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The tide is turning on the carbon tax

July 11, 2019
The tide is turning on the carbon tax

This column was published in the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal on July 11, 2019.

By: Paige MacPherson and Renaud Brossard

New Brunswick is pushing back hard on Ottawa’s carbon tax and suddenly a surprising ally is taking a stand: Quebec.

On Monday, the Quebec government announced that it would officially intervene in Saskatchewan’s court case against Ottawa’s carbon tax. Its lawyers will present arguments to: “protect the autonomy of provinces and their ability to decide for themselves what concerns their own fields of competence.” 

In other words, Quebec is telling Ottawa to back off.

This is a striking new development because Quebec already has a cap-and-trade style carbon tax. 

Quebec first implemented its cap-and-trade carbon tax it back in 2012. Its cap-and-trade system’s last round of auctions priced a ton of carbon at $23.47. That’s about 4.9 cents per litre on gasoline so it meets Ottawa’s carbon tax requirement for the moment.

But Quebec clearly sees a problem brewing. Ottawa says provinces have to keep raising their carbon taxes until they hit 11 cents per litre. Provinces who refuse will face the spectre of a federal carbon tax that imposes the required increase. Quebec is going to the Supreme Court to make sure that doesn’t happen.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs has also said that New Brunswick will be part of the Saskatchewan Supreme Court case. In disappointing news for taxpayers, Higgs abandoned his original commitment to launch his own court case against Ottawa’s carbon tax. But New Brunswick’s intervention at the Supreme Court is critical.

Quebec’s introduction into this fight strengthens the case.

By introducing its voice to the chorus of New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, Quebec’s government is hoping to stop Ottawa from meddling in a provincial jurisdiction. Much in the same way provincial governments don’t meddle in federal jurisdictions such as national defense, Quebec’s opposition is about demanding Ottawa doesn’t meddle in Quebec’s business.

At the heart of this argument is the idea that the provinces are perfectly capable of managing their own affairs, including those related to carbon emissions. This could not be truer in New Brunswick.

The province is already close to meeting the emissions reductions targets laid out in the Paris Climate Agreement – targets that Ottawa itself is reportedly centuries away from hitting, at the current pace. Data released earlier this year showed that New Brunswick has already reduced its emissions by 28 per cent from 2005 levels. The target is 30 per cent.

Ottawa is merely fumbling about in the background, making life more expensive for New Brunswickers.

In fact, recognizing the tide is turning against the carbon tax, the federal government recently announced it will not increase the tax beyond $50-per-tonne after 2022 – even though the Parliamentary Budget Officer stated the carbon tax would have to rise to more than double that to meet Canada’s targets.

The New Brunswick government has rightfully argued that the province’s success in reducing emissions is clear evidence that it doesn’t require a carbon tax to do so.

But Ottawa’s imposition of this tax onto the provinces isn’t about reducing emissions.

As Quebec is arguing, Ottawa’s carbon tax is all about Ottawa sticking its nose in provincial business.

It’s about mickey-mouse political messaging, revealing the deep disconnect between communications staffers in downtown Ottawa and families in rural New Brunswick for whom driving is simply a part of life.  

Fortunately for taxpayers, the majority of provinces representing an overwhelming majority of Canadians are now fighting Ottawa’s carbon tax in court. It’s a long battle to get Ottawa to start listening, but taxpayers’ opposition is loud and clear.

Paige MacPherson is Atlantic Director and Renaud Brossard is Quebec Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

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