’We’ve got to put a price on carbon. We’re doing just that’

After the National Roundtable released its report on January 7, 2008—see yesterday’s post—John Baird met with reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons to respond. Here is a transcript of that news conference, emphasis mine.

Reporter: So the NRTEE says carbon tax or a cap and trade system on that idea alone. Is your government ready to consider a carbon tax?

Baird: No. Not at all. What we are prepared to do is we believe that we have to put a price on carbon. That’s what our regulatory regime does. We’re regulating mandatory reductions for all the big polluters in the country. They’re going to have to reduce their emissions significantly by 2010 and then constant improvement. We think that’s the best way to go. There will be many compliance mechanisms. The first are real and deep reductions in the carbon that’s emitted by Canadian industry. And then we’ve said we’re keen and enthusiastic about trading, not just within Canada but working with the United States, with Mexico, with states like California and others. Anyone who wants to trade in North America. So we’re very keen on that.

We’re going to move full speed ahead with our program. What we’re not going to do is be like Stéphane Dion and the Liberals who constantly change their position, their policy. I understand the Liberals are now entertaining dumping their current policy, policy number 8 by my count, and adopting a completely new policy. Every time a report comes out, you can’t change your mind. So we’re moving aggressively on our plan. We believe we can regulate emissions lower by the big polluters under a strong principle of polluter pays.

Reporter: What’s that like?

Baird: That will be established in the marketplace. We’ll have trading within Canada. We’ll have an offset regime. And those regimes will be established by the market in the country. But the first thing should be real and genuine deep reductions in house. That’s obviously our first priority. We’ll also have clean development mechanisms under the Kyoto Protocol and those are obviously done on a market basis as well.

Reporter: How long before that system is in place, though, do you think?

Baird: We think the best way to do it … we think a new tax sounds like a Liberal idea to me. We believe we can regulate reductions in greenhouse gases. We regulated lead out of gasoline. We think this is a similar approach. They’re using it in other parts of North America and we think it’s the best approach to achieve real reductions.

Reporter: How long before that regulatory regime can be in place well enough that we can have the trading that all this stuff can actually work and make a difference?

Baird: We’re completely on track to have the rubber hit the road in 2010. We served notice more than a year ago and then in April that all major polluters in the country will have to reduce their emissions by 6% a year for the first three years and then a constant improvement of 2%. We’ve worked hard with environmental groups, with health groups, with industry and the provinces on this plan and when we have something to announce further, sort of more meat on the bone, we’ll be discussing that publicly in the future.

Reporter: Are you going to have something beyond the Technology Fund? Or what are the polluters paying into?

Baird: There’s the Technology Fund. There’s clean development mechanisms. There’s an offset regime. There’s domestic trading. There’s the potential for international trading where we would join with a state like California and its block. You know … at some point maybe in the future with a national government in Mexico and the United States.

We’ll see. But the key thing is we’ve got to continue to go full speed ahead with our plan to regulate the big polluters, to get them to reduce their emissions. The report out by the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy talks to a lot of the things that we’re doing. We’ve got to put a price on carbon. We’re doing just that. We’ve got to have an approach that seeks to deal with air pollution at the same time. We’ve got to take real action in the short term but we’ve also got to have medium and long term plans. Technology – the report speaks to that in great volume. That’s why, whether it’s with the regulatory regime or the Technology Fund, whether it’s with other initiatives that we’ve announced in the government, we’re getting the job done.

Reporter: … think a carbon tax is preferable to cap and trade.

Baird: Who?

Reporter: The oil producers in Calgary.

Baird: Well, the oil industry is not setting policy.

Reporter: What about the argument made by the Roundtable that the action needs to be deep and really fast in order to make the difference and attain the long term goals, the ambitious goals that you want to. Do you feel that 2010 is fast enough?

Baird: We’re moving as quickly as is humanly possible. I think industry and environmental groups have talked about this being a gargantuan effort. This will be some of the biggest regulation the country has ever seen, to regulate all the big polluters. It’s not an easy or simple task. If it was, it would have been done years ago. But the key point is that we have announced significant and deep reductions that industry is already responsible for. Six percent last year, six percent this year and an additional 6% next year. So if they’re waiting to read the fine print, that’ll be a huge mistake, because we’ve already served notice of the deep reductions that are required. And then a constant 2% improvement. We’re taking real action. We’re committed to it. We’re going to continue to move forward full speed.

Reporter: What about what the report said that data is based on intensity. Is that something you’re willing to change?

Baird: Listen, a key part of our plan is … you know if it was only a 20% intensity cut that just doesn’t cut it. We need absolute reductions. That’s why our plan is designed for an absolute 20% reduction. We turn the corner as early as 2010 or as late as 2012 and that’s a key part of our plan. One last question?

Reporter: Market mechanisms – that’s the way that the NRTEE says only the market can get us where we want to go.

Baird: We totally agree, we totally agree. That’s why we’ve got an offset, a national offset regime. Domestic trading, international trading, the clean development mechanism proposal. But we hope those will all be secondary to absolute and real reductions in house, which should be the goal. Thank you very much.

By the Harper government’s current reckoning—that a price on carbon is a tax on carbon—this would seem to be John Baird simultaneously opposing and proposing a carbon tax.

Here again is everything you need to know about the Conservatives’ carbon tax farce.