Sparks fly between Rebel Media, McKenna over 'climate Barbie' moniker

Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna challenged Rebel Media at press conference over 'derogatory' label

Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, left, pictured here with former premier Christy Clark.

A press conference with federal and provincial environment ministers following a meeting in Vancouver today, November 3, got a bit toxic when Canada’s Environment Minister, Catherine McKenna was asked a question on the Site C dam by a Rebel Media reporter.

The Rebel Media has referred to McKenna as “Climate Barbie” in story headlines and tweets in the past.

“Can I get a commitment from you that you will not use that hashtag and not use that name in your articles?” McKenna asked, after she was asked by a Rebel Media reporter if she thought large-scale hydro projects like Site C dam were valuable in reducing greenhouse gases as the world transitions from fossil fuels.

After a brief exchange, and getting assurances from the reporter he would not use “names that are derogatory to women,” McKenna eventually said “yes” that large-scale hydro is “one of the solutions.”

McKenna was in Vancouver for a meeting of the  Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) to discuss issues ranging from mercury levels in Inuit communities from coal power to the recalcitrance of some provinces in meeting new federal carbon pricing rules.

B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman is the CCME’s outgoing president. McKenna will replace him as president.

Heyman announced a new online air quality report that details the progress Canada has made in reducing various types of air pollution, like sulfur oxides and particulate matter.

McKenna also addressed questions about Manitoba’s recent announcement that it does not plan to set its new carbon tax at $50 per tonne by 2022, as mandated by the federal government.

An effort by the Trudeau government to create a pan-national climate action plan through carbon pricing is turning into something of a dog’s breakfast of uneven pricing schemes.

One year ago, the Trudeau government gave the province’s marching orders to implement some form of carbon pricing, either a carbon tax or cap-and-trade, by 2018.

In 2018, all provinces that don’t already have it are required to implement some form of carbon pricing, at $10 per tonne of CO2. It is then supposed to rise to $50 per tonne by 2022.

B.C. was the first province to introduce economy-wide carbon pricing. B.C.’s carbon tax is $30 per tonne, and will rise by $5 in the spring of 2018 to $35 per tonne – $25 per tonne higher than it needs to be under the new federal law.

Alberta also has a new carbon tax, and Quebec and Ontario have had cap-and-trade.

Saskatchewan is refusing to put a price on carbon, while two other provinces that don’t have carbon pricing have announced plans that may not meet federal requirements.

Manitoba last week announced plans to cap its carbon tax at $25 per tonne – not $50. It points to its massive hydro power assets as investments Manitoba has made over the years that already makes for a comparatively low carbon footprint – an argument B.C. could make as well, but never has.

“Our plan also does take into account that we’ve been a leader in green since 1906, when we developed our first hydro-electric transmission,” said Rochelle Squires, Manitoba’s minister of Sustainable Development.

“We are taking a lot of steps to reduce our carbon footprint, including (being) the only jurisdiction in Canada that has legislated targets for demand side management to reduce our usage of fossil fuels and electricity.”

It has been argued that carbon pricing is not the only effective tool for reducing greenhouse gases. And in some cases, it may be that carbon pricing may not be all that effective, if the pricing scheme isn't done right.

Nova Scotia, for example, may be falling out of the good graces of the Pembina Institute, which has praised the province for driving down emissions through clean energy policies, but which is now being upbraided for a cap-and-trade system appears to have no actual cap and which gives industries pollution credits indefinitely.

The result is a system that is not “credible,” according to a recent opinion piece by the Pembina Institute. It warns that, unless Nova Scotia strengthens its cap-and-trade proposal, it runs the risk of having the federal government step in to backstop it.

“In order for a pan-Canadian carbon pricing approach to be effective, the federal government needs to play the essential role of referee: they need to ensure carbon pricing systems are fair, and they lead to necessary emissions reductions,” the Pembina Institute writes.

“Ottawa mustn’t let provinces off the hook when they put forward weak policy—that’s true for Nova Scotia, and will remain true as other provinces like Manitoba, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick set their carbon pricing systems too.”

Asked what her government would do about Manitoba, if it does not agree to set its carbon tax to a rate that will meet federally mandated levels, McKenna said: “Manitoba’s price will comply for the first two years, and after that it will have to step up."

In addition to national carbon pricing, the Trudeau government more recently announced plans to implement a low carbon fuel standard. Again, B.C. is already out in front on that score. B.C. has had a low-carbon fuel standard for several years now.