Why a Liberal Premier Wants to Pause a Carbon Tax Increase

Why a Liberal Premier Wants to Pause a Carbon Tax Increase

When Canadians debate the place of the country’s oil industry in a carbon-constrained future, the conversation usually focuses on Alberta and, to a lesser extent, Saskatchewan. Often overlooked is Newfoundland and Labrador, where offshore drilling accounts for 5 percent of all of Canada’s oil production and just under a quarter of its light oil.

Oil also contributes indirectly to the province’s economy. While statistics are fuzzy, a large percentage of the fly-in, fly-out workers in Alberta’s oil sands are Newfoundlanders.

I met this week with Andrew Furey, the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, in his office at the legislature that has a commanding view of St. John’s. Mr. Furey, who became premier in 2020, has a number of distinctions. He is the only Liberal premier in the country at the moment, he is an orthopedic surgeon who still practices the minimum number of days necessary to maintain his medical license, and he is a founder of a group that provides medical aid to Haiti.

Our conversation has been edited for space and clarity.

Citing recent inflation, you unsuccessfully asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to suspend the increase of the national carbon tax that ultimately went into effect at the beginning of the month. Mr. Trudeau has challenged you and other premiers to come up with a better idea. Do you share the view of your conservative counterparts that the tax should be eliminated?

No, I said “pause.” Presumably this consumer carbon tax is built to cause people to change behaviors. But we don’t have the options to change behavior here in Newfoundland and Labrador. The infrastructure and availability of electric vehicles just doesn’t exist in Newfoundland and Labrador right now, there are no subways in St. Anthony or Gander.

It’s normal in any policy cycle to re-evaluate a policy as time evolves. Perhaps back in 2016, it was thought that there would be much more availability of electric vehicles, better electricity availability, et cetera. But that’s not the reality of where we live in Newfoundland and Labrador right now. So it deserves at least a pause to see if there’s any other alternatives available. I’m happy that the prime minister has changed his mind and is open to other alternatives. That was not the message he suggested to us in the past.

The province’s current offshore oil projects are either at the end of their life spans or approaching them. Does the industry have a future here, particularly in light of climate change?

We see that our oil and gas industry has a big role to play in this time of transition. The most recent discovery off our shores, approximately a billion barrels of oil, has an eight-kilogram-per-barrel footprint of carbon. The oil sands are currently at 80 kilograms for each barrel.

I hope we all agree that there’s not going to be electric planes or hydrogen planes in the next few years. So the world is going to need petroleum products as we transition, and we think that our product is the best for that transition.

This is not a dead industry in our province in any way, shape or form.

You are a physician who is also, in effect, the head of the province’s health care system. How will you sort out its current struggles, which it shares with many other places in Canada?

The infrastructure of health care was designed, both from a policy perspective and actual physical infrastructure, for the 1960s, and it hasn’t really evolved to meet the modern demands of Canadians. It is broken right now, and it needs to be fixed.

The problem is a combination of factors, including anemic investment for 10 years in health care.

I firmly believe that changing primary care, the way that we think about it, is so critically important to the future. The romantic notion that a young doc is going to show up in a small rural community, hang his or her shingle out, see people into the middle of the night, seven days a week, caring for you from cradle to grave is not happening anymore. The longer people hold on to that romantic notion, the harder it will be to change.

What we do need is a team-based approach. Because truth be told, you don’t always need to see your family doctor to get your blood pressure medication, or to get your driver’s license form filled out. There are many things that you don’t need the expertise of a family doctor for. Someone else in the team could deal with that and allow the family doctor to deal with complicated medical conditions.

What should Canada be doing for Haiti during its current crisis?

There’s no law and order, it is devastating. It’s time for Canada and the United States to take a lead role, whether they want to or not.

Canada should be taking a lead role in an international stage to come together with a collective force through the U.N. for peacekeeping. It needs to send people, peacekeepers.

I know there’s a lot of things on the international agenda. But the United Nations peacekeeping force was established exactly for this scenario. And we’re failing Haitians as global citizens right now.

This section was compiled by Vjosa Isai, a reporter-researcher based in Toronto.

  • Thousands of sky gazers flocked along the path of totality in Mexico, the United States and Canada to get the best view of the solar eclipse.

  • Enbridge, the Calgary-based company, is fighting demands by the authorities in the United States to shut down a pipeline, known as Line 5, that crosses through tribal land in Wisconsin as it connects Alberta with refineries in Ontario.

  • A government bill that proposes regulating technology companies to reduce harmful content online has stirred opposition from free speech proponents.

  • Robert MacNeil, the Montreal-born, Halifax-raised news anchor who rose to prominence at PBS, has died. He was 93.

  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rebutted election-meddling reports on Wednesday at a federal inquiry into foreign interference.

  • The Times’s Travel section offers a 36-hour itinerary for visiting Toronto.

  • The Canadian actress Rachel McAdams, who hasn’t performed theater roles since college, made her debut on Broadway. She views her acting choices as a way to expand her orbit.

A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for two decades. Follow him on Bluesky at @ianausten.bsky.social

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