New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs abandons planned carbon tax court fight

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs is abandoning plans to launch a legal challenge of the federal carbon tax but said he will continue to intervene in Saskatchewan's ongoing legal challenge to the federal carbon pricing backstop.

'It wouldn't make sense for me to ... use taxpayer dollars to go and present the same case'

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs says his government will not launch a separate court challenge of the federal government's carbon tax, despite promising to do so in December. (Stephen MacGillivray/Canadian Press)

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs is abandoning his government's plans to launch a legal challenge of Ottawa's carbon tax, adding the government will continue intervening in Saskatchewan's ongoing legal challenge of the federal carbon pricing backstop.

"Right now I won't be moving forward separately to have another court challenge in the province, but I will be working with Saskatchewan in their Supreme Court challenge," Higgs told CBC News Network's Power & Politics.

Asked why his government decided not to pursue its own challenge, Higgs said it wouldn't "make sense."

"Why would I, at this point, without being able to present a different argument ... it wouldn't make sense for me to go and use taxpayer dollars to go and present the same case," he told host Vassy Kapelos.

Under the federal government's pan-Canadian climate framework, all provinces were required to come up with a method to price carbon in order to reduce climate-altering carbon emissions. Provinces that failed to deliver their own carbon taxes or cap-and-trade plans became subject to the federal carbon tax backstop at a rate of $20 on every tonne of greenhouse gas emissions in 2019, rising by $10 each year to $50 a tonne by 2022.

That federal backstop has been imposed or announced in Ontario, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Ontario and Saskatchewan both launched legal challenges of the carbon backstop that failed in provincial courts.

New Brunswick was an intervener in both cases and will remain one in the Saskatchewan case as the province takes the matter to the Supreme Court of Canada.

In the meantime, Higgs said, the attorney general for New Brunswick will meet with counterparts from other provinces to "talk about next steps."

On Dec 5, 2018, Higgs' government stated that "the province will also be launching its own legal challenge" of the federal backstop, but it has made no moves on that front since the announcement was made.

The federal government acknowledges that the backstop will increase the cost of living but has vowed to return the money it raises from it to the people in the provinces where it was collected, in the form of rebates.

Higgs told Kapelos that he objects to the federal carbon tax in part because he fears that federal politicians will find a way to spend that revenue stream down the road.

The federal Liberals say the size of the carbon tax rebate payments will vary by province, and by the number of people in a household, but 80 per cent of Canadians will get more back in the rebate than they pay through the tax.

Those households (defined as 2.6 people) that claimed the incentive on their 2018 tax returns would have received a rebate of $300 in Ontario, $248 in New Brunswick, $336 in Manitoba and $598 in Saskatchewan.

Alberta scrapped its own carbon tax last month. The federal government has since announced the backstop will apply in Alberta starting on Jan. 1, 2020.

The Liberal MP for Fredericton, Matt Decourcey, said premiers opposed to the federal carbon backstop should end their legal attacks on the policy and focus on fighting climate change. 

"Two courts have rejected Conservative politicians' attempts to play politics with the federal price on pollution. Premier Higgs should clearly state that he won't intervene in Saskatchewan's appeal to the Supreme Court," said Decourcey. 

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