Two grieving Alberta families have each been slapped with a $100 carbon tax bill after having a relative cremated, just days after the tax was introduced in that province.
The $100 fee was handwritten on Ed Connon's bill when he paid to cremate his 93-year-old mother, Margaret Connon, who died Jan. 7. The funeral home staff had no explanation for him.
"I said, 'wow.' She just kind of looked at me and I said, 'this doesn't seem right'."
- Been wronged? Contact Rosa and Go Public
Terry MacLeod had the same thing on her bill. Her 78-year-old mother, Eunice Larson, died Jan. 1.
"It said right there — carbon tax. I didn't want to get into a confrontation," MacLeod said. "You just want to finalize everything.
"I'm an only child and this was my mom."
Enough gas to heat a home
Both families complained to the business, Alternatives Funeral and Cremation Services Airdrie, just outside Calgary.
MacLeod was told her mother's cremation used enough natural gas to create five tonnes of carbon dioxide, or the amount of natural gas used to heat an average home for almost a year, leading to the $100 charge.
"You just go to a business and expect it to be fair," MacLeod said.
The province says that charge was out of line, claiming the carbon tax per cremation should equal, on average, less than $1 and not more than $4.
A cremation generally costs between from $1,500 and $2,700.
At first, funeral home owner Diann Rowat told Go Public that the price was so high because "carbon tax is not just on cremation. It's on every fuel product you use, so it's also on the gas on our funeral vehicles."
'We feel foolish'
A day later, Rowat recontacted the CBC, saying she asked her accountants to double-check — and they found they were off by a decimal point.
The funeral home apologized and offered refunds to families, saying it made a mistake calculating the new tax meant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In fact, the funeral home should have charged $10.09, Rowat said.
"We feel foolish and extremely apologetic that it took a complaint to you guys to make me ask to re-do the math on this," Rowat told Go Public. "It was totally our fault."
All families charged the $100 fee will be reimbursed and receive an apology phone call, she said.
Alberta criticizes funeral home
Alberta Trade and Economic Development Minister Deron Bilous said the funeral home was "not being accurate and honest" by charging grieving families the needlessly high fee.
"It's disappointing that the company is choosing to increase their costs — which is a business decision should they so choose — but to blame the carbon levy is more than a little misleading to consumers," Bilous said.
On Jan. 1, Alberta's carbon levies kicked in. With few exceptions, a tax is being charged on all fuels that release greenhouse gases with the goal of reducing emissions.
Overestimates are a problem
Since then, businesses have struggled to estimate its impact — and what to pass on to Albertans, said Jennifer Winter, area director of energy and environmental policy at the University of Calgary.
Correctly calculating the cost of the carbon tax is difficult when considering indirect carbon use, such as heating and shipping.
"And that is what's causing a lot of the overestimates of the effect of the carbon tax," Winter said.
'Hasn't been a lot of explanation'
Other provinces introducing a similar tax should learn from mistakes made by the Alberta NDP government, she said. Most of Alberta's focus has been on educating households about increases in heating fuel and grocery costs, she said.
"There hasn't been a lot of explanation around how businesses should be treating the carbon levy or the carbon tax, and whether or not there should be rules about passing it on to consumers," Winter said.
Connon said he was even more disappointed because his mother bought her funeral package more than 20 years ago.
"It's disturbing to hear all of a sudden these costs are coming out at us, under the contract signed by her," he said.
'Tip of the iceberg'
When told about the fee, Connon found it difficult to get a straight answer about what would be an appropriate charge for a carbon tax on cremation.
"This is the tip of the iceberg," he said.
"People are going to be charged the tax for everything — and in some cases, they shouldn't be taxed for."
Connon wants the Alberta government to release guidelines for all industries so consumers can tell if they're being overcharged.
A handful of exceptions to the carbon tax overall include Indigenous people and farmers, but funeral homes and crematoriums are expected to pay.
British Columbia also has a carbon tax that applies to cremation services.
In October, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a national "floor price" on carbon that would require all provinces and territories to have some form of carbon pricing by 2018.
Ontario and Quebec have opted for a cap-and-trade plan, in which the government limits the total amount of carbon emissions allowed for business.
Cameron Davis, chairman of Alberta Funeral Services Regulatory Board, said all Canadians will soon pay more for funeral services — although he can't say how much — when other provinces start their own carbon-reduction policies.
"You're going to see it in cremation, you're going to see it in burial," he said.
Submit your story ideas
Go Public is an investigative news segment on CBC-TV, radio and the web.
We tell your stories and hold the powers that be accountable.
We want to hear from people across the country with stories they want to make public.
Submit your story ideas at Go Public.
Follow @CBCGoPublic on Twitter.