Saturday, 25 February 2017

Rural PEI Demise Challenging but Can Be Understood

I was pleased to be asked to speak at a rally for Rural PEI on Islander Day. And remember it's for speaking rather than reading so it may seem a little awkward....

We all know why we’re here….. my feelings about Belfast school are no different than yours…. My son went there in those critical early school years where our kids have that one chance to become curious.. and engaged… make friends… feel part of something bigger than themselves… I saw cos do all of those things and was grateful… to the teachers and everyone else he interacted with at Belfast elementary… and it wasn’t until he went to the much bigger high school in montague that I realized how the size of classes.. the close interaction of teachers and students.. teachers and parents.. the security that comes from being in a community where everyone knows your name were so important…. Belfast has given him a leg-up.. the success he’s enjoying today.. the pleasure he gets from solving problems… working and accomplishing things in a group…. had their origins at Belfast elementary.. I want to make sure that many many more children have that same opportunity.. that’s why I want these smaller schools to stay open…..

And yes there is over crowding in some urban schools that needs to be fixed… zoning will accomplish some of that… but taking away the opportunity for community based education at the elementary level… making primary education for some rural children worse to solve a problem for other children…. Is not fair… it’s no solution….

So what’s going on here….

I spent most of my professional career at cbc .. and as a belfast resident… watching with alarm the hollowing out of rural pei…… and there are obviously strong linkages between why rural communities have been in decline… and now what follows from that… the accountant’s case that the government can no longer afford to keep these small school’s open…. And the education department’s argument that students will be better off bussed to bigger schools outside the community….

Our farmers and fishermen are facing powerful economic forces… from free trade deals internationally… to consolidation in the food wholsale and retail business… many fewer buyers than there were 15 years ago… we as consumers have benefited from all of this.. … But primary producers have not…. these economic forces send a message to farmers… get bigger to compete.. or get out.. and that’s just what happened… we’ve seen farm numbers decrease from around 3000 farms in the mid’80’s… to half that now….

But here’s the thing…. our provincial governments from angus maclean through jim lee.. joe ghiz…. pat binns and yes Robert ghiz and wade maclaughlin have been at their best in my opinion… when they help farmers and fishermen work against these powerful economic forces…. this trend of get big or get out… the lands protection act does this…. the beef plant is a good example… political support for supply management and the success of adl… support for plants owned by fishermen in tignish and the Evangeline… the easy thing is to give in to those economic forces . let deep pocketed corporations run things… but our best politicians over the years have shown courage.. and yes risked provincial dollars…. To keep these industries in community control…. And we need that kind of courage and commitment now when it comes to keeping our schools open….

Now we… the rest of us.. we have to do our part too… look I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to school board elections.. my son grew up left home…. And I let election after election slip by without paying any attention… and the control of our schools slipped away… that’s on us.. and we need a new governance model that keeps not just school age parents involved… but all community members interested in education….

And we have more work to do… a lot of which has begun already…. to try to make use of empty classrooms until school age numbers increase again which they will…

I’ve seen first hand what a community based development corporation can do in Belfast to supply goods and services that otherwise wouldn’t be there… it takes commitment.. and lots of volunteer time and effort…. We in belfast and all other communities are prepared to take on that challenge…. It could lead to community development opportunities…. Even to generate some income… at local schools to help with the redistribution of resources the department says it needs….

We will do that work.. you have our full attention… the work has already begun… but premier mclauchlan we need something from you…. Time… this can’t be done in weeks or a couple of months…. We need a moratorium on school closures.. for at least another year….. it will also give the education department a chance to get up to date on the impact of re-zoning and real bussing costs…. your education department has an obligation to get this information…. we have the right to do more than just comment on what’s already been decided…. we’re ready to do that work….

Premier mclauchlan… I went to the Georgetown conference in the fall of 2013.. the one you chaired…... and I didn’t hear anyone suggest that closing rural schools.. bussing young kids to bigger ones miles down the road..… would help with community development…. We know if these schools close… they’ll never open again…. Don’t let this happen on your watch…… give us a chance to make these small communities a welcoming place for new families… not a place to avoid because there’s no local school….

It’s interesting that when pei wants to show off what’s it’s most proud of… what it wants others to think about… we don’t use a picture of the Wal-Mart in Charlottetown.. or the royal bank building…. It’s cultivated fields… fishing harbours….. cattle grazing in fields….. but behind these shots are the people who shape the landscape with their work… take risks on the open water… or the frozen bays to harvest oysters and mussels in the winter…. People who have chosen a life not many do these days… we should celebrate them… thank them… these are the people who will drive the exports you’re looking for premier mclaughln… invest the money… do the hard work…. But they deserve to be seen as more than just workers or entrepreneurs…. They have families and communities around them.. that’s what sustains and maintains their committment…. and schools are at the heart of these communities… Don’t do anything that would take away that opportunity to give their children the best start to their lives… the kind of opportunity my son had at belfast….

is keeping these schools open the hard choice??? it shouldn’t be but apparently it is…. is counting on community development in the future risky??? yes… but premier mclauchlan… it’s the right thing to do…..

Friday, 10 February 2017

Getting Carbon Pricing Right

I've been doing a fair bit of writing which ends up elsewhere than this blog... I saw something today in i-Politics that matched up with a column I did on carbon pricing and agriculture. Here are both:

Getting Carbon Pricing Right

We’ve all heard this one: "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"  Don’t think too hard about this, it will make your head hurt, but consider this:  “Can a tree left standing, rather than cut, generate some income?”  This is the more important question now as we wrestle with climate change, and the first steps  of raising the cost of burning carbon.

All Canadian provinces (three are resisting)  have been told by the   Federal Government to start pricing carbon no later than  next year.   PEI is joining the majority of provinces and implementing a carbon tax,  while Quebec and Ontario, are using what’s called a cap and trade system. Both approaches have their strengths and weaknesses.  I think that PEI should do more with carbon trading.  

Most economists like a tax. It’s simple. There’s just the question of how much,  who pays, and how to spend the newly raised money.  The policy goal is straightforward, make burning carbon more expensive, and people will use less of it.   A cap and trade system is certainly more complicated.  Governments set pollution limits for different sectors, and then from that,  individual companies are given mandates. Those that produce too much greenhouse gasses have to buy credits.  Over time governments can lower industry thresholds  to meet policy goals. Many complain this allows big companies to carry on business as usual and just buy their way out of doing anything.  They can,  but eventually competitors would gain market share with lower costs and prices.   I’d like to focus on the other side of the ledger. Those that produce less carbon than allowed clearly benefit, but there could be more to this.  In many jurisdictions enterprises that capture carbon, or remove it from the atmosphere,  are also rewarded.  That’s where that tree in the forest comes into play.   

There are carbon trading systems in countries like Australia (they’re as controversial there as anywhere else) that pay landowners to maintain forests to capture carbon as they grow. The rules are strict, forests must stand for decades, up to a century, and people are paid based on the types of trees.  About 50% of the dry weight of  tree roots, trunks, branches and leaves is carbon.   Australian farmers can also benefit from establishing permanent pastures, grasses and forages that capture carbon while growing, and lock it up underground until the soil is disturbed again.  Research ( ) shows these grasslands capture CO2 at a rate of 20 tons per hectare.  Carbon credits for these programs are then sold to big emitters like power companies.  

Farmers across Canada are now coming to terms with carbon pricing including here on PEI.  Last week potato growers were given a broad outline of the impact of climate change, and how carbon pricing will work.  The head of the Climate Change Secretariat Todd Dupuis said, like other provinces,  marked gas used on farms will not be included, but that didn’t stop farmers from asking questions. Many said marked fuel is just a small part of their input costs.  Transportation costs will increase, bulk trucks used to move produce, and so on will now all cost more.  Farmers have good evidence that they can’t pass on these extra costs to consumers, but for a trading province like PEI there are more worries.  With Donald Trump, and a Republican controlled Congress there is little concern or interest in the United States now to tackle climate change, and certainly no chance of a carbon tax. Supermarket prices are generally determined by U.S. markets, so there’s a real risk that Canadian farmers will be uncompetitive with their American counterparts.  A low Canadian dollar will certainly help, but price spreads could increase over time as the carbon tax increases, and the Canadian dollar recovers.   This will offer some protection to consumers, but could severely impact Canadian farmers.  

And consumers enjoy something else,  choice. We’re now supposed to think twice about buying a pick-up truck rather than a four cylinder station wagon, turning on the air conditioner in the summer.  Farmers on the other hand are generally facing fixed costs that can’t be avoided, but if we added carbon credits to the mix then at least landowners who leave trees standing,  or put sloping land into permanent pasture are rewarded rather than made to feel like bad managers.

Todd Dupuis did tell farmers that the government is considering these kinds of carbon credits. Could it be included with a carbon tax? Would PEI join Quebec, Ontario,  and California in a larger carbon trading system?  Manitoba had also been part of this mix, but its new Conservative government says it will do something different.

PEI has more to lose as a province than any other from climate change,  both land erosion and the risk to high priced real estate and waste treatment facilities.  We will do our part by starting to price carbon. We could do even more with a carbon credit scheme.   

Want fair carbon pricing? Embrace carbon trading

Paul Boothe Published Friday, February 10th, 2017

Yesterday in this space, I used B.C. Premier Christy Clark’s call for carbon pricing “fairness” across provinces as a springboard to talk about what constitutes fairness in carbon pricing. I ended up concluding that, depending on your definition, the quest for ‘fairness’ could result in equalizing carbon prices across the provinces, or equalizing per capita emissions — or neither.
Premier Clark’s argument for equal prices is a simple one: that everyone should face the same carbon price regardless of where in Canada they live, and so, the federal government should require that carbon prices be equalized across the provinces.
In fact, even if your personal definition of fairness requires that everyone face the same carbon price, it doesn’t follow that price equality should be dictated by the federal government. How carbon price equality is achieved can have an important impact on economic growth.
To understand why, it’s worthwhile to go back to the rationale for using carbon pricing as a key tool in our efforts to reduce GHG emissions. Putting a price on carbon emissions creates an incentive for us to reduce them. There are many ways to reduce emissions. For example, we might drive our cars less by planning our trips to the store better, or by walking or cycling for short trips. Or we could take advantage of the latest technology to switch to more fuel-efficient vehicles.
A key benefit of carbon pricing is that it combines the incentive to reduce emissions with flexibility in how we do it. That flexibility allows firms and individuals to find less expensive ways to meet our GHG reduction targets and thus reduces the impact on consumers’ incomes, firms’ profits and economic growth.
This isn’t the end of the story, however. To take full advantage of the flexibility that carbon pricing offers, we need markets. Carbon pricing gives individuals and firms the ability to choose among different actions they can take by themselves. Trading in carbon markets allows them to access to the full range of possible emission-reducing actions in the economy. This added flexibility has the potential to lower the cost of reducing GHGs even further.
A simple example can illustrate the point. Suppose a firm operates in a province where the carbon tax is $30 per tonne. In the course of producing their products they emit one tonne of CO2. The compliance choices they face are to pay the carbon tax or invest in CO2-reducing technology. The option they choose will depend on how much the new technology costs. If it costs more than $30 to eliminate the tonne of carbon they produce, the firm will comply by paying the tax.
If it costs less, the firm will invest and avoid the tax. Let’s assume the new technology reduces emissions at a cost of $20 per tonne and so the firm invests.
But what if the firm had the option to pay a company in another province to reduce emissions by one tonne at a cost of $15? It could then reduce total national emissions by the same amount at a lower cost, thus increasing their profits (and taxes) or investments in growth and jobs by $5.
The downside, from the point of view of that company’s provincial government, is that money may flow to reduce emissions elsewhere rather than into the provincial economy and treasury.
The flexibility to reduce emissions at the lowest available cost is exactly what carbon trading allows. Indeed, the ability to trade reductions with California is why Quebec and Ontario can meet GHG reduction targets that are more ambitious than the national one (both in terms of absolute per capita reductions and per capita levels of emissions) at a lower cost than the national carbon price.
Carbon trading is not only efficient, but it may also help improve the perceptions of relative ‘fairness’ of provincial carbon pricing regimes. For example, individuals and firms in all provinces could participate in a pan-Canadian trading system, and allow the reductions generated from these projects to be counted towards their obligations in both cap-and-trade and carbon tax systems. A pan-Canadian market would provide a degree of linkage between provincial systems to give access to the lowest cost reductions and promote greater equality of carbon prices across jurisdictions.
Both efficiency and fairness are important considerations when designing an emissions-reduction scheme, but there are efficient and inefficient ways to achieve fairness. An inefficient way is to have a common carbon price dictated by government. An efficient way is to let markets provide everyone with access to the lowest-cost options for meeting our GHG targets.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by all iPolitics columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of iPolitics.