Premier Rachel Notley and Environment Minister Shannon Phillips release Alberta's climate change plan.

The Winter of Discontent over the Carbon Tax

Alberta’s carbon tax, lauded by economists and experts and derided by opposition conservatives, came into force on January 1, 2017.

From photo-ops at gas pumps to outright climate change denial, opposition to the carbon tax has been nothing short of hysterical over the past week.

Don MacIntyre MLA

Don MacIntyre

Don MacIntyre, Wildrose MLA for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, sidelined his party’s attack on the carbon tax as a ‘tax on everything’ when he dove into climate change denying rhetoric during a January 2, 2017 press conference at the Legislature. “The science isn’t settled,” MacIntyre is reported to have said, despite the existence of overwhelming scientific evidence claiming otherwise.

Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt marked New Year’s Eve by posting photos of himself filling up his truck and jerrycans to avoid any increase to gas prices caused by the carbon tax on January 1. It is estimated that he may have saved a few dollars, but in many locations across Alberta the price of gas actually dropped after the weekend (gas at the local station in my neighbourhood in northeast Edmonton is six cents cheaper per litre today than it was on Dec. 31).

Jason Kenney

Jason Kenney

Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Jason Kenney probably levelled the silliest criticism of the carbon tax when he tweeted on January 4 a photo of Tesla charging station in Fort Macleod, which was empty. This was apparently meant to be an argument that the four day old carbon tax was a failure.

Despite claims by opposition Wildrose and PC politicians that they would repeal the tax if elected in 2019, a federal carbon tax dictated by Ottawa would likely be imposed in its absence.

But arguments in favour of the made-in-Alberta carbon tax have been, well, confusing and technical.

Shannon Phillips

Shannon Phillips

Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips’ statement that the province is “still standing” the day after the carbon tax was implemented was factually correct but probably not the statement most Albertans were waiting to hear. Phillips is one of the government’s smartest cabinet ministers, and has done a good job promoting the flagship Climate Leadership Plan, but the NDP have fallen short when it comes to easing Albertans worries about the cost of implementing the carbon tax during an economic downturn.

Economists like Trevor Tombe and Andrew Leach have penned or compiled intelligent arguments defending the carbon tax. Even executives of Canada’s largest oil and gas companies have come out in support of the carbon tax. Many of those executives stood on stage with Phillips and Premier Rachel Notley, along with environmental leaders, when the climate change plan was released in November 2015.

Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau

In November 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau heaped praise on Notley for Alberta’s climate change plan, which includes the carbon tax, as a key reason for the approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain pipeline expansion and the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline replacement.

But as anyone involved in politics knows, emotion and anger can sometimes trump facts, science and research. The recent presidential election south of the border confirms this.

Advertisements recently released by the Ontario government are, in my opinion, a good example of an emotional argument in favour of a climate change plan.

One of the arguments that I continue to hear is that Alberta and Canada should not implement a carbon tax because Donald Trump does not support a carbon tax. Trump also tweeted that he believes climate change is a conspiracy created by the Chinese government, so I am not confident that he is someone we should be looking to for leadership on this issue.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump

Overall public opposition to the carbon tax might start to fade in the coming months as many Albertans begin receiving their rebate cheques – around sixty percent of Alberta households will get a rebate, with full rebates for single Albertans earning $47,500 or less, and couples and families who earn $95,000 or less – but the NDP government will need to work overtime to provide clear evidence of how the carbon tax will benefit Albertans.

Of the funds collected by the carbon tax, the government says $2.3 billion will go towards rebate programs, $3.4 billion will help businesses adjust to the carbon levy, $6.2 billion will go toward energy industry diversification and job creation, $3.4 billion for large scale renewable energy and technology, and $2.2 billion for green infrastructure. As well as $645 million will be directed towards the new provincial agency Energy Efficiency Alberta and $195 million to assist coal communities, which will be impacted by the phase out of coal-fired power plants by 2030.

The NDP also cut the small business tax from three percent to two percent, a change that came into effect as the carbon tax was implemented.

Taxes in Alberta remain low, some of the lowest in Canada. Investing in measures that could create a cleaner environment for the next generations is not a burden, it is a responsibility. The carbon tax is a sensible policy, but it could be an uphill battle to convince Albertans to embrace it.

13 thoughts on “The Winter of Discontent over the Carbon Tax

  1. Scott MacKay

    Dave I do not understand how one could denie that Climate Change is real when the Paris Accord is based on the Science and Facts. In addition NASA just released the scientific cause of Climate Change and it is mans carbon output into the atmosphere. In addition Syncrude lost a court case over the Carbon tax because of the overwhelming evidence. The US Congress is about to take EXXON into hearings over their operations of a global disinformation campaign that denied that Climate Change is man made when they were in full knowledge. Congress is using the same laws that fell tobacco. Now I am not a Lawyer but with the data available for any person in Canada to deny climate change publicly then they are breaking Federal Criminal Code by spreading false news. In the US now there are law suits started against climate change deniers for thier disinformation. There may be class action law suits filed against climate deniers forming in Canada soon.

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  2. Gerard

    Thanks for explaining the details Dave. Sure seems sensible. Can’t help but agree – we have to see better protection for the environment (and diversification) as a duty of responsibility, not a burden.

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  3. Tyrel

    Hello Dave,
    So what I don’t understand is that we, Alberta oil and Gas producers, are already one of the most environmentally friendly producers in the world. Now by implementing this carbon tax during a recession the government is making much of our production uneconomical. So we can either stop producing, or continue with layoffs to reduce costs. Now if commodity prices increase, great but we will still be higher cost producers than the US or the middle east. So how do you explain to Albertans, or even Canadians that we have fewer jobs, higher costs but it’s ok because we reduced emissions by 2% of the world’s 2% that we contributed to. But wait, to meet demand the higher pollution countries increase production so they contribute an even higher amount than we reduced!!
    I am not against alternative, “greener” production of electricity and reducing our carbon footprint print. But I am against the government taking more of my pay cheque and wasting it on something that I have no say in. This government, both Provincial and Federal seem set on doing whatever is in their agenda and ramming it down our throats!!

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    1. Mike

      Well said tyrell, not to mention taking monies from hospitals and charities, increasing public transport costs,raising the cost of everything and 3/4’s of it is being used as a slush fund for the government to use to pick winners and losers and reward friends.19 year old kids living in the basement get rebates without paying a single bill while people laid off in ’16 get nothing because they worked hard in ’15 of which they’re calculated. None of this will change the weather.

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    2. Elke B

      Your arguments are specious. Oil producers were already paying for the carbon tax at $15/ton. This current tax is only slightly higher than what they were paying during downturns since 2008. Moreover, they support it so why don’t you?

      We are also the higher polluting countries because since the industrial revolution, we have added more to what’s in the atmosphere now than many newly polluting countries which are just starting to pull their people out of poverty. We are also higher polluting countries per capita than countries like India and China. Moreover, countries like China are investing many more times the funds into renewables than we are so we can do much more.

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  4. George Clark

    Since when is a tax grab combined with a redistribution of that wealth considered an investment? If you want to understand why so many Albertans are still upset over the Carbon Tax, try recognizing the accuracy of all the polls that clearly showed that two thirds of Albertans are opposed to this imposition of social change by decree. And here’s a good one for all of you. Simply Google the word “rebate”. The first two definitions that come up show how badly the NDP communications people screwed up in calling it a rebate. Because now everytime anyone receives it they are reminded that they are being overtaxed in the first place.

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    1. Scott MacKay

      Maybe if you took the time to learn what is really going on with the environment you would understand better. Go watch the Doc by National Geographic called before the Flood.
      As well Syncrude lost that argument from the Science and Facts now accepted as fact under the law in Canada!

      Reply
  5. menotyouneverever@gmail.com

    It’s not so much that the Carbon Tax is about stemming climate change as much as its about getting federal support for two pipeline projects, Kidder Morgan and Energy East. Will have to see how far Trudeau is willing to go to the mat for Alberta, as he will be at loggerheads with a lot of his political friends in B.C. and Quebec. Just pause and think of all that Carbon Tax revenue being used to cover transfers (bribes) to various stakeholders – this maybe the sort of set up Notley has agreed to play along with. At least there maybe some “green investment” – in other provinces.

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  6. David Bridger

    I believe that mankind is causing global warming through the burning of coal and oil products and I think the science is settled that we have to a least stop increasing carbon emissions into the atmosphere and ideally start reducing those emissions.

    It is interesting to note that the government’s solution is to tax carbon rather than to require a direct reduction of any kind in those emissions.

    I am not an expert on how to reduce emissions, but it seems that direct legislation requiring us to burn less carbon producing fuel would be more likely to achieve the desired goal than levying a tax which is supposed to encourage us to drive less (for example).

    Will the people who drive to work now drive less? Not if they want to keep their jobs they won’t. Will the trucking companies who move the goods we want and need to keep our economy going drive less? That’s not going to happen for obvious reasons.

    As distasteful as direct legislation to force a reduction in carbon emissions is, hoping that people will burn less carbon fuel because of the tax is not going to achieve our national global warming goals. It might be good politics, but it won’t have the desired result.

    In the meantime, since we live far enough north and have a relatively cool climate global warming will only motivate us when it starts to cause us real problems and by then it will be too late if it isn’t already. Let’s get real about this while we still have a chance to effect change.

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    1. Jerrymacgp

      Most economists and policy experts actuall see a price on carbon, which sends a “market signal” to reduce fossil fuel consumption, as the best approach, especially over a heavy-handed and bureaucratically burdensome regime of regulation, which would also be enormously costly to enforce in any meaningful way.

      I have two issues with the government’s implantation, however. One is purely self-interested: outside of the two major cities, alternatives to driving one’s personal vehicle to & from work as well as everywhere else are few & far between (& I don’t own a huge pickup, but a 4-cyl. CUV). Transit is very limited in small cities, and non-existent in rural areas, even in counties abutting small city limits. So, residents of such communities (such as myself) don’t really have the option to act on that “market signal”.

      The second irritant, which should be laid at the feet of the federal gov’t, is that the GST is added on the after-tax price of fuel, including the after-carbon levy price, meaning a tax on a tax. So the price of gasoline at the pumps didn’t only go up 4½ cents a litre, but a bit more after GST was added on as well.

      Reply

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