Atlantic premiers 'insulted' by Ottawa’s 'costly' carbon taxes

Environment Canada predicts the economic cost of the 'second carbon tax' will be nearly $9 billion in lost GDP by 2030. After another decade, the cost will be $30 billion.

Atlantic premiers 'insulted' by Ottawa’s 'costly' carbon taxes
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan and Facebook/Andrew Furey
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Atlantic Canadian premiers continue pushing against Ottawa's carbon tax — even Newfoundland and Labrador's Liberal leader took potshots against his federal counterparts.

"I take great exception to force this into a dichotomous issue 'either you believe in exactly what we say, or you don't believe in climate change,'" said Premier Andrew Furey. "That's completely illogical, it's a false dichotomy, it's a false dilemma, and it's as insulting to us as it is simplistic."

As of July 1, the carbon tax will mean even higher costs at the pumps — as much as 10 cents per litre more.

In 2019, the federal government introduced a price on carbon pollution, starting at $20 per tonne and increasing to $50 per tonne in 2022. On April 1, Ottawa expanded the tax to $65 per tonne, with successive increases planned until 2030, when it reaches $170 per tonne.

But a second carbon tax, or the Clean Fuel Regulations, comes into force on July 1 for refineries. Though they have a year to comply, Ottawa contends consumer costs will not increase immediately.

"The impact of the Clean Fuel Standard is unknown," said Furey. "When you ask the federal minister… what impact will this have? He admittedly says it won't be zero but doesn't understand the true impact on the economy of Newfoundland and Labrador."

Despite the rebate payments offered by the federal government to offset the surcharge, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault told CTV on April 2 that "on average, households will pay more" because of the $65 per tonne carbon tax.

"If you do the average, yeah, it's true, it's going to cost more money to people, but the people who are paying are the richest among us, which is exactly how the system was designed," he said

"The rich pay more for their carbon consumption and pollution, and we're supporting, through the transition, middle-class Canadians and low-income Canadians."

Furey told reporters his province does not deny 'climate change,' but he disagrees with the approach taken by the federal government.

On average, most residents and households will pay more carbon tax than they receive in climate rebates. "Most households will be worse off when considering this slightly lower economic activity," said Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) Yves Giroux. 

"Only the bottom quintile is better off, but everybody else is likely worse."

The environment minister said Ottawa is doing other things to mitigate the cost of climate change and help people transition to a lower carbon economy, citing incentive programs to purchase electric vehicles and home energy retrofits to reduce home heating costs.

While Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) predicts a price increase at the pumps of 6 to 13 cents per litre for gasoline by 2030, the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) expects prices to increase by 17 cents.

On April 6, the PBO updated its federal carbon tax report from March 2022 to include Atlantic Canada. The first carbon tax will add 37 cents to a litre of gas and diesel by 2030.

On Monday, Furey and his Atlantic Canadian counterparts told reporters they want Ottawa to re-examine the cost burden the carbon taxes will have on people in the region.

"We're already dealing with a high cost of living," said P.E.I. Premier Dennis King. "We have a lot of factors that are working against us, and we can ill afford to see a higher price paid by Islanders, or Atlantic Canadians, at the pump."

Guilbeault's parliamentary secretary claimed eight out of 10 families would be better off under the federal regime — $1,000 in rebates received in Nova Scotia and P.E.I. families and $1,300 in Newfoundland and Labrador.

However, the PBO calculations determined the average household in those provinces will pay $431, $465 and $346 more in taxes this year than they receive in rebates. Giroux said Ottawa needs to account for the higher cost of business and the job displacement caused by higher taxes.

"When you look at the other aspects, the broader impact on the economy, and the related impact on the household, then I think it's a more accurate picture of the overall household costs," he added.

Nova Scotia families from the lowest earning quintile would receive $226 in federal rebates. In contrast, the highest earners would pay $4,368 annually in 2030/31. A similar family from Newfoundland and Labrador would receive $689, with the province's highest earners paying $4,872 in 2030/31.

That counters Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's speech at a March 14 press conference. He said the average family of four in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, would receive a climate action incentive cheque worth $272 every three months.

"We're fighting climate change while standing up for families and growing the economy through pollution pricing. That's over $1,000 a year and more than makes up for the extra costs because of the carbon price," he told reporters. "This is how you fight climate change."

According to an ECCC regulatory impact analysis, the economic cost by 2030 will be nearly $9 billion in lost GDP. After another decade, the cost to the national GDP will be $30 billion — a 'good bargain,' according to the federal government.

By 2030, the PBO's report estimates the net cost of the first carbon tax — taking into account fiscal and economic impacts — will be $1,513 on average for Nova Scotians, $1,521 for Islanders and $1,316 for Newfoundlanders.

In April, New Brunswick announced it would scrap its provincial plan to opt into the federal program, but Giroux did not mention them in the report.

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