New Brunswick

Higgs may create his own carbon tax in wake of federal Liberal win

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs says Monday's federal election result means he'll look at how to comply with the Trudeau government's federal climate plan, including the requirement for a carbon tax for consumers.

Premier says election results show people voted for a carbon tax for consumers

Premier Blaine Higgs said Tuesday he 'can't ignore the obvious,' following Monday night's federal election results. (CBC)

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs says Monday's federal election result means he'll look at how to comply with the Trudeau government's federal climate plan, including the requirement for a carbon tax for consumers.

Higgs signalled Tuesday morning that the Liberal victory, including a decisive win in the popular vote in New Brunswick, may be a turning point in the carbon-tax debate in this province.

"People voted for it, so we have to find a way in New Brunswick to make it work," he said.

That includes exploring a made-in-New Brunswick plan that would meet Ottawa's requirements for an escalating price on fossil fuels from now until 2022.

"I will," Higgs said. "I can't ignore the obvious here. The country has spoken."

Federal Liberal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna quickly thanked Higgs for his comments in a tweet.

"Looking forward to continuing to work with you and the people of New Brunswick on climate action," she wrote. 

New Brunswick is one of four provinces that refused to come up with its own tax. In April, the Trudeau government imposed a federal carbon tax, known as the backstop, on those provinces.

Alberta has repealed its carbon tax and the federal backstop will kick in there Jan. 1.

The tax is 4.4 cents per litre this year and will rise to 11 cents per litre, the equivalent of $50 per tonne of greenhouse gases, in 2022.

Higgs said that some New Brunswickers may not have been aware of estimates that even higher carbon-tax rates will be needed in the future to meet Canada's targets under the Paris climate agreement.

37.6% of N.B. voters supported Liberals

But even so, he said he has to acknowledge the election result.

In Monday's election, 37.6 per cent of New Brunswick voters supported the federal Liberals. The NDP and the Greens, which also support carbon pricing, drew 9.4 and 17 per cent support, respectively. The Conservatives had 32.8 per cent of the vote in the province.

Six Liberal MPs were re-elected compared to three Conservatives. The province's first-ever Green MP was elected in Fredericton.

"People have voted for a carbon tax," Higgs said. "Even in New Brunswick, although we now have representatives from the Conservative side that will go to Ottawa, still there was a strong showing from Liberals and Greens."

Previous approach rejected

New Brunswick's previous Liberal government attempted to meet the federal standard by creating a carbon tax at gas pumps. But it also lowered the existing provincial gas tax by the same rate, meaning consumers did not see a net increase at the pumps.

Ottawa rejected that approach, and after he took power last fall, Higgs refused to come up with a replacement system for consumers. His government has proposed an emissions levy on large industry that the federal government has yet to approve or reject.

Higgs decided not to challenge the constitutionality of the federal backstop on consumers in court, though the province intervened in reference cases filed by Ontario and Saskatchewan.

Those two provinces lost when their top courts ruled the Trudeau plan is constitutional.

Will talk to Ontario, Sask. premiers

Higgs said he hasn't decided whether New Brunswick will intervene in appeals by Ontario and Saskatchewan of those rulings to the Supreme Court of Canada. He plans to talk soon to the premiers of those provinces.

"We do have to have that discussion, because where do we go next? Because in many ways Canadians have spoken on this issue."

In August, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said if the Liberals won the election, he might abandon the appeal.

"Once the people decide, I believe in democracy, I respect democracy, we move on," he said at the time.

But on Tuesday, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe took the opposite approach from Higgs, challenging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to bridge regional divisions by agreeing to "a new deal" with his province and Alberta, including the elimination of the carbon tax.

I think even Premier Higgs is starting to realize this isn't a winning issue for him.- Wayne Long, Saint John-Rothesay Liberal MP

Newly re-elected Saint John-Rothesay Liberal MP Wayne Long said Tuesday that federal Conservatives miscalculated in trying to make the election a referendum on the carbon tax.

"I'm a progressive standing in an industrial riding. I wasn't shying away from the fact that we need to put a price on pollution. In fact, I openly embraced it and talk about it and said I supported it. I didn't duck it, and I think constituents in the riding responded."

Long accused Higgs of dragging his feet on dealing with Ottawa's requirements because he "wanted the federal [Liberal] MPs to have to wear that and own that in this election."

"Well, the election's over, there are six of us re-elected, and now it's time to put all the politics aside. Let's sit down and come up with a legitimate made-in-New Brunswick plan."

He said increasingly frequent extreme weather, including flooding in his constituency this spring, had shifted the debate on the issue.

And he attributed his win on Monday in part to young voters in Saint John who were angry that Conservative candidate Rodney Weston refused to attend two candidate debates devoted to climate change.

"I think even Premier Higgs is starting to realize this isn't a winning issue for him. It's not a winning issue for their party," Long said.

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