When we debate carbon pricing, can we at least stick to the facts?

The Syncrude oil sands extraction facility is reflected in a tailings pond near the city of Fort McMurray, Alta., on June 1, 2014. Economists are virtually unanimous in the view that carbon pricing reduces greenhouse-gas emissions at the lowest possible cost to the economy. JASON FRANSON/THE CANADIAN PRESS

As a group of economists, we still believe that facts should matter when it comes to making important policy decisions. Unfortunately, not everyone involved in the Canadian climate policy debate appears to agree. Myths and rhetoric are pushing the real facts to the sidelines. The result is a mix of confusion and polarization that is poisoning our public debate, and we are losing patience.

As a case in point, Ontario Premier Doug Ford recently claimed that carbon pricing will be a “total economic disaster” for the country and cause a “carbon-tax recession.” Despite the fact that this claim strongly contradicts almost all of the available empirical evidence on carbon pricing, we’re hearing it repeated more often.

So, let’s start with this fact: Economists are virtually unanimous in the view that carbon pricing reduces greenhouse-gas emissions at the lowest possible cost to the economy. Other policy approaches – such as intrusive and prescriptive regulations, or generous production or consumption subsidies – will cost the economy far more to achieve the same outcome.

In fact, carbon pricing appears to have negligible impacts on economic growth when it is well-designed. British Columbia has had carbon pricing since 2008, and its economy is one of the strongest in Canada. Quebec has had carbon pricing since 2013, and it is now experiencing an economic renaissance. Carbon pricing isn’t causing the growth in either case, but neither is it preventing it. No “economic disaster” in these provinces. Ditto for California, the United Kingdom and, for that matter, Ontario’s carbon-pricing system that lasted from 2015 until its repeal last year. MORE

Toronto city council votes against declaring homelessness crisis an emergency, now what?

Last week, Toronto Mayor Tory and Toronto City Council showed their impotence to deal with one of the most severe social welfare disasters in Toronto’s history — homelessness. 

The homelessness emergency affects over 8,000 people. Over 1,000 people are living in what can only be compared to refugee camp conditions: respite sites including a disaster dome, overnight drop-ins, and basements of churches and synagogues.

The housing emergency affects close to 200,000 people: 181,000 people are on the social housing wait list and another 16,000 await supportive housing. Essentially neither is being built.

In a debate over whether to declare Toronto’s housing and homelessness crisis an emergency, the directors of Toronto’s emergency management and legal services offices dispassionately addressed language in the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, including what entails an “emergency.” Equally dispassionate were the General Manager of Shelter, Support and Housing and the Medical Officer of Health.

Councillor Gord Perks, who brought forth the motion last week with Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, attempted to give staff an opening, suggesting that causes out of the city’s control, such as deregulation, could cause a disaster. After all, homelessness and the housing crisis is the direct result of federal and provincial abandonment. MORE

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Deaths of People Experiencing Homelessness

Fossil fuels are bad for your health and harmful in many ways besides climate change

Fossil fuels are bad for your health and harmful in many ways besides climate change

Pumpjacks dot the Kern River oil field outside Bakersfield, Calif. Credit: James William Smith/Shutterstock.com

Many Democratic lawmakers aim to pass a Green New Deal, a package of policies that would mobilize vast amounts of money to create new jobs and address inequality while fighting climate change.

Led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, they are calling for massive investments in  and other measures over a decade that would greatly reduce or even end the nation’s overwhelming reliance on fossil fuels.

As experts in environmental geographysociology, and sustainability science and policy, we wholeheartedly support this effort. And, as we explained in a recently published study,  is not the only reason to ditch fossil fuels.

While conducting our research, we constantly encounter new evidence that depending on fossil fuels for energy harms people and communities at every point along fossil fuel supply chains, especially where coal, oil and natural gas are extracted.

The , oil and  industries are also major contributors to human rights violationspublic health disasters and environmental devastation. MORE

Legal community raises alarms over allegations PMO interfered in SNC-Lavalin case


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 31, 2018. iPolitics/Matthew Usherwood

TORONTO — The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is calling for a police investigation into bombshell allegations that Justin Trudeau’s office interfered in the criminal case against SNC-Lavalin.

“Messing with the administration of justice is not just bad politics. It may be a crime,” CCLA executive director Michael Bryant said in a statement Thursday.

Earlier in the day, the Globe and Mail reported that the Prime Minister’s Office urged then attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene in a corruption case against the Quebec engineering and construction services company. The criminal case centres on allegations the company paid millions in bribes to secure government contracts in Libya.

“The reason why CCLA cares about this is you can’t have two different justice systems, one for everybody else and one for the powerful.”

The Globe reports the prime minister’s office wanted SNC-Lavalin to avoid going to trial and instead get a deal that would allow the company to pay a fine but admit no criminal wrongdoing. The deal is known as a “deferred prosecution agreement,” or a “remediation agreement, and was only made legal in Canada last year. MORE

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SNC-Lavalin allegation raises thorny questions, like what role does the attorney general have in criminal cases?

If either the PMO or Wilson-Raybould had tried to direct the prosecutor’s office without making that instruction public, that would violate the law

Young People Really, Really Want a Green New Deal

New polling data show that millennials are more enthusiastic than older generations about radical efforts to save the planet and create jobs.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez outside the Capitol Building.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) talks to reporters outside the Capitol Building. (AP Photo / Susan Walsh)

It’s finally here: Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Edward Markey introduced a Green New Deal resolution on Thursday.

Their proposal would achieve net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions by creating millions of green jobs and investing in a new, clean-energy infrastructure. But how receptive will Americans be to such a radical reshaping of the economy?

Our polling shows that the Green New Deal actually polls very well, even when people consider the potential costs. First, in our election survey last fall, we tested a green-job guarantee, which is a core component of the Green New Deal. The resolution released Thursday proposes “guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and disability leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all members of our society.” Mainstream Democratic think tanks have released differing plans on how the government could achieve this goal, though this push has upset some and neoliberals.

We asked voters if they would support “giving every unemployed American who wants one a job building energy-efficient infrastructure.” Sixty percent of respondents said they somewhat or strongly support the policy, compared to just 13 percent who somewhat or strongly opposed the policy. (The rest were unsure.)  MORE

 

$2 billion oil industry subsidy in the making as Trans Mountain files toll application

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Finance Minister Bill Morneau speaks to reporters in Ottawa about his new budget on Feb. 27, 2018. File photo by Alex Tétreault

Trans Mountain is on track to deliver Canadian oil producers a $2-billion taxpayer-funded toll subsidy for capacity on its existing pipeline and has asked the federal pipeline regulator, the National Energy Board (NEB) for permission.

If the NEB approves the toll application Trans Mountain has filed with it, it will shift the burden for the roughly $3 billion Ottawa paid to buy the regulated assets onto Canadians, rather than into tolls charged to shippers where the recovery of these costs belongs.

The federal government has a duty to make sure Canadian taxpayers are getting a fair deal.

Pipeline companies make money by charging tolls to fossil fuel companies that ship oil and gas on their pipelines. Trans Mountain entered into private discussions with its shippers last fall to determine the tolls that would be charged from 2019 to 2021 since its most recent three-year settlement expired December 31, 2018. The outcome of those discussions resulted in favourable terms for the oil industry borne on the backs of hard-working Canadians.

This unacceptable burden becomes apparent after combing through Trans Mountain’s Incentive Toll Settlement application for 2019 to 2021, filed Jan. 4 with the NEB. Trans Mountain requires NEB approval for the rates it charges shippers for capacity on its existing pipeline, which has been operating since 1953, because it’s an interprovincial facility. MORE

Canadian banks signal that Redwater decision now weighs on oilpatch loans


Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Movement Ottawa organizers Tim Kitz and Trycia Bazinet, with speaker Kirk Kitzul, shake hands with Elgin Street TD Bank branch manager Reilly Vamplew on April 8, 2017 at a pipeline protest. Photo by Alex Tétreault

A recent landmark Supreme Court ruling upholding environmental rights is a new wrinkle influencing how wide Canada’s banks open their wallets when lending to the oilpatch.

The Canadian Bankers Association (CBA), which represents Canada’s “big five” banks and dozens of others, said the industry “respects” a Jan. 31 Supreme Court of Canada decision that prioritized cleaning up environmental liabilities over repaying loans.

While the organization told National Observer that banks “remain committed” to working with fossil fuel firms, they also said banks must take “anything” into account in decisions about how much money to loan, and at what price.

…Alberta Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd has said that the provincial NDP government is still reviewing how to crack down on a growing stack of financial liabilities in the oilpatch. These liabilities could be as high as $260 billion, based on internal research by the regulator. MORE

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Banks impacted by court ruling on oil well cleanups, Moody’s says

Wiring Public Policy for Digital Government

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Photo: Shutterstock by Aleksandar Malivuk

Digital government, or E-government, is no longer just an interesting side project aimed at harnessing the power of digital technologies and data analytics to better deliver services and “create public value.” It is now a core priority for many countries, so much so that the UN has a survey that rates how countries compare with one another in embracing technologies and innovations inside government. Canada ranks 23rd among leading countries in e-government development. The hope is that digital government will not only bring efficiencies and more sophisticated use of data (including through artificial intelligence) for a range of programs and services, but will also improve the interaction between citizens and the state.

But before any country can make digital government work, policies and practices must shift. In this feature series, experts look at the challenges associated with the expansion of digital government, and how everything from governance structures to procurement practices and public-service recruitment must be rethought. The writers also examine how public policy-makers must take a proactive role in shaping digital government so that core values and ethics are not put at risk. MORE