Ottawa owes Saskatchewan answers on carbon taxes
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has submitted his carbon tax arguments to both the Saskatchewan court of public opinion and the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal, but both raise questions.
How will carbon taxes leave Saskatchewanians with more money?
The federal government estimates Saskatchewan families will get $598 in carbon tax rebates while paying $403 in carbon taxes. That doesn’t count GST charges or administrative costs. But Ottawa hopes some of us will be happy with a couple of hundred bucks.
Should we be happy? That money is coming from taxpayers, or, more specifically, from some taxpayers. For example, those who can bike to work or spend their days in front of laptops may come out ahead by twenty dollars a month, but that rebate money is coming from our neighbours who spend their workdays using half-tonnes to pick up drywall and semis to haul grain. Some may gain a little, but overall, we’ll have less.
How will this equation work out over time?
British Columbia initially claimed its carbon tax would be revenue neutral, but it actually cost taxpayers hundreds of millions and now it makes no pretence of offsetting the cost.
Conflicting information is already undermining Ottawa’s credibility.
Federal Department of Finance documents show the carbon tax will cost Saskatchewan $310 million next year and jump up to $765 million in four years. The next year after that the chart shows the carbon tax will cost $765 million again. But that’s not true. In its court documents, Ottawa states a carbon tax will be applied with “increasing stringency over time.” The carbon tax won’t eventually level off. There’s a clear contradiction between the finance charts and the legal arguments.
In reality, it seems rebates are for re-election, but taxes rise forever.
More questions arise. Environment Minister Catherine McKenna insists “polluting isn’t free,” but how does she set a fair price?
Families will pay $20 per tonne of carbon for taking kids to school and heating the house. That price will soon rise to $50 per tonne. Yet, big emitters will get a separate system and CBC reports that a coal-fired power plant in New Brunswick will pay $1 per tonne. Why will every puff from the hatchback tailpipe cost a family 20 times the price paid for billowing coal smoke?
Here’s another question: does the carbon tax work in the global context?
In its legal arguments, Ottawa says every province must have a carbon tax because otherwise “emitting industries transfer production from a jurisdiction with a carbon price to a jurisdiction that does not price carbon.” Logically, it seems, Ottawa knows a carbon tax can’t work unless it reaches internationally.
Ottawa’s legal argument repeatedly references Europe but doesn’t even mention the United States. President Donald Trump has rejected a carbon tax as did his election rival Hillary Clinton. Washington State has rejected a carbon tax in a referendum – twice. According to Ottawa’s logic, if one province’s rejection of a carbon tax would make it unworkable, how could it succeed in the shadow of the US?
Lastly, is the carbon tax working in BC?
Ottawa is emphatic in its legal arguments.
“Since 2005, British Columbia’s GHG emissions have decreased by 5.1 per cent,” it states.
But judges and voters will consider these numbers as well. BC produced 60.7 Mt of emissions in 2010 and 63.3 Mt in 2015, according to the province’s most recent GHG Emissions Summary. The same summary shows vehicle emissions rose 11.6 per cent during the same period. Statistics Canada shows that trend continuing as BC’s net gasolines sales rose from 41.4 million litres in 2013 to 43.6 million litres in 2017.
The Sierra Club rendered its judgement in a release entitled: “BC’s greenhouse gas emissions have risen in four of the last five years.”
The prime minister owes Saskatchewanians more than a few hundred bucks taken from our neighbours. He owes us substantial answers to serious questions.