New Brunswick

New Brunswick urged to share carbon price plans now

Environmental and industry groups say it’s time Premier Brian Gallant gave New Brunswickers an idea of what kind of carbon price he plans to impose next year.

Premier Brian Gallant said province needed 'a bit more time,' but that was 8 months ago

Environmental and industry groups want Premier Brian Gallant to give an idea of what kind of carbon price he plans to impose next year.

Environmental and industry groups say it's time Premier Brian Gallant gave New Brunswickers an idea of what kind of carbon price he plans to impose next year.

It's been almost eight months since Gallant released his climate plan and declared "today, we act."

But so far, there's no indication whether the Liberals will implement a carbon tax that drivers would see at the pumps, or a cap and trade regime that would hit people indirectly through higher costs to emitters.

"We're right down in the weeds, likely, trying to find the best way to respond to the deadline," said Lois Corbett of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, which supports a price on carbon.

"On one hand, I'm sympathetic about the complexities, but on the other hand I do think it's about time that the New Brunswick government announced where it was and shed a little sunlight on where they are and what complex questions they're coming up against."

Need to plan ahead

Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, an industry organization that opposes a carbon price, agrees it's time the Liberals show their cards, allowing businesses can plan ahead.

"From a budgeting perspective and a planning perspective … they need to start planning for that," said Joel Richardson, the group's vice-president for New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

"It's always good to have a long lead-up time."

Richardson said his group hasn't been consulted by the government.

"They may just be going directly to companies," he said.

A spokesperson said Environment Minister Serge Rousselle was not available for an interview Monday.

Incentives to be created

Gallant said last December that the government needed "a bit more time" to introduce a carbon price "that helps our economy and our efforts to combat climate change."

A carbon tax would attach a surcharge on purchases tied to carbon dioxide emissions, creating an incentive to reduce consumption.

Cap-and-trade would see emitters forced to buy credits if they go over a government-mandated cap. Emitters that stay below the cap would earn credits they could then sell to the higher emitters.

New Brunswickers are still waiting to see if Premier Brian Gallant will implement a carbon tax or a cap and trade regime. (Ben Silcox/CBC)

New Brunswick can't refuse to implement a price, because the federal Liberal government says it will impose a pricing system in any province that doesn't develop its own regime by sometime in 2018.

Even provinces that develop their own plans must meet federal criteria. Otherwise, Ottawa says it will "top up" any provincial plan by imposing additional measures there, such as broadening the group a carbon price applies to or increasing its amount.

Higher costs 

Richardson said from industry's point of view, a federal or provincial system doesn't make much difference at the moment.

Employers in the province are already facing higher costs, including Worksafe NB premiums, minimum wage increases, and a new paid statutory holiday, he said.

"Regardless of whether that's a federal or provincial carbon pricing program, either way it still pulls money out of the company and puts it into government coffers, instead of leaving it in the private sector and allowing the private sector to invest that money and hire more people and improve their manufacturing facilities."

Earlier this year, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said the three Maritime governments were discussing whether New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island would join his province's cap-and-trade system, now being developed.

But on Monday a spokesperson for the Nova Scotia government suggested that's not on the table.

"To date, we have not received a formal request from New Brunswick," Krista Higdon said in an email statement. "It would be best to ask the N.B. government about what carbon pricing option they'll pursue."

Gallant has said the province will use revenue from a carbon price to pay for programs to tackle climate change or mitigate the impacts of it.

More than one deadline

Ottawa's deadline isn't the only one looming over the Liberals.

They have to run for re-election next year, so the longer they wait to settle on a carbon price, the closer to the campaign they'll have to make the announcement.

The Progressive Conservative opposition has already said it will campaign against any carbon tax.

"There's no doubt that taxing anything is going to be perceived by political opponents as fodder ripe for an election debate," Corbett said.

But she said a carbon price is the best way to get emissions down and such measures usually end up saving money.


Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. Raised in Moncton, he also produces the CBC political podcast Spin Reduxit.