Former Conservative cabinet minister Jason Kenney doubled down on his pledge to repeal Alberta’s carbon tax Monday and promised to fight the federal government’s efforts to impose a national price on carbon.
In testimony in front of the House of Commons Finance Committee, Kenney repeated his promise to repeal the Alberta NDP’s carbon tax. The committee is currently studying the Trudeau government’s proposed 2018 Budget.
The Liberals want to set a floor price of $10 per tonne of carbon in 2018 for polluters, with the price set to increase by $10 each year, reaching $50 a tonne in 2022. The Trudeau government has said it will impose the plan on any province that does not craft its own price on carbon that meets the federal criteria.
Ottawa has insisted their proposed carbon tax would be revenue neutral. However, the Parliamentary Budget Office cautioned in April that the proposed plancould knock $10 billion off the federal GDP by 2022.
Kenney is now leader of the United Conservative Party in Alberta where he is set to challenge current Premier Rachel Notley for the province’s premiership in the upcoming 2019 election.
If Ottawa pushes back on the decision to repeal the carbon tax, Kenney promised to take the federal government to court.
Carbon taxes, he said, “punish” Canadians who are “living normal lives” – including seniors and low-income individuals. Ottawa’s plan, he said, “is a frog in the pot” that will simply give “politicians more money.”
That argument was bluntly refuted by Andrew Leach, a University of Alberta business professor, who said Statistics Canada data shows that carbon tax policies have not hurt lower-income Albertans, noting current provincial rebates have helped mitigate the cost.
He said there has been a “perception” within Alberta that its economy was “incompatible” with action on climate change, which is simply not the case.
Kenney and Leach, who were seated next to each other on the panel, repeatedly engaged in debate between themselves – with Leach at one point over heard to say “not true” when Kenny again insisted the carbon tax would hurt low income Canadians.
Divisions were apparent throughout Monday’s meeting, with Conservative MPs demanding the federal Liberals unveil the plan’s costing. Finance Minister BilL Morneau told the finance committee earlier late last week that more specific details could be released in September.
None of the other five panelists appearing alongside Kenney Monday afternoon were opposed to Ottawa’s proposed carbon tax plan.
Liberal MP Jennifer O’Connell wanted to know whether Kenney believes the science around climate change.
Kenney said he did.
That didn’t appease O’Connell, who challenged Kenney’s personal credibility and accused the Conservatives, both in Alberta and in Ottawa, of having “no plan” to deal with climate change.
“Mr. Chair at the end of the day, the credibility of Mr. Kenney. He says one thing on Twitter,” and then another in the room, she said, before repeatedly criticizing the “Harper Conservatives” inaction on the file.
Kenney pushed back, saying two-thirds of Albertans are against the proposed tax.
Asked whether he felt he and the current Trudeau government could reach an agreement on the file, Kenney told reporters after the meeting in his view the two sides are “too far apart.”
He said Ottawa needs to work “constructively” with the provinces on the issue. He said the Liberal government needs to take a “collaborative” approach to the file rather than its current “aggressive” stance.
Monday’s appearance in front of the finance committee was not the first time Kenney has threatened to take the federal government to court.
The Alberta provincial party leader first threatened to repeal the carbon tax in December where he promised to take Ottawa to court, arguing the policy in his view is “unconstitutional.”
The Saskatchewan government, which is also vehemently opposed to a carbon tax, is in the process of taking the federal government to court. Premier Scott Moe has said a carbon tax would hurt the province’s economy, including key sectors like agriculture.
Under the federal government’s proposal marked farm fuel, commonly called ‘purple gas’, is exempted from the carbon tax. Other farm fuels like natural gas, with the exception of the majority of natural gas used in the greenhouse gas and fertilizer industries, would be subject to the carbon tax.
Kenney told MPs the United Conservative Party has applied to be an intervener in the case. The reference case was formally requested by Saskatchewan at the end of April.
On Monday, the Canadian Taxpayer’s Federation announced it, too, plans to intervene in Saskatchewan’s reference case.
Kenney’s testimony comes on the heels of the United Conservative Party’s first policy convention in Red Deer this past weekend where party members voted 98 per cent in favour of repealing the carbon tax.
The Calgary MLA isn’t the only provincial leader opposed to Ottawa’s plan to impose a price on carbon.
Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford, who recent polls suggest is the front runner in the provincial election set for June 7. Ford has said he is opposed to Ottawa’s carbon tax plan. He has also promised to not impose a carbon tax if elected premier.
With files from Canadian Press