Prime Minister Trudeau is Wrong on “Polluting for Free” – Here’s Why.

Op-ed contributed by Michelle Stirling © 2018

Michelle Stirling is the Communications Manager for Friends of Science, a member of CAJ and the AAAS.  She formerly worked for Alberta Environment and was a sub-contractor to Alberta Employment for several years. She is one of the top 10% downloaded authors on SSRN – Social Science Research Network. Stirling is also a contributing author on Medium. 


On the news that Manitoba is pulling out of a proposed carbon tax, Prime Minister Trudeau reportedly said it’s “puzzling… why Conservatives insist on making pollution free.”

“We would prefer to work with provinces right across the country, but if they are unwilling to make sure that polluters pay, we will bring in federal measures to both collect a price on pollution and return that money to hardworking citizens right across the country.” 

The Prime Minister and Minister McKenna continue to repeat such misinformation.  In Saskatchewan the Prime Minister claimed that “One of the Fundamental elements of why we have this carbon pollution in the atmosphere, is that polluting has been free.”

That’s simply not true.  Since the 1970’s, ever increasing regulatory measures and emissions guidelines have been put in place for all forms of industry and transportation.  A national air quality monitoring system (NAPS) was set up and it has steadily monitored and ensured that polluting emissions are reduced – dramatically.  As well, the provinces and most large industrial emitters also have on-site monitoring for important reasons:

1) they want to ensure they are below or at allowable emissions levels;

2) industry has their own equipment for internal review and for compliance in the event they are charged with exceeding their allowable emissions;

3) technical equipment failure or poor calibration is possible;

4) in the case of extremely noxious substances, the public may be at risk of exceedance and this must be avoided at all costs;

5) the corporate consequences for exceeding allowable emission levels are stiff fines or plant shut-downs or other consequences.

Polluters have paid to implement emissions reduction technology, they have paid to install monitoring systems, they continue to pay various levels of taxes and penalties related to the types of noxious emissions, they have paid to create layers of legal, regulatory staff and compliance reporting systems – and if these measures fail, they pay very stiff penalties for polluting.  The company operations can be shut down – which costs them thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars a day. In addition, many corporate employees live or work in the region and care about their environment and communities – they want clean air for themselves and their children.

You taxpayers have paid to pollute as well.  There are fuel taxes on gas and diesel.   Car manufacturers have paid to upgrade vehicle engine and exhaust design to reduce emissions – and that is passed on to you in vehicle price, but you benefit – with cleaner air.  The greatest “Ground level contaminants” (at the level of human breathing) come from vehicle exhaust.  As the late Jim Prentice pointed out during his public debate for the 2015 Alberta election, he was the Environment Minister who introduced the more stringent fuel efficiency standards in Canada, cleaning up the air you breath.

In Prime Minister Trudeau’s Sept. 16, 2018,  Saskatoon homily on ‘treating the atmosphere like a sewer” he refers to a theoretical example of one company operating without expensive pollution controls having a commercial advantage over a competitor with such emissions controls.

Ironically, he is making the case against his demand for even more carbon taxes.

The greatest emitters in the world are China, India and the United States.  Only the US has any comparable ‘clean air’ emissions legislation to Canada, the biggest emitters have none! 

The US does have stringent emissions controls . However,  Canada’s more stringent environmental regulations and carbon tax make us much less competitive. (not to mention our competitive disadvantages of a very cold climate and vast shipping distances- both of which naturally require more energy for even basic operations.)

Clean Air Regulatory Agenda

US-Canada Air Quality Agreement

So, what is the Prime Minister really saying? He’s conflating carbon dioxide (CO2), a benign gas, with noxious pollutants.  Does he want us to follow the folly of France? In trying to reduce carbon dioxide, they offered incentives to diesel – resulting in terrible urban air pollution – worse than Beijing. The irony? Otherwise, France is all on nuclear power for electrical generation – deemed to be ‘clean.’

Canadians do care about the planet and air quality, we have gone the extra mile to reduce noxious emissions – and the result has been that we are a less competitive nation on the world market for manufacturing and resource extraction.

The Prime Minister is sorely ignorant of all that Canadian scientific, engineering experts and industry partners have done to make sure we have some of the cleanest air in the world – along with the best manufacturing, human rights and safety practices on the job.

The Prime Minister wrongly denigrated industry leaders as being uncaring buffoons in claiming that “…right now we are polluting the atmosphere, and it’s free. There’s no cost associated with, you know, polluting.”

Robert Lyman, Ottawa energy policy consultant, reported that there are already some 37 different GHG reduction measures in place – taxes, regulations, subsidies – at the federal level, costing uncalculated billions of dollars and with no audit or evaluation as to how well they are achieving stated objectives.

At the provincial level, there are dozens of fuel tax-related measures across Canada.

Sadly, the Prime Minister and Minister McKenna are completely misinformed on this file, and misinforming Canadians. Here is Minister McKenna …mystified.  Perhaps someone will send her this op-ed to inform her.




Dr. Judith Curry explains why carbon dioxide is not the control knob that can fine tune climate:

Click to access curry-senatetestimony-2014-final.pdf

Alberta’s First Climate Leadership Plan was Established in 2002

Foreign billionaires’ plan to push global cap and trade by funding local ENGOs:

ClimateWorks Foundation – WikiLeaks



1 Comment

  1. Rick Kozak

    Good read.

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