With Jason Kenney and the UCP’s landslide victory in the 2019 provincial election, the fate of the province’s carbon tax is certainly on the chopping block.
However, by axing the provincial $30-a-tonne levy, the province will fall into the federal government’s mandatory pricing of $20 a tonne, with the individual households receiving rebates for 90 per cent of the revenues.
The federal levy will then increase to $30 in 2020 – the price at which the Alberta NDP froze theirs until construction begins on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
Kenney, who vowed to join Ontario and Saskatchewan’s likeminded conservative governments in fighting the federal tax in court, appears to be preparing for a pivot if necessary.
Yes, the carbon tax is undesirable, Kenney told CTV News just days after his election, but the federal version is “less bad” than the one implemented by the New Democrats.
This was before Saskatchewan’s carbon tax challenge was dealt a blow, when Saskatchewan’s Court of Appeal narrowly ruled last week that the carbon tax imposed on provinces by the federal government is constitutional, something Kenney has called “far from the broad victory the federal government sought”.
Obviously, Kenney would prefer his former federal caucus-mate Andrew Scheer be elected prime minister in October, with his similar vow to repeal the nationwide carbon pricing floor.
But in the event Scheer doesn’t form government, it appears Kenney is setting himself up to play ball with the feds.
A shrewd tactician like Kenney knows he must pick his battles, particularly with an unsympathetic government in Ottawa.
If he wants to fight Bill C-69, for example, which overhauls the environmental assessment process and would make it harder for pipelines to be approved in the future, or challenge something as major as the framework for equalization – which it’s worth noting he supported when it was negotiated while he was in government – he’s already going to have a tough battle on his hands.
Kenney may want let go of the fight over carbon tax revenues, blaming Trudeau – who it’s safe to say is not the most popular politician in Alberta – while using the federally imposed levy to advocate for the massive tax cuts he promised.
This shouldn’t sit well with those seeking climate action that is tough by Alberta’s relatively low standards, with its dependence on oilsands bitumen.
As Kenney pointed out in the aforementioned CTV interview, the federal Liberals’ tax is smaller than the NDP’s (for now) and it offers far more extensive rebates.
The NDP’s carbon tax offered rebates as well, but it also generated revenue to invest in renewable energy as a means of gradually transitioning to a low-carbon economy while pursuing pipeline expansion, a somewhat contradictory goal.
The climate laggard governments in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and now Alberta don’t seem particularly invested in the environmental side of the equation, but a tax rebate is a tax rebate.
Kenney was elected with a sweeping mandate, in part because he was successful in hammering voters with the message that a vote for NDP leader Rachel Notley was a vote for a prime minister who is wildly unpopular in Alberta.
Just don’t be surprised if Kenney backtracks on his vow to fight Trudeau’s carbon tax by any means necessary.
He has bigger battles ahead.
This editorial originated from the Medicine Hat News.