N.W.T. gov't trying to 'wriggle out' of carbon tax policy, says critic

Andrew Robinson, of Alternatives North, says the recently announced carbon tax won’t have a big enough effect on our consumption levels. The government says it’s a necessary place to start.

Carbon tax will charge $20 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions; increase to $50 by 2022

The territorial government hopes rebates and a new cost of living tax benefit will offset the increased price of fuel. But Robinson said the government is trying to "wriggle" out of committing to combating climate change. (Rae Braden)

A Yellowknife social justice coalition said the territorial government is trying to "wriggle out" of showing real commitment to combating climate change with its new carbon tax policy.

Andrew Robinson, a spokesperson for Alternatives North, said a carbon tax is needed, but the current version is "not a good way to show leadership" on climate change.

The tax will target any fuel sold in the territory — including gasoline, diesel, propane and other fossil fuels. Initially, the tax will charge $20 per tonne of greenhouse emissions, but this will increase to $50 per tonne by 2022.

This will mean a gas price increase of five cents/litre starting July 1, 2019, and will rise to 11 cents once the tax is fully implemented by 2022.

The government hopes a series of rebates and a new cost of living tax benefit will offset increased fuel prices. The new policy was announced Wednesday.

For Robinson, the numerous rebates available means there is no incentive for people to consume fewer fossil fuels. When "everything else gets rebated right at the pump," he said, "it's not sending a price signal to tell people that we should stop using fossil fuels."

Robinson recognizes that the N.W.T. already has an extremely high cost of living compared to other provinces, and says no carbon tax can work without offsetting the impacts to the cost of living. 

He also believes the government should provide incentives to move off of fossil fuels and toward green technologies. 

But he feels the current version of the tax does not do enough to make emitters feel its effects. 

"It's important to put a line in the sand and say, 'this is something we want to do.'" 

'Made-in-the-North solution'

Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart chaired the Standing Committee that evaluated the proposed plan. He said this was a critical first step in addressing climate change.

Testart said the territory needs to show leadership in fighting climate change. 'We need to be at the front of the national conversation,' he said. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

He called the new plan a "good way to approach the carbon tax as a made-in-the-North solution," and said it struck the right balance between the territory's responsibilities toward climate change and its commitment to growing the economy.

Testart believes including rebates and a new cost of living tax benefit in the plan was critical to ease the transition for both consumers and industries, given the already high costs of living and conducting business in the north.

Yet, Testart said the tax, in some ways, doesn't go far enough. "In four years our economic situation might change," he said. "I would like to see the minister commit to a tax plan that will change and be updated periodically."

He agrees with Robinson on one key issue: the North has a unique responsibility to be an example in the fight against climate change.

"We need to be at the front of the national conversation. We need to do more than just our part. We need to show real leadership," Testart said.