Candidates for the United Conservative Party leadership have put their promises to scrap Alberta’s carbon tax and balance the provincial budget into writing.
But they acknowledged that the pledge to abolish the carbon tax brought in by the NDP government could be complicated by the fate of Justin Trudeau’s own carbon pricing plan.
On Thursday, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation hosted three of the UCP leadership candidates — Brian Jean, Jason Kenney and Doug Schweitzer — at an event during which they signed a pledge to repeal the carbon levy within 100 days of taking office if the party wins the 2019 provincial election and to balance the budget within the first term of a UCP government.
The fourth candidate in the race, Jeff Callaway, supports the pledge but had a scheduling conflict.
The CTF’s Colin Craig said he appreciated the candidates committed not only to action but to a time-frame. And, a written promise helps keep politicians honest, he added.
“If a candidate signs our pledge but breaks their promise once elected, it will cost them dearly with voters,” said Craig at a news conference at the Days Inn.
Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP government implemented an economy-wide carbon tax on Jan. 1 based on the equivalent of $20 per tonne of emissions. It is slated to rise to the equivalent of $30 per tonne in 2018. The tax currently boosts the cost of gasoline by 4.49 cents per litre and natural gas by $1.011 per gigajoule, though about two-thirds of Albertans receive at least a partial rebate under the government program.
Revenue collected from the tax is earmarked for areas such as alternative energy development and green transportation, with the NDP recently committing $1.5 billion in carbon levy revenue over seven years to Calgary’s Green Line LRT expansion.
A complexity to the carbon tax debate in Alberta is that Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government will mandate provinces to set a minimum carbon price — through a tax or cap-and-trade system — of $10 per tonne in 2018, rising to $50 by 2022. If a province doesn’t set up its own system, the Trudeau government will implement its own carbon tax system and return the revenue to the provincial government.
The Saskatchewan government has vowed to launch a constitutional challenge over Ottawa’s authority to impose a carbon price. The UCP leadership candidates have said they would add Alberta to that challenge but acknowledge the issue could be settled even before they take office.
Jean, the former leader of the Wildrose, said that if the federal carbon price is upheld, a UCP government would have to adjust.
“Ultimately, what we would have to do is reduce corresponding taxes for those industries, corporations or individuals that are facing that $5-billion carbon tax,” said Jean, the MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin and a former MP.
Kenney said that besides legal action, there is hope that the federal Conservatives will defeat the Liberals in the next election and scrap the carbon pricing initiative, said the former Progressive Conservative leader and federal cabinet minister.
“If we fail to replace the Liberals and we lose this case in the Supreme Court, then I would consider a rebate system that would rebate the federal revenues back to Albertans in an equitable fashion,” said Kenney.
Schweitzer said he would take similar action if the federal carbon price remains in place.
“We’d look at putting in place a revenue-neutral model . . . , lowering corporate taxes, lowering personal income taxes,” said the Calgary lawyer.
In Edmonton, Notley said the potential UCP leaders are preparing to simply hand control of the carbon tax to Ottawa.
“At the same time, they will lose the ability to fund things, for instance like the Green Line in Calgary. So I hope that when they made that announcement they were upfront with the fact that the first thing they would do after that is cancel the Green Line in Calgary,” she said.