New Brunswick

Liberals' carbon tax plan an 'empty accounting exercise': Coon

Green Party Leader David Coon says spending estimates by the province reveal most of the money from the carbon tax will merely replace existing spending.

Green Party leader argues shifting of gas tax money creates no new spending on climate change

David Coon, leader of the Green Party of New Brunswick, says the Liberals' carbon-tax plan creates no new action on climate change. (Jacques Poitras/CBC file photo)

New Brunswick's new climate plan has already been labelled a charade at the tax-revenue end, and now it's being called equally illusory at the spending end as well.

Green Party Leader David Coon says spending estimates by the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure reveal most of the money from the carbon tax will merely replace existing spending, in the same amounts, on the very same things.

"There's no new money in the climate change fund to do anything," Coon said. "The government was pretending that there was something new here by creating this climate change fund, and all it is is an empty accounting exercise."

The Gallant Liberals' will shift gas tax funds to a climate change fund beginning April 1. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

A spokesperson for the department confirmed the coming year's spending on energy retrofits for government building and renewable energy, $20.3 million, will be the same as the current year's.

The amounts to be spent from the climate fund on shoreline protection, $1 million, and on dyke maintenance, $550,000, will also be the same.

Spending breakdown

The only difference is that in 2018-19, the money will be listed as coming from the climate fund, collected through the Gallant Liberals' carbon-pricing scheme.

Coon said it appears the Gallant Liberals simply chose a range of programs that fit within the $37.4 million it will collect in 2018-19.

Starting April 1, 2.3 cents of the 15.5-cent per litre provincial gas tax will be redefined as a carbon price and moved into the climate fund, generating $37.4 million in revenue.

Premier Brian Gallant has been criticized for apparently spurring no new spending on climate change projects. (CBC)

"It actually comes to some large percentage of what the climate change fund contains, and so 'that's what we're going to call our spending from the climate change fund,'" Coon said.

The new "carbon share" of the gas tax will rise each year to reach 11.64 cents in 2022-23, when it will rake in $180 million ostensibly dedicated to climate-change programs.

[The] government's unwilling to acknowledge that's the inevitability of what will happen in January.- Green Party Leader David Coon

But Coon said if both the tax revenue and the spending are staying the same with a new label attached, it amounts to no new action on climate.

"Essentially what they did is say, 'If we tag this much of the gas tax, can we find an equal amount of activity that we spent money on in the past, and call that being funded out of the climate change fund?' Well, yes they can."

Public will know where the money goes

Environment Minister Serge Rousselle did not respond directly to Coon's criticism but said the allocation of the climate-fund money should not be a surprise.

"We clearly announced exactly where we are going to invest the money," he said. "These are all environmental. We said it's mitigation and adaptation and that's exactly what we're doing with the money."

He said when climate legislation takes effect April 1, the province will be required to report to the public on where the funds are going. "You'll be able to see. We have to publish all the details … of where the money is invested, and this 37 million will be invested."

Environment Minister Serge Rouselle believes Ottawa will approve the province's carbon-tax plan. (CBC)

In fact, not all of the $37.4 million will be spent on programs. The provincial budget said $1.6 million of the total will fund the salaries and operations of civil servants working in the climate change secretariat.

Another $3.8 million will be held over to be spent in future years, meaning more than 14 per cent of this year's carbon price revenue will not be spent on climate initiatives in 2018-19.

That leaves $32.1 million for programs, so the $23.4 million to continue funding existing Transportation and Infrastructure programs represents more than 70 per cent of the climate fund money to be spent in the coming year.

Minister says plan will be approved

All of the discussion around the province spending the tax revenue on climate programs is based on the shaky assumption the federal government will accept that New Brunswick's plan complies with national requirements.

Rousselle said it does, but federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna said last December that New Brunswick's relabelling of existing gas tax money as a carbon price "does not create a new incentive to cut carbon pollution."

Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna was critical of the province's plan when it was first announced. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

She said provinces must create "a price signal that wasn't there before" on carbon dioxide emissions to get them down.

Ottawa will impose its own federal carbon price on provinces that don't comply and McKenna said it may return revenue directly to people rather than to provincial governments — meaning it won't be there for those governments to spend.

"I think that's what's going to happen," Coon said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said earlier this year federal carbon-tax rebates would be "hopefully compensating those who are more vulnerable and less able to find alternatives" to using fossil fuels.

Provinces must officially submit their plans to Ottawa by Sept. 1.

Provinces must officially submit their plans to Ottawa by Sept. 1. Those that aren't complying with the federal guidelines will see a carbon tax imposed on Jan. 1, 2019.

Coon said there's been no discussion of how a federal rejection of the New Brunswick plan would affect climate programs here "because government's unwilling to acknowledge that's the inevitability of what will happen in January."


Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. He grew up in Moncton and covered Parliament in Ottawa for the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. He has reported on every New Brunswick election since 1995 and won awards from the Radio Television Digital News Association, the National Newspaper Awards and Amnesty International. He is also the author of five non-fiction books about New Brunswick politics and history.


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