Incoming PEI premier right to call carbon tax punitive

Author: Paige MacPherson 2019/05/01

This op-ed was published in the PEI Guardian on May 1, 2019.

Prince Edward Island’s new premier is right to call the carbon tax a “punitive tax.” Punishing Islanders for performing the basic necessities of life, like driving your kids to school, is the whole point of a carbon tax. In PEI, where driving is truly necessary, a carbon tax is both punitive and pointless.

“[The carbon tax] is a punitive tax for Islanders,” said Progressive Conservative leader and incoming premier Dennis King. “If you live in Tyne Valley and have to work in Summerside you have one option to get to work and that's to drive a car.”

The PCs have compared the carbon tax to pick-pocketing. Last July, former PC leader James Aylward argued that the province had already taken steps to improve its environment.

"Not one of them required a carbon tax to achieve,” Aylward said. “We can lead and protect our environment without picking the pocket of hard-working Islanders."

Several provinces have presented their locally-developed environmental plans to Ottawa, only to have federal politicians refuse and impose the carbon tax anyway. PEI was no exception.

Despite PEI’s Liberal government preparing a climate action plan for Ottawa that it said would meet PEI’s emissions reductions targets without a carbon tax – and stating they were “fighting for Islanders” against the tax – Ottawa rejected PEI and imposed the tax anyway.

Punitive, indeed. And pointless.

Prince Edward Island’s emissions have already dropped by 14 per cent from 2005 to 2015, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada. PEI is also ahead of six other provinces in pursuit of the Paris Accord emissions reductions targets.

“If the objective is to reduce carbon in the air, and we have a plan to do that, then why do we need a tax?” asked former PEI Environment Minister Richard Brown.

Perhaps the most nonsensical point of all is that Ottawa insists that imposing its carbon tax means that “polluting will no longer be free in Canada.” By “polluting,” Ottawa means driving – like getting yourself to work in Charlottetown or driving from Darnley to Summerside to visit a family member in a long-term care centre. Conjuring up the image that the drivers along these routes are recklessly throwing trash out of their windows is offensive enough in a rural province.

But suggesting that driving was “free” before the carbon tax is taking taxpayers for fools.

Islanders already pay high taxes at the gas pumps. Before the carbon tax was introduced, PEI’s provincial taxes on fuel already added up to about 24 cents per litre. Combined with federal gas taxes, Islanders already paid over $25 in taxes on every fill-up of a mid-size car.

That’s a curious definition of “free.”

On top of costing individual drivers a hefty chunk of change at every fill-up, carbon taxes increase the cost of everything that’s shipped, including clothing, diapers and bananas. 

Mom-and-pop shops, farming operations and restaurants will face increasing shipping costs under the carbon tax. Business groups have warned that means they’ll either be forced to pass higher costs onto customers, or, more likely, to make cuts in other ways, reducing job numbers or salaries.

Carbon taxes also increase the costs of other services Islanders pay for, such as ambulances and school busses.

These items are about as far from “pollution” as you can get. And they’re certainly not free.

Really, there’s no better word for the carbon tax than punitive. The good news for Islanders is that the incoming premier gets that.

Paige MacPherson is Atlantic Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.