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When the Alberta government introduced its carbon dioxide emissions tax, ministers often claimed that if they hadn’t, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would impose his own tax, leaving taxpayers worse off.
More than a year later, New Brunswick is challenging that ‘we have no choice’ assertion. In December, Premier Brian Gallant’s government announced that instead of introducing a new carbon tax, they are rebranding a portion of their gasoline tax as a carbon tax and redirecting the cash into a fund to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Critics of the New Brunswick’s plan are skeptical. Redirecting existing funds means less money for general revenues and seldom do taxpayers see governments do more with less. A green fund can easily become a money pit of black hole proportions (see Ontario).
But while federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna directed some disapproving comments at New Brunswick – and repeated that Ottawa will impose the federal price on any jurisdiction that doesn’t apply it – to date it’s all talk.
With N.B. voters going to the polls in 2018, Trudeau is unlikely to push an unpopular carbon tax on would-be Liberal voters, threatening Gallant’s Liberal government.
Voters know they’re already paying carbon taxes by another name anyway.
Carbon tax proponents insist that increasing the cost of carbon (on things like gasoline) will encourage people to use less of it.
Gas taxes have gone up. Before the current NDP government came into office, Alberta’s gas tax was increased by four cents to 13 cents per litre, without a carbon tax. New Brunswick’s gas tax is already a weighty 15.5 cents per litre – more than 50 per cent higher than the 10-cent federal excise tax.
If you want high taxes on people driving their kids to school and moving groceries from farms to shops, you already have it.
In Alberta, the environment minister continues to scoff at scrapping the tax, which United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney vows he’ll do. The minister maintains that Ottawa would have acted if Alberta hadn’t introduced its own new tax (never mind that Alberta’s was imposed earlier and at a higher rate than the federal plan).
But the list of provinces challenging that in one way or another is growing.
If Trudeau is bluffing, several premiers are now calling it.
Manitoba’s government challenged Trudeau’s declaration by imposing a carbon tax at half the federal price.
And a carbon tax was noticeably absent in Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall’s climate change strategy.
New Brunswick’s plan employs political wordplay. Saskatchewan’s strategy of simply saying no is much clearer. For any government that sees the value in affordable energy, the only fair solution is no carbon tax at all.
But New Brunswick’s plan has illustrated again that despite Trudeau’s declarations, the provinces have their own priorities and, importantly, their own taxpayers to answer to. That’s a wake-up call for carbon tax enthusiasts, as well as Alberta government ministers still clinging to the defence that Ottawa will drop a carbon tax on the province like a lump of coal in their stockings.
It’s a political game of chicken. In the meantime, Alberta taxpayers have been paying the carbon tax for a full year. As an added New Year’s treat, the tax increased by a further 50 per cent on Jan. 1.
Wearing thin is the insistence from the Alberta government, and carbon tax proponents across Canada, that there was no other way this could have played out.
Paige MacPherson is a contributing writer to Canadians for Affordable Energy and works for a taxpayer research and advocacy group.
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