxes at the same time, making the new environmental levy revenue neutral.

"They lower the tax on income, which is the productive part of society, and they tax consumption and the emission of pollutants that cause climate change," said Miller. "It's a matter of being fair with people and making it very visible."