Calgary

Alberta justice minister says province will 'fight back' against federal carbon tax

Alberta’s justice minister reiterated on Tuesday his government’s determination to fight the federal carbon tax, which is set to come into force in the province on New Year’s Day.

Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act comes into force in Alberta on Jan. 1

Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer says the province is fighting the federal carbon tax on constitutional grounds. (CBC)

Alberta's justice minister reiterated on Tuesday his government's determination to fight the federal carbon tax, which is set to come into force in the province on New Year's Day. 

Doug Schweitzer held a news conference on New Year's Eve at a Calgary truck stop where he told reporters he's optimistic Alberta's highest court will agree with the UCP argument that the federal tax is an unconstitutional overreach by Ottawa into provincial jurisdiction.

"This is the jurisdictional space of Alberta," he said. "We're not willing to cave on this."

Court of Appeal 

Five judges on the Court of Appeal of Alberta heard arguments earlier this month about the constitutionality of the federal Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act (GGPA). The Alberta Court of Appeal has reserved its decision after five days of arguments.

"We were encouraged by the questions the court was asking," Schweitzer said.

The case was referred to the court by the provincial government earlier this year. 

Alberta's own carbon tax came into effect in Jan. 1, 2017 under the former NDP government, but was eliminated soon after the UCP took office this spring.

The end of the provincial tax means the federal tax of $30 per tonne will come into effect on Jan. 1, 2020. 

Peace, order and good government

The federal government has argued climate change is an urgent national concern that requires action by Parliament.

Ottawa argues its authority for the tax comes from the Constitution's peace, order and good government clause. Establishing minimum national standards on greenhouse gas emissions "is a matter of national concern that only Parliament can address."

But Alberta argues it should be able to create its own legislation to reflect circumstances that differ from other Canadian provinces. 

Ontario and Saskatchewan have also gone to their top courts to oppose the tax, but lost. They are appealing to the Supreme Court of Canada.

"That case is going to be really critical," said Schweitzer.

Cost and rebate

Starting Wednesday, a litre of gas is expected to cost about four cents more under the new tax regime, with that levy increasing to almost seven cents in April.

That represents a carbon tax of $20 per tonne of carbon dioxide, increasing to $30 in the spring.

The federal Liberals are accompanying the tax with a rebate program. Ottawa says the average Alberta household will receive about $880 under that program, which is about $170 more than it is expected to pay.

Nonetheless, Schweitzer predicted the tax will cost 10,000 jobs in Alberta.

"This is going to have broader economic impact on Alberta as well," he said.

Those who live in small or rural communities will receive a higher rebate, and fuel used for farm machinery can be exempted from the tax. Municipalities, public institutions, small businesses and Indigenous communities are also to receive extra funding to help them lower their energy costs.

With files from The Canadian Press

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