Criticism of P.E.I.'s approach to carbon tax prompts heated response from minister

A call for debate on the bill to amend the Gasoline Tax Act sparked a heated response from the province in the legislature Wednesday.

Green leader Peter Bevan-Baker calls legislation "deeply flawed"

Green party leader Peter Bevan-Baker (left) criticized the province's approach to climate change and carbon tax on Wednesday, sparking a heated response from Communities, Land and Environment Minister Richard Brown. (PEI Legislative Assembly)

The start of debate in the P.E.I. legislature on carbon taxes sparked a heated response from the province in the legislature Wednesday.

The P.E.I. government announced in October it was being forced by Ottawa to implement a provincial carbon tax on motor fuels, but said it would largely offset that tax by reducing its own provincial excise tax on fuels.

The legislative changes required are contained in two bills currently before the legislature: An Act to Amend the Gasoline Tax Act and the Climate Leadership Act.

But before government could initiate debate on the first of those bills, the leader of the Green Party Peter Bevan-Baker invoked debate on the motion to begin the debate itself, referring to the bill as "deeply flawed" legislation.

He said both bills are not ready for debate in the House. 

"They are the result of hasty, short-term negotiations with the federal government. They have not been subject to public scrutiny or debate," said Bevan-Baker.

'The worst of all possible worlds'

The Green Party leader said the province's current plan gives Islanders no incentive to reduce their emissions 

"As a deal it provides Islanders with the worst of all possible worlds" he said, adding P.E.I.'s approach would leave Islanders susceptible to carbon price increases from other provinces such as New Brunswick, where P.E.I. gets most of its electricity, without providing households with rebates offered under Ottawa's carbon tax plan.

Bevan-Baker acknowledged significant investments by the province in renewable energy such as wind farms and incentives for Islanders to purchase energy-efficient technology such as heat pumps. 

Environment minister 'enraged'

Minister of Communities, Land and Environment Richard Brown responded to Bevan-Baker's comments, saying Bevan-Baker was accusing Islanders of doing nothing to reduce emissions. 

"I will defend Islanders for their efforts," he said.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent by the province, Brown said, and 30 million litres of diesel fuel has been displaced by electricity since the province signed a 2010 energy accord to reduce electricity rates.

"It gets me so enraged when people talk about Islanders not participating in the green economy. Not participating in the lowering of carbon here on Prince Edward Island," Brown said.

"We should be thanking Islanders. Not punishing them for doing the right thing for the environment."

While Brown and Bevan-Baker debated the principles behind the province's carbon tax legislation for almost an hour, debate on the legislation itself did not begin.

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