Contentious carbon tax bill passed by Alberta legislature

Alberta’s NDP government passed the contentious carbon tax bill Tuesday but opposition MLAs decried their unwillingness to accept any amendments.
Environment Minister Shannon Phillips and Education Minister David Eggen listened to ideas from high school students on how to reduce the impact of climate change, shortly after the government passed a bill Tuesday implementing a carbon tax. (Michelle Bellefontaine/CBC )

The Alberta government passed its contentious carbon tax bill Tuesday but opposition MLAs decried the NDP's unwillingness to accept amendments.

Premier Rachel Notley closed the debate on the bill by stating she was proud of the legislation. The bill passed third and final reading by a margin of 42-29. 

"The action by this government with respect to climate change is one that is long, long, long overdue in this province," Notley told the legislature. 

"Albertans told us in the last election that they were worried about climate change, that they were worried about the state of the environment, that they were worried about Alberta's reputation internationally and nationally, and that they were worried about their future as a result."

The tax, which comes into effect Jan. 1 next year, will be paid by Albertans through their home heating bills and at the gas pumps. Lower-income Albertans will start receiving rebates in January.

The tax is expected to collect $3 billion in revenues in the first two years, which the government plans to invest in green infrastructure like transit and projects to reduce emissions and improve energy efficiency. 

MLAs sat until 4:37 a.m Tuesday while the bill went through the committee of the whole. Only one of 21 amendments proposed by the opposition last night were passed. 

Government MLAs defeated amendments that would have disclosed the amount of carbon tax on fuel receipts, set performance measures to test the effectiveness of the tax, and provided exemptions or rebates to charities.

'A heavy heart'

When it came time to pass the bill, not a single opposition member voted with the government. 

The bill was opposed "with a heavy heart" by Liberal Leader David Swann, who lost his job as medical officer of health for the Palliser Health Authority in 2002 for supporting the Kyoto Accord on climate change. 

"On behalf of all Albertans we deserve a plan that includes explicit goals, performance measures, monitoring, a reporting commitment that's independent and that ensures that whether it's a New Democrat government or not, there's full accountability to Albertans, who are being asked to pay for this," he told the legislature. 

Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark said the lack of information about how the money was spent and the government's unwillingness to accept amendments were factors in his decision to vote against the bill. 

"It's disappointing that the government would not consider what I think are thoughtful amendments. We're trying to make the bill better," Clark said.

"I've been very clear that I support a carbon tax in principle. I couldn't support this carbon tax. Too many questions, and they didn't accept any of what I think are reasonable amendments to make the bill better."

The official Opposition Wildrose Party also voted against the bill. That party's MLAs said they oppose the tax because they think it will place an additional burden on families struggling with the province's economic downturn. 

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean said the carbon tax will hurt vulnerable people and those who help them. 

"We think there should be an exemption, obviously, for non-profits, for charities, for schools, for hospitals, for municipal buildings, for municipalities, all of these things, because Mr. Speaker, they're just taking money from one side and putting it to another in their own slush funds, and we don't think that's helpful," he said during the debate. 

The carbon tax is a key part of Alberta's plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

The carbon tax legislation was the last of 23 bills passed by the government in the spring session. MLAs will return to the legislature in the fall.