The jig is up for Canada's carbon tax laggards

Author: Gary Mason


Publish Date: Monday, January 15, 2018

This opinion column was first published on January 12, 2018, in The Globe and Mail.

Jason Kenney has spent months now gleefully ripping Alberta's NDP government for the carbon tax it brought in and just raised to $30 a tonne.

The United Conservative Party Leader has made a low-budget video of himself filling up his trusty blue pick-up, while complaining about how much more it costs now as a result of Rachel Notley's dreaded tax. He vows it will be among the first things to go if he and his party take power in two years' time.

It's been a popular pitch in a province still feeling the effects of a dramatic drop in the price of oil. It's also a fundamentally dishonest one.

What Kenney doesn't mention is the fact there is a pan-national climate agreement in this country, one that was signed off on in 2016 and that is due to take effect later this year. The provinces all have been put on notice that Ottawa expects to receive details soon from them of how each intends to fulfill its commitment under the deal. The federal carbon tax is set to start at $10 a tonne this year and rise annually to $50 a tonne by 2022.

The four biggest provinces in the country – Ontario, Quebec, B.C. and Alberta – all have carbon taxes or the equivalent (cap-and-trade programs) already in place. Manitoba has agreed to set a $25-a-tonne tax and freeze it there. That won't do in the long term but satisfies the terms of the accord for a couple of years anyway. The Maritimes are still getting themselves sorted out. The biggest holdout has been Saskatchewan.

Premier Brad Wall has been adamant about not allowing such a tax to be imposed on the good people of his province. He has threatened to take the feds to court if they try to force the tax on the province this year. But Wall is also leaving provincial politics later this month, and so this will be someone else's concern with which to deal. All the contenders for his job have vowed to carry on the good fight in his name.

This is a situation that Environment Minister Catherine McKenna will soon have to deal with. As I understand it, her ministry may be providing more details around exactly how this is all going to play out. There needs to be some certainty around this process.

If Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Environment Minister ever hope to meet the exceedingly ambitious climate targets they have set for this country, they have to get serious now. And it starts with getting tough with those holdout jurisdictions that feel they can let this matter drag out for a few years. That can't happen.

And it can't happen because other provinces, and the taxpayers that inhabit them, are already paying that tax. How long do you think Ontario or Quebec or Alberta are going to tolerate being the only ones asking their citizens to pay extra every time they go to the gas pump? Meantime, provinces like Saskatchewan aren't paying anything. That is not a situation that would be allowed to persist.

That is why the new leader of the Saskatchewan Party, the one who has the unenviable job of following in the footsteps of arguably the most popular premier in the province's history, is going to have trouble backing up Wall's tough talk. Ottawa insists it has the legal authority to impose a carbon tax on the provinces and territories that don't create their own and I can't see why that would not be the case.

Which brings us back to Kenney.

At some point, he is going to have to come clean about exactly how he intends to get rid of a tax that the federal government is making the rest of the country pay. What is the legal foundation of the argument he plans to mount in court, assuming it ends up there? And refusing to spell it out on the grounds he doesn't want to tip his hand doesn't count as an answer.

Kenney could well be the next premier of Alberta. The job comes with awesome responsibilities, not the least of which is being straight-up with the people.

Gary Mason is a Vancouver-based columnist who writes on B.C. affairs and issues affecting Western Canada.

Leave a Comment

Related News