Environment Minister Catherine McKenna. (The Canadian Press)

Federal carbon tax coming to Alberta in January: environment minister

Feds say 90 per cent of the money collected is to go back to Alberta taxpayers in rebates

Ottawa plans to impose the federal carbon tax on Alberta starting Jan. 1 and federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says she has written the province about the decision.

READ MORE: Average carbon-tax rebates are lagging federal estimates, data suggests

“We need to move forward to tackle climate change,” McKenna said in Ottawa before question period on Thursday.

“We see the impacts of climate change through extreme weather, including in Alberta where there are forest fires that are burning earlier than ever before, that are burning stronger, and that (are) having serious impacts on the lives of Albertans as well as on their economy.”

Alberta passed legislation to repeal its provincial carbon tax last week to fulfil a promise United Conservative Premier Jason Kenney made during the campaign for the April election.

“It’s unfortunate because Alberta had a made-in-Alberta plan to put a price on pollution, and we clearly need Alberta to be part of our national climate plan as Alberta has the highest emissions in the country,” McKenna said.

She said 90 per cent of the money collected is to go back to Alberta taxpayers in rebates. An average family of four can expect to get $888 returned next year. The remaining 10 per cent is to go toward making buildings more energy efficient.

The tax currently stands at $20 a tonne and is set to rise to $50 a tonne by 2022.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said he doesn’t believe McKenna.

“I just can’t buy any of these promises about the carbon tax,” he said in Fredericton where he was meeting with the New Brunswick premier.

“Minister McKenna’s own Environment Department has said that it should go up to $300 a tonne to meet Paris climate targets. If you really believe in a carbon tax as an instrument of climate policy, then you need a carbon tax of $200 to $300 minimum to have any meaningful effect on consumption.”

Several studies have shown that British Columbia’s carbon tax has reduced that province’s emissions by 15 per cent and reduced its per-capita gasoline and natural gas use.

Alberta Environment Minister Jason Nixon called the time lag before the federal tax is imposed an opportunity.

“This opens up several opportunities over the coming months to have a conversation about the way that we intend to handle climate change,” he said. ”With the federal election in between, many things can happen between now and Jan. 1.”

Although Alberta has removed the tax on consumers, it retains it for heavy industrial emitters.

Isabelle Turcotte of the clean energy think-tank the Pembina Institute said the amount of time before the tax takes effect is consistent with the time it took to impose the tax on four other provinces — New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan — which have declined to impose their own carbon levys.

But she’s concerned the back-and-forth swings as politicians try to undo the work of others only makes things worse.

“There’s going to be now an interruption in the (business) incentive signal. And there’s going to be an interruption in the signal which makes a difference in how people are making choices.

“The government of Alberta is responsible for this interruption.”

Keith Stewart of Greenpeace echoed that.

“This kind of policy disruption is bad for our climate, our health and our economy,” he said.

“Let’s have as smooth a transition as we can. Canada needs an urgent co-ordinated response to the climate crisis, not politicians putting their heads in the sand.”

Kenney had already said that if Ottawa were to impose its fee, he would join Saskatchewan and Ontario in their constitutional challenge of the tax.

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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