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Wildrose leader vows to kill the NDP $3 billion carbon tax if elected


The Wildrose will kill the NDP’s $3-billion carbon tax if it wins the next provincial election, but would consider replacing it with a revenue-neutral levy like B.C.’s if Albertans gave the government a clear mandate to do that, says leader Brian Jean.

“I can’t tell you that the Wildrose wouldn’t bring in a carbon tax in the future, but I can tell you this particular carbon tax would be eliminated because it is not a true carbon tax,” Jean said in a year-end interview. “It is just a back-door PST.

“Would it be difficult to eliminate? It might take some time to do so.”

Premier Rachel Notley scoffed at Jean’s promise, taunting him to campaign on it next election, which isn’t expected until 2019.

“I actually don’t even agree that he would do it,” Notley told the Herald. “He would have so many people telling him it’s a bad idea that he wouldn’t do … but by all means, run on it.”

The NDP government announced last month it would implement an economywide carbon tax on Jan. 1, 2017 in an attempt to curb the amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions generated in the province.

Money raised from the carbon tax will be used for rebates to low-income Albertans, to help communities affected by the planned phase-out of coal-fired power and reinvested in measures to reduce GHG emissions — such as green infrastructure and energy efficiency programs — among other areas.

However, economists contend Alberta’s program is not truly revenue neutral as it is in British Columbia, where all of that province’s carbon tax revenue is used to lower other taxes or provide rebates.

Jean says Notley’s carbon tax will create a $3-billion slush fund the government can use for anything it wants, but it won’t stop people from polluting or get new oil pipelines built to new markets.

He said a carbon tax like British Columbia’s, if correctly utilized, can change consumer behaviour and reduce carbon emissions — but only if money raised is offset by equal tax decreases elsewhere.

“In this case, it’s just a tax grab,” said the Wildrose leader. “It’s clear the agreement has brought us no closer to building pipelines.”

Alberta’s carbon tax starts at $20 a tonne of carbon emissions in 2016, rises to $30 in 2017 and “will increase in real terms each year thereafter,” according to government documents.

One estimate contained in the report by the province’s climate change advisory panel speculates the carbon tax could eventually rise to $100 a tonne by 2030.

“It could potentially cost Albertans a lot of money,” Jean said. “I think most Albertans would be absolutely shocked.”

He said the NDP didn’t campaign last spring on levying a $3-billion carbon tax and they certainly didn’t seek the approval of Albertans to potentially raise it to $100 a tonne.

“They didn’t campaign on any of it,” Jean said. “It’s an ideological outburst that I think was in essence a secret agenda during the campaign.”

The NDP government contends Alberta must take action to protect the environment, address climate change and help the province win approval in other jurisdictions to build more oil pipelines.

Notley said future carbon tax increases will be “very much defined” by surrounding jurisdictions.

The premier said that if a price in carbon is levied across North America, which she believes is not beyond the realm of possibility, then it would increase the capacity of Albertans and the economy to sustain a higher carbon price.

“It really very much depends on what happens around us,” she said.

Jean said the NDP committed “political suicide” by implementing its carbon tax.

“The clear difference between the Wildrose and the NDP is we believe this should be done in a way that protects consumers and is done through the strength of the free market,” he said.

At $30 a tonne, it’s expected Alberta’s carbon tax will boost the price of gasoline by seven centres per litre, and natural gas by $1.68 per gigajoule.

Along with higher power prices and fuel costs, it’s expected the “total annual cost to an average household of approximately $500 in 2018, rising to $900 per year in 2030, assuming Alberta’s carbon price increases at two per cent above inflation,” states the province’s climate change panel report.

Jean said the NDP carbon tax will cost $1,000 per Alberta family.

Some industry and environmental groups support the NDP carbon tax — Notley’s plan was endorsed in November by major oil companies including Suncor, Cenovus, Shell Canada, and Canadian Natural Resources, as well as the Pembina Institute, Forest Ethics and Clean Energy Canada — but the deal doesn’t come with broad industry support, Jean said.

“Even some of the major players were left out of the negotiations,” he noted.

Alberta is the largest provincial emitter of greenhouse gases in the country, generating about 37 per cent of all emissions in Canada in 2013. Currently, only the largest industrial emitters pay a carbon levy of $15 per tonne over their reduction targets, with the tax increasing to $20 on Jan. 1.

The Wildrose leader stressed that he believes action needs to be taken to address climate change, but it has to be effective without destroying the Alberta economy.

“Making sure we have a clean healthy environment is obviously a high priority for any government, but that doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice our oil and gas sector, our agriculture sector and every other sector,” he added.

With files from Chris Varcoe, Calgary Herald

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