On the heels of the federal government announcing plans to offset a carbon tax by providing rebate cheques to Canadian families, Saskatchewan’s premier is promising to continue fighting the proposed levy in court.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau laid out the plan for rebates Tuesday morning at an event in Toronto.
“We will send a climate action incentive directly to Canadians to help them adjust to an economy in which pollution is no longer free,” he said.
The cheques would go to households in Ontario, New Brunswick, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, the provinces that haven’t agreed to put in place their own carbon tax or cap-and-trade systems, leaving the federal government to impose its own tax.
Speaking Tuesday on Gormley, Premier Scott Moe blasted the federal plan.
“This is most certainly not an environmental policy at this point in time. This is a cynical vote-buying scheme heading into the next election,” he said.
Moe said he’d learned the federal government would be looking to apply the carbon tax to power and heat generated by SaskPower and SaskEnergy. He said he felt the province had a strong case against the proposed change.
“SaskPower (and) SaskEnergy are a level of the Saskatchewan government and we have always said and it’s been identified through the constitution that one level of government is not able to tax another level of government,” he said.
Moe said the Government of Saskatchewan would be continuing to challenge the tax in court.
The federal government calculated a Saskatchewan family of four would receive a $609 cheque in 2019.
Premier Moe expressed concerns with that calculation, saying it’s made on assumptions that do not line up with the reality of living in Saskatchewan.
He explained Ottawa assumed the average Canadian family owns one car per household while in Saskatchewan the average is 1.7, according to the premier.
Moe does not accept that Saskatchewan families will be better off, even with the rebate.
“This is Saskatchewan. Most of us have to drive a lot. We drive to work. We drive for our kids’ recreation and their school and we have to heat our homes on some very cold days in this province,” Moe said.
Environment Minister touts made-in-Sask plan
Saskatchewan’s Environment Minister argues a carbon tax won’t work and the province is already reducing emissions.
Dustin Duncan pointed to the made-in-Saskatchewan Prairie Resilience Climate Change Strategy.
It commits to a 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2030.
Part of that plan involves generating up to 50 per cent of power from renewable resources.
While the federal government has acknowledged the work the province is doing under its climate change strategy, it doesn’t meet all the requirements.
That’s why Ottawa is stacking it’s carbon tax plan on top to apply to emission sources not covered.
Duncan explained why this is a problem for its crown corporation.
“The carbon tax imposed on SaskPower will not change one iota of the way that SaskPower is going to reduce emissions,” Duncan said.
The cost of the carbon tax would be passed on to customers. Duncan said that would work out to a 6 per cent hike on the average power bill in 2019, a year when SaskPower had planned no rate increases.
NDP leader echoes Sask-made carbon pricing plan
Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili also appeared Tuesday on Gormley.
He said he was broadly in favour of some sort of pricing scheme for carbon emissions.
“There is a model that works if you look at the economics of it. There is an argument to be made for putting a price on carbon.”
However, he criticized both the Trudeau and Moe governments for their approach to the discussion.
He said it seemed as though the federal government had dumped the issue on the provinces without much consultation.
“The federal government saying to the provinces: ‘here’s what your parameters are, go figure it out.'”
Meanwhile, he said that by refusing to engage on the topic, Moe had effectively left the province at the mercy of whatever plan Ottawa came up with.
“As a result, we’re ending up with Trudeau’s plan instead of one that was designed here in Saskatchewan.”
Ralph Goodale lone Saskatchewan MP selling federal carbon tax
At a news conference in downtown Regina, the province’s only Liberal MP defended the federal plan, emphasizing that most households will receive more money in rebates than they will pay in tax.
According to Ralph Goodale, the average household would pay about $400 in carbon taxes in 2019. However, they would receive a payment of $598.
That money could be spent on renovations that would lower energy costs, like getting an energy-efficient furnace, new windows or insulation.
“There will be an upfront capital cost of that. You’ll have the incentive to help pay for it. When you’ve done that work, you’ll be steadily reducing your power bill every month going forward,” Goodale said.
“And the profit that you will pocket in between will steadily get larger. It’s an incentive that encourages people right from the outset, to do better.”
Households in rural Saskatchewan would receive an additional 10 per cent back on their payment.
The federal government will also levy a charge on fossil fuel producers and distributors starting in April.
It would add roughly four cents per litre to the cost of gas.
Gas and diesel used on farms would be exempt.
Goodale said they heard from the agricultural sector across the country that a charge on farm fuels would be a “very difficult challenge.”
“From the very beginning, as this dialogue has unfolded over the last number of years, there’s always been the assumption that farm fuels would be exempted,” he said.
Ottawa has said that funds will return to the province from where it was collected. It is pledging $295 million over five years to help small and medium-sized businesses affected by the carbon tax.
Another $150 million of support over five years would go to municipalities, universities, schools, hospitals, non-profits and indigenous communities.
According to the federal government, its carbon-pricing system would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 60 million tonnes in 2022.
with files from CJME’s Joseph Ho