What (and who) is the Ecofiscal Commission (Part III)?

People in Ontario have seen some of this before … it didn’t end well

Part one in this series dealt with the creation of the Ecofiscal Commission and had a short review of its commissioners (economists), advisors and funders. Part Two looked at the Chris Ragan/TVO interview with Steve Paikin and several of the claims made by Mr. Ragan, Chair of the Commission.

Today, I deal with the significant influence the Ecofiscal Commission and its economists/commissioners have had in respect to the Pan-Canadian Framework and various government documents created in support of “pricing carbon pollution”.  The Pan-Canadian Framework gives special mention to “Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission” in a call-out on page 7: “Carbon pricing is the most practical and cost‑effective way to lower GHG emissions while encouraging low‑carbon innovation — Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission”.  The only other non-government credit handed out is to the World Bank.  That alone speaks volumes about Ecofiscal’s influence!

Chris Ragan’s influence was obvious in his appearance at the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development November 1, 2018 where he dazzled them! In his presentation he suggested: “The proposed federal backstop is also a quite well-designed policy,” and went on to say: “there are two main challenges that you need to address. One is the impact on business competitiveness. The second is the impact on household purchasing power.” He also claimed “you can however, design policies in a way that address those challenges head-on” and “This is the output-based pricing element of the federal backstop”.

(Mr. Ragan’s views on this echo what Ontarians were told when the Green Energy and Economy Act was presented. Consumers, both residential and businesses, would become innovative in order to reduce the use of electricity. We know how that worked out!)

The questions posed to Ragan were gentle and he handled them with conviction. Ragan answered one question by saying: “I am not an expert on the number of tonnes we have to go, basically because that’s not our focus.” Huh?

One of the issues ignored by the media in respect to the Pan-Canadian Framework is how it is really more than just “pricing carbon pollution” via the carbon tax. It also established “clean fuel standards” which “would promote the use of clean technology and lower carbon fuels, and promote alternatives such as electricity, biogas, and hydrogen.”  Additionally, the federal government will establish a “methane regulation” and “energy efficiency/building code amendments”.  Along with that array of additional costs for businesses and households in Canada, the government would be able to purchase foreign “carbon offsets” using our tax dollars.  In effect, the Pan-Canadian Framework adopted by the First Ministers of the 10 provinces and three territories on March 3, 2016, referred to as the “Vancouver Declaration on Clean Growth and Climate Change,” created as many as five ways Canada’s taxpayers and businesses will be hit with costs.

On October 3, 2016, Environment and Climate Change Canada issued a press release containing a quote from Minister McKenna stating: “Pricing pollution is one of the most efficient ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to stimulate innovation. Already 80 percent of Canadians live in a province where there is pollution pricing. We want to continue this trend and cover the final 20 percent.”

As most people now know, that 80 percent has fallen significantly with the election of the Ford government in Ontario and is likely to fall further pending the outcome of the upcoming Alberta election.

Needless to say, the Environment and Climate Change Ministry put out several documents to augment their views and the wonders of “pollution pricing” in driving down emissions. One of those documents was referenced as “Estimated impacts of the Federal Carbon Pollution Pricing System”.  Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission is touted for its recommendations and is cited three times in the “Endnotes”. 

One of the ENGOs, the Pembina Institute, also gets two nods in the Endnotes, one of which states:

“Pollution from coal power plants results in health issues that cost the health care system over $800 million annually, according to a study performed by the Pembina Institute in 2014.” Now in yet another Pembina Report a year earlier they had this claim: “According to the analysis, climate change impacts from coal-fired power range from $1.1 to 4.5 billion annually.”

Pick a number, any number, seems to be the theme, so politicians and ministry officials apparently do nothing to confirm what they are told!

The Ecofiscal Commission is also to be an intervenor in the Ontario Court of Appeal in respect to “the matter dealing with the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act (GGPPA)”. Their “Factum” was handled by none other than Stewart Elgie, a professor of law and economics at the University of Ottawa, and director of the University’s interdisciplinary Environment Institute and founder of Ecojustice. The latter is also scheduled to be an intervenor. The factum clearly indicates Ecofiscal’s support for the Federal carbon tax and makes this assertion under 12 (a) of the factum: “The use of price-based regulation minimizes the costs to provincial economies — saving an estimated $70 billion per year across Canada, compared to prescriptive regulations, based on the CEC’s economic modeling.”

The suggested $70 billion seems like a stretch but perhaps as the bulk of the commissioners in Ecofiscal are quasi-government employees perhaps they are confident that the annual costs would be 225% more than the combined 2018 budgets of both Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Perhaps they are trying to make the case that by 2022 the carbon tax priced at $50/tonne will only extract $35 billion (based on Canada’s 2016 emissions of 704,000 tonnes). Their argument apparently is that we would be saving $35 billion annually by simply accepting their “economic modeling.” As a former banker, I have trouble buying into their suggestion.

As an Ontarian, It is hard for me to believe this is anything more than our experience from the creation of the Green Energy and Green Economy Act (GEA). It even includes some of the players involved in that fiasco via the GEAA (Green Energy Act Alliance) whose goal was: “to make Ontario a global leader in clean, renewable energy and conservation, creating thousands of jobs, economic prosperity, energy security, and climate protection.” The GEAA basically wrote the GEA for the McGuinty government.

We all know how that turned out!