Premier Brian Gallant says any carbon tax introduced in New Brunswick will be revenue-neutral, its impact offset by the government giving up tax revenue elsewhere.
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Gallant made the comment to reporters Wednesday as he prepared to travel to the Paris climate change summit later this week.
He says the summit is "a chance for us to go and learn" about how other jurisdictions are trying to reduce emissions.
"There are many jurisdictions in Canada and around the world who are doing good things, and of course, some things that aren't working," he said.
But, at a time when his government is looking at raising the Harmonized Sales Tax and bringing in highway tolls, Gallant made it clear he doesn't want to be accused of making a cash grab for climate change.
"If we were to look at any type of price on carbon, we would make sure that it would be revenue neutral," he said.
"It's very clear that the best way to do any type of price on carbon for a jurisdiction and have a good, positive impact on the economy is making it revenue neutral."
That would mean finding a way to reduce the overall tax burden by the same amount of money. He wouldn't speculate on how that would work.
"It would be premature to talk about how it would work because we're not even sure we're going to implement one," he said.
Carbon tax just 1 option
Gallant underscored several times that a carbon tax is only one option his government is looking at, and it's not a done deal.
"When we say we're considering all things, it could be different kinds of ways to approach fighting climate change," he said.
Last week's options report, which laid out a range of initiatives the government is considering to raise revenue and cut spending, didn't mention a carbon tax.
Gallant said that's because the report looks at ways to reduce the deficit, and a revenue-neutral carbon tax would have no effect.
But PC environment critic Brian Kierstead said it's difficult to make a carbon tax revenue neutral "because there are so many unknown factors with it."
New Brunswick's emissions have already gone down without a carbon tax, he said. "It's the technology that's changing. The technology is going to get us there, not charging the general populace more money."
Defends Paris delegation size
The premier also defended the size of New Brunswick's delegation to Paris.
Besides Gallant himself, it will include a civil servant from the Environment Department, the CEO of the Jobs Board, Gallant's executive assistant, and two opposition MLAs, Kierstead and Green Party Leader David Coon.
NDP leader Dominic Cardy has criticized the six-member delegation as too big and too expensive. "Flying people to Paris for a photo-op is a waste of money," he said this week on Twitter.
By contrast, Nova Scotia is sending only two people to Paris, the provincial environment minister and one staffer.
Gallant rejected the criticism. "I know there are a lot of provinces that are sending a lot more than that," he said.
Gallant's office provided the size of other provincial delegations, ranging from Ontario's 35-person group, to Prince Edward Island's three. Two Canadian premiers are travelling to and from the conference twice.
Coon and Kierstead "will add to the discussion" and contribute to the non-partisan flavour of the discussion, Gallant said, while bringing his executive assistant is "very normal common practise to ensure everything goes well, logistically speaking."
Gallant said Jobs Board CEO Jacques Pinet was part of the group because Gallant plans a speech to a business group while in France.
"We hope to look for some leads to create jobs and economic growth here in New Brunswick," he said.
"Every time I travel, I always try to take some time to look for some leads and some potential investment."
Coon, a long-time environmentalist, said he felt he had something to offer the delegation.
"I had nothing to do with how many people they decided to send, obviously. But I decided to accept the invitation because I think I can make a real contribution to our delegation in Paris … based on 25 years of experience working on climate policy."