BLOG: Extreme weather in Halifax and the urgent need to act now by Joanne Light

BLOG: Extreme weather in Halifax and the urgent need to act now by Joanne Light

Extreme weather in Halifax and the urgent need to act now

by Joanne Light, CCL Halifax’s group leader since November 2011

Recently, the headline in the provincial daily read “Premier McNeil Couldn’t Believe His Eyes” when he toured the devastation in Cape Breton caused by flooding from Hurricane Matthew. As the national manager for the not for profit organization I volunteer with put it, “Hurricane Matthew is a harbinger of things to come for people living in Atlantic Canada if we don’t rein in global warming. Can you help Premier McNeil connect the dots?” We, at CCL Halifax have been handing him “colouring books full of climate change dots-to-dots” and I can attest to calling in to the premier since before he was premier.  I remember suggesting that he send a fact finding mission to B.C. to study their carbon tax since they also had a Liberal government and doors would open easily. I didn’t hear back from him and haven’t since, though I’ve written quite a few missives and responded to the Department of Environment’s call for papers on “Greening Nova Scotia,” where our group again spelled out the economic and environmental benefits of an upstream revenue neutral carbon fee and dividend for Nova Scotia.  Months later, the report was released and all the green goodies were mentioned except one–carbon pricing. Not that there’s any difference between goodies and nodies because nothing “green” has been done under this government, as far as I can see.

I began to wonder if the premier was obsessing about carbon pricing and, when his representative, Environment Minister, Margaret Miller, walked out on the Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change during talks on carbon pricing for Canada, I really began to wonder who exactly was pulling the strings in this province to have so demonized this logical, simple, fair and inexpensive way to put a price on pollution to the extent that our premier was, in effect, willing to go to war against his fellow Liberals in Ottawa who, let’s be frank, are one of the reasons for his success in becoming premier.  I still recall Justin Trudeau posing with him before he won his first term.

So if Justin Trudeau is not pulling Premier McNeil’s strings, who is? Who would take what 95% of the world’s economists acknowledge to be the most effective way to reduce carbon emissions by sending a simple market signal to change behaviour so literally as to refuse it so thoroughly and repeatedly?  Large Maritime fossil fuel refiners and corporations who burn coal perhaps?

Before the former Minister of Finance, Diana Whalen was abruptly removed from that portfolio in 2014, she conducted nine public sessions called “Let’s Talk Taxes” across the province.  Public consultation in the spirit of testing the public’s tolerance for certain tax reforms, one of which was “Would they accept a carbon tax?”  The answer was mostly favourable to one, as long as it didn’t punish low income households.

Voila! Carbon fee and dividend!  Dalhousie professor Lars Osberg states that “net after tax benefits of carbon fee and dividend would be greatest for low and middle income households”. This is a a great recipe to cook up in  a province where 50% of the populace have an annual income of $32,000 or less.

Not only was Diana Whalen ushered out of finance, but in 2015, the whole “Climate Change Nova Scotia” division in the Department of Environment was eliminated and their director, highly qualified environmental scientist, Jason Hollett, followed the Minister of Environment (who, at that tim, but a year later, the federal Liberals added “…and Climate Change” to the name of the Department of Environment. Why are Ottawa and Nova Scotia at such polar positions in this most important of files?

If one read’s another former Environment Minister, Andrew Younger’s blog, the history of this government’s strange aversion to carbon pricing is outlined in some detail. He explains why Jason Hollett was moved to Finance when he writes:  “Of course, don’t think for a second plans haven’t been made to do this (figure out how to price carbon). It’s why that unit in the Department of Finance was setup in the first place.”

If that’s true (and Younger knows the chess moves of politics more than I do), let’s hope they go down the one path that won’t disadvantage so many Nova Scotians–fee and dividend, endorsed by the leader of the NSNDP, Gary Burrill and the Green Party of Nova Scotia. Otherwise, the premier’s “mark my words mantra” of “a punishing carbon tax” will be moulded by the elite in high places to satisfy their shareholders and Nova Scotians will be left paying at the pumps with no cheques mailed to them from the Department of Finance to neutralize the increased costs.

Premier McNeil needs to connect the dots between carbon pricing and severe weather. All provinces will have a carbon price by 2018 and that just happens to be an election year for McNeil. That carbon dividend cheque has political will and election written all over it.