Energy Policies

Quebecers Want to Fight Climate Change But Worry About the Bottom Line

Quebecers want to fight climate change. But according to a new Léger Marketing poll, they're also concerned about the economic costs of doing so.

Of the 1,000 Quebecers who responded to the poll conducted in mid-August, 54 per cent were initially in favour of the Western Climate Initiative, the carbon market formed by Quebec and California that's set to come into effect in January, and just 13 per cent were opposed to its adoption.

But once respondents learned that it could lead to a 3¢ per litre increase in the price they would have to pay at the pump, opposition to this measure tripled, to 46%, while support fell by a third, to 36 per cent.

Now, 3¢ a litre might not sound like much. But consider that a Canadian family with two cars already easily pays over $1,200 a year in gasoline taxes. That's a substantial amount of money. And some calculations predict that this cap and trade agreement will lead to a 10¢ per litre hike in the price of gasoline by the end of the decade.

A carbon market, also known as a cap and trade agreement, is a mechanism for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that allows organizations to buy and sell "pollution permits." This is not necessarily a bad idea in theory. But many Quebecers, when they have a chance to think about it, find that the price to be paid under this cap and trade system is just too high. And it's not just a question of more expensive fuel; it's also a question of a loss of competitiveness for Quebec businesses and a general drag on the provincial economy.

Consider also the fact that Quebecers already pay some of the highest gasoline taxes in Canada, and the fact that no other provinces or American states are joining the initiative, which will make the price of gas across the American border or the Ottawa River even more attractive comparatively speaking.

Quebec's GHG emissions per capita are already the lowest in Canada. Why not wait for other provinces or American states to come on board before jumping into this agreement with California only? It's what the Western Climate Initiative was initially supposed to be — an agreement between seven American states and four Canadian provinces, including Ontario — and it's what pragmatic Quebecers think we should do as well.

Michel Kelly-Gagnon is President and CEO of the Montreal Economic Institute. The views reflected in this column are his own.

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