Battle lines being drawn over carbon tax

There is a mighty, mighty brouhaha brewing over the federal government’s carbon tax, set to begin in 2019, in provinces which do not already have one.

Some provinces, ours included, already have a carbon tax — BC, Alberta, Quebec, Newfoundland and the Northwest Territories. And Nunavut and the Yukon both accepted the the federal system, and thus will be able to decide how to use the tax revenues.

The carbon tax, which requires all provinces to put a minimum price on pollution of $20 a tonne of emissions, has not been implemented in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick, but will be levied on these recalcitrant provinces in the coming year.

And there is much gnashing of teeth amongst the provinces where the tax will be imposed. All four provinces have Conservative leaders.

“It’s unfortunate to see that there are still politicians, Conservative politicians specifically across the country, who still think pollution should be free,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.

Trudeau has promised that most of the tax collected will go to household rebates so consumers don’t feel the tax pinch. The remaining revenue will go to small business, and public institutions like schools and hospitals. Those rebates will come when you file your taxes. And he appears fully ready to fight the coming election campaign on the issue. And certainly, Conservative leaders appear prepared to do the same.

It’s a carbon standoff.

So as the great debate continues, let us examine what exactly a carbon tax is, and what its benefits may be.

Here’s a pretty good explanation from How Stuff Works.

Carbon tax is a form of pollution tax. It levies a fee on the production, distribution or use of fossil fuels based on how much carbon their combustion emits. The government sets a price per tonne on carbon, then translates it into a tax on electricity, natural gas or oil. Because the tax makes using dirty fuels more­ expensive, it encourages utilities, businesses and individuals to reduce consumption and increase energy efficiency. Carbon tax also makes alternative energy more cost-competitive with cheaper, polluting fuels like coal, natural gas and oil.

From the website Economics Help, a sort of economics for dummies site:

“A carbon tax aims to make individuals and firms pay the full social cost of carbon pollution. In theory, the tax will reduce pollution and encourage more environmentally friendly alternatives. However, critics argue a tax on carbon will increase costs for business and reduce levels of investment and economic growth.”

The idea is that being levied a tax on polluting, those doing the polluting will try not to do as much polluting and therefore reduce how much they must pay in carbon tax.

Fairly simple, and of course, you can see where those of the conservative bent would disapprove as they have long positioned themselves as the champions of business people everywhere, and also as skeptics on climate change itself.

Angus Reid reports that Trudeau’s rebate largesse has tipped public opinion to slightly in favour of the carbon tax. A bare 54 per cent now support the plan — as long as the cheque is in the mail, so to speak. However, in 2015, support for a carbon tax was at 56 per cent, then it dropped to 45 per cent this past July, and is now rising again. which appears to mean, Canadians are open to persuasion on the issue from both sides.

However, the majority still says provinces should have the final say on carbon pricing plans, but that support has dropped nine points since the summer.

Interestingly, the greatest increase in support for the plan is coming from Saskatchewan (18%). And in Ontario support for the carbon tax has risen 11 per cent. Considering both those premiers have been pretty adamant about not liking the federal plan, those numbers bear watching.

Alberta has not seen any increase in approval of a carbon tax at all. It’s fallen one per cent. And Alberta appears poised for a switch to a more right-leaning government next after a brief experiment with the NDP, so it may be in our neighbouring province where the greatest battle in the carbon tax war will be fought. There’s nothing Alberta politicians like better than a jolly good fight with the feds.

Carolyn Grant is Editor of the

Kimberley Bulletin