Newest U of R Canada Research Chair Offers Insight to Sask. Climate Change Policy

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Paying for pollution. (Pixabay)

Dr. Margot Hurlbert discusses her research 

In June of 2019, Dr. Margot Hurlbert was announced as the University of Regina’s newest Canada Research Chair in Climate Change, Energy and Sustainability Policy. Presently, Hurlbert is a coordinating lead author on the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC), the prestigious group of scientists advising the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change. Hurlbert notes specifically that it was her focus around vulnerability and adaptation to climate change that helped her to be nominated to this position. 

In appointing Dr. Hurlbert as a Canada Research Chair, the federal government has displayed a commitment to understanding and addressing climate change – a notion that has still yet to gain traction in Saskatchewan, creating an interesting backdrop for Hurlbert’s research.  

In May of 2019, the Saskatchewan government took the federal government to court, asserting that the federally imposed carbon tax is unconstitutional. The court’s ruling, however, stated that this policy is indeed legal under the constitution. Unhappy with this decision, Saskatchewan has appealed and the Supreme Court of Canada will hear this case in December of this year. Several other blue provinces have backed Saskatchewan in this crusade against the carbon tax, contributing to a growing rhetoric around issues of national unity. 

So what is it that has a large population of Saskatchewan people so opposed to this method of carbon pricing? Dr. Hurlbert stated that the simple use of the word tax, has a powerful effect on individuals’ perception of carbon pricing, regardless of Saskatchewan’s history with fuel taxes.  

“We have actually had fuel taxes in Saskatchewan for quite some time, so why would we be opposing [the carbon tax]?” The Fuel Tax, an example of an excise tax or tax for inelastic goods such as cigarettes or alcohol, was introduced federally in 1975 and has been active in Saskatchewan since 1928.  

Looking at carbon-pricing more generally, specifically in the form of taxation, Dr. Hurlbert said, “With carbon pricing, you can also do other things. You can rebate the taxes to agricultural producers, but generally, depending how a province was implementing it, it could cover more areas than a cap and trade. It really comes down to how a government calibrates the policy instrument that it chooses. What we’re finding in the policy world is there’s no one policy instrument that is the magic key to combatting climate change and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions – it’s actually a mix of several policy instruments”. 

The Prairie Resilience plan is a climate change strategy that the Saskatchewan government released in December of 2017 detailing Saskatchewan’s commitment to adapting to the climatic, economic and policy impacts of climate change. The plan has failed to reach federal standards and expectations of carbon-pricing, though Saskatchewan Environment Minister, Dustin Duncan has said, “This plan is broader and bolder than a single policy such as carbon tax, and will achieve better and more meaningful outcomes over the long term.” 

Dr. Hurlbert sees potential in the plan and admires its diversity in policy.  

“If we look at Saskatchewan’s policy portfolio globally, there’s many things that the federal government accepts and there’s many things in the Resilience plan that are really good initiatives.” Hurlbert gives the example of the agricultural industry and the innovation that has been needed in order to adapt to drying climates as well as agricultural worker’s ability to sequester more carbon into the soil and states that we need to start talking about how the progress of these individuals can be rewarded.  

“It’s pretty easy to say that the federal government and the provincial government are miles apart, but when we start talking about the discussions going around in the Resilience plan I see a lot of opportunity there.” 

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