Road toll critique odd to hear from carbon tax-supporting Notley, economist says

Pollster Janet Brown suggests the NDP might be trying to get the UCP to commit to policies ahead of the provincial election.

Alberta's premier has gone after her chief rival, Jason Kenney, for a possible price on some roads

Toll roads are touted as a way to charge drivers for creating pollution, while drumming up cash to pay for new roads. (Kevin Frayer/The Canadian Press)

Economist Dale Beugin says he found Rachel Notley's recent criticism of road tolls a bit odd. 

Her critique was ironic, he said, because the New Democratic Party supports a price on carbon, which is a similar concept to a road toll: users pay the cost.

"The principles of a carbon price and a congestion price or a road toll are kind of exactly the same," said Beugin, executive director of the Ecofiscal Commission, a group of Canadian economists focused on environmental policies.

"When you put a price on accessing roads or accessing ways to get around, then you're giving people incentives to drive at different times and there's less traffic."

Road toll speech

Last week, Notley told the Alberta's Industrial Heartland Association that United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney wanted to add user fees to infrastructure projects.

The UCP denies suggesting tolls on existing roads but has not ruled them out for new projects. In a statement, a spokesperson said the party hoped to "find new and creative approaches for needed industrial infrastructure."

The two party leaders are expected to go head-to-head this spring in the provincial election.

Calgary-based pollster Janet Brown said she also thought it was curious Notley went after tolls.

"When she gave that speech to the Heartland society, you could have subsitituted the word 'tolls' for 'carbon tax' and had a Jason Kenney speech," Brown said.

Albertans don't like paying tax, however, so the message may win, said Brown.

Jason Kenney and Rachel Notley will go head-to-head in this spring's election. (CBC)

Brown suggested Notley may also be trying to force the UCP to give a few particulars on their policies. 

"She's trying to draw Jason Kenney out. He's talking about eliminating the carbon tax, which will mean less revenues for government," Brown said. "He's… talking about getting spending under control, which will mean reduced spending, but he's been pretty light on the details about how he's going to do that."

If there are more details, Brown said the public will better be able to compare the two parties's plans.

Brown said a segment of the population generally does support road tolls. Their opinion, she said, is that they shouldn't have to pay for wide, new roads if they themselves never drive on them.

Road tolls have also been touted as a way to ease congestion, fund new roads and push commuters to other means of transportation.

An election can be called between March 1 and May 31.

With files from Anis Heydari and Helen Pike