Steven Guilbeault, Star Liberal Candidate, Suggests Carbon Price Might Need To Rise

A star Liberal candidate and environmentalist appears to have deviated from the party’s campaign playbook by conceding the carbon price might need to rise for Canada to hit its Paris climate targets.

“We’ll have to see,” Steven Guilbeault told a reporter at a press conference in Montreal Friday who asked him directly if the carbon tax needs to go up to hit those goals.

“There are many measures… people seem to think that carbon tax will fix everything. It’s one of many tools that can be used in the fight against climate change.”

Just ahead of the climate strike in that city, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau announced that, if re-elected, his government will cover the costs of planting two billion trees over the next decade.

While taking questions, a reporter asked to hear from Guilbeault, who is running in the Quebec riding of Laurier-Sainte-Marie. Guilbeault helped found the environmental advocacy group Equiterre in 1993 and spent 10 years working for Greenpeace.

Watch that exchange in the clip below from CPAC at the 16:27 mark:


The activist was asked if he thinks Liberal policies will meet Canada’s goal of cutting annual greenhouse gas emissions to 30 per below 2005 levels by 2030, and if the carbon price must increase.

The Liberals have imposed a price on pollution of $20 per tonne on Ontario, Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Saskatchewan, with Alberta to face the same tax in January. That price will rise each year to $50 per tonne in 2022.

Guilbeault initially responded by touting what Liberals have done already, saying that, when he announced he was running for the party months ago, he challenged anyone to show him a government that has done more on climate change in four years. 

“No one has answered my challenge,” he said. “Is it perfect? No. But have we done more than anybody else? Absolutely.” 

He said it is “absolutely” doable for Canada to meet its targets over the next 11 years, stressing that the carbon price is one of 50 different measures to achieve that goal.

For every $1 the government has invested to buy the Trans Mountain pipeline — a project Guilbeault opposes — “they’ve invested $15 in the fight against climate change.”

Trudeau then stepped in to, in his words, “directly” answer the question about whether the carbon tax needs to rise. The Liberal leader said his climate plan increases the price on carbon only until 2022. 

“And, in 2022… well, we get an election in 2023 to talk about the next steps of our plan,” he said.

Conservatives are pledging to scrap the Liberal carbon pricing regime and have argued repeatedly on the campaign trail that, if re-elected, the carbon price will go higher than Liberals are saying. 

Tory candidates sometimes point to a June report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) saying a carbon price of $102 per tonne would be needed to hit Paris targets, if carbon pricing was the only tool the federal government was using to fight climate change.

Watch: Trudeau unveils Liberal climate plan


In August, The Globe and Mail ran a story stating that Catherine McKenna, who has served as the environment minister since 2015, “backed off” the Liberal pledge to keep the rate at $50 per tonne after 2022. McKenna later clarified that Liberals would review the carbon price towards the end of a possible second mandate.

Still, Guilbeault tweeted at the time that the price should “reflect the cost” of climate change to society.

At a leaders’ debate hosted by Maclean’s and CityTV earlier this month, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer charged that Trudeau “will make your life less affordable by ramping up that carbon tax.”

The Tory leader consistently fails to mention that Canadians in provinces that have had a federal carbon tax imposed on them will receive rebates to offset higher costs for gas and heating. The PBO estimates most Canadians in those jurisdictions would get back more than they pay.

Scheer’s climate plan, which would see big polluters forced to invest in green technology, lacks clear emissions targets. Mark Jaccard, a Simon Fraser University professor and member of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has concluded the Tory plan would actually cause emissions to rise.

 With files from The Canadian Press

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