New Brunswick

Higgs works on 'backup plan' while he fights carbon tax

​Premier Blaine Higgs says he’ll stick with his plan to challenge Ottawa’s carbon tax in court but will also develop a “backup plan” while he waits for the legal fight to play out.

Premier says he has 6 weeks to come up with plan to protect New Brunswick from carbon tax

Premier Blaine Higgs says the backup plan will 'protect' New Brunswickers while he fights the carbon tax in court. (James West/Canadian Press)

Premier Blaine Higgs says he'll stick with his plan to challenge Ottawa's carbon tax in court but will also develop a "backup plan" while he waits for the legal fight to play out.

Higgs says he'll try to develop the plan over the next six weeks "so that New Brunswickers have some protection from the carbon tax while we take our fight to the courts.

"Getting the plan in place and protecting our citizens as best we can is a priority. Time is of the essence. We have six weeks."

The federal government announced Oct. 23 that the previous New Brunswick Liberal government's carbon tax plan doesn't comply with the national climate plan.

The Liberal plan meant no net increase on taxes paid by consumers for gasoline. Instead, it shifted 2.3 cents per litre of the existing gas tax into a climate fund starting last April. It was scheduled to rise each year to reach 11.6 cents of the existing tax in 2022.

But that failed to meet Ottawa's requirement that provinces make fossil fuels more expensive.

The previous Liberal government's carbon pricing plan was rejected by the federal government in October. (James West/Canadian Press)

The Liberal plan also exempted home heating fuels such as heating oil and natural gas. Ottawa's system requires they be taxed as well.

The federal plan will be imposed on industrial emitters in New Brunswick and three other non-compliant provinces on Jan. 1, although the increase at gas pumps only kicks in April 1.

Higgs promised during the election campaign to join a court challenge led by Saskatchewan that argues Ottawa can't impose a carbon tax on provinces. The deadline for New Brunswick to apply to intervene in the case is Nov. 30.

Higgs also said at the time that if the challenge failed, a PC government would find a way to rebate consumers or reduce other taxes to negate the financial impact of the tax.

He didn't say Friday if that will be part of his backup plan.

He also said the backup will not amount to a surrender.

Higgs says his backup plan will not amount to a surrender. (CBC)

"Any acceptance of the plan we submit to the federal government will not be conditional on giving up any legal fight," he said.

The new PC premier also said he won't try to craft his backup to meet the federal requirements.

"I'm not suggesting that we'll comply because I'm not optimistic that we'll be able to," he said.

Higgs argues a carbon tax isn't needed in New Brunswick to reduce emissions because the province's emissions are already at or near the level required to meet Canada's national targets under the Paris climate agreement.

"If you look at our trends moving forward, it's not going to take much to meet the national standard," Higgs said.

The province adopted its own, more stringent target in the Liberal climate bill, a 2030 target set by the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers in 2015.

"I don't see us meeting that anytime soon," Higgs said.

The easier Paris target is the one New Brunswick should be judged on in the carbon tax battle, he said.

"We have a national standard, which is a commitment for us to meet, and that's the one I'm focused on."

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