The federal carbon tax came into effect in four Canadians provinces on Monday April 1, with choreographed expressions of defiance from the usual sources. Front and centre were members of the “Resistance” – the sardonic (I hope) tag Maclean’s magazine attached to its December cover photo of the five middle-aged male Conservatives fighting the carbon tax. And for Monday’s media events, resistance fighters Andrew Scheer and Jason Kenney were joined by a recruit, New Brunswick’s Blaine Higgs who, like the aforementioned depicted premiers Ford, Pallister and Moe, heads a province subject to the federal levy.
Meanwhile in Nova Scotia, Conservative leader and resistance wannabe Tim Houston tried to make an issue of Nova Scotia’s modest contribution to the country’s token fight against climate change. As discussed here last October, Nova Scotia avoided the federal carbon tax by introducing a complicated but largely cosmetic cap-and-trade program. Applied to carbon fuel distributors, cap-and-trade led to a one cent a litre increase in the gas tax on Jan. 1, an increase that the stunt-prone Houston tried to link to a 26 cent rise in gas prices in Halifax since the beginning of the year.
This is how Houston, stealing a march on the April fools, led off question period last Friday.
HOUSTON: Mr. Speaker, at the beginning of this year, gas prices were around 96 cents in Halifax. As of this morning, the same price is about $1.22 – that’s about a third higher in three months. Many Nova Scotians might not know that since January 1st there have been some extra taxes for the carbon-pricing scheme in this province on every single litre of gasoline. I’d like to ask the Premier: Can the Premier tell Nova Scotians how much his government has collected in carbon price on gasoline since the beginning of the year?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, as the honourable member would know, the price has gone from 15.5 cents to 16.5 cents motor fuel tax on a litre of gas.
HOUSTON: Mr. Speaker, I was more interested at this time in the total amount collected and just from the information we have available, which is certainly not as much as the government’s, my back-of-the-envelope math suggests that the government has collected somewhere up to $26 million in additional gas tax revenue out of the pockets of Nova Scotians just since the beginning of the year.
Houston went on to complain that what he called “carbon-tax pricing” did not have its own separate line item in the budget like the cannabis tax. When McNeil told him the additional fuel tax would go into a green fund, Houston went all populist, mocking the notion that the fund may be used for “more charging stations in Glace Bay for all those people driving Teslas, or Inverness or New Glasgow for all those people driving $80,000 Teslas in those communities.”
Houston’s Doug Ford-style pandering speaks for itself, but his math and his comments on fuel prices need closer examination, lest anyone take them seriously. First thing to note is that the price of gas at the beginning of the year was abnormally low, down about 40 per cent from prices during summer months. The increase since January is consistent with the pattern this time last year. Prices now are about where they were last April. Any suggestion the carbon tax had anything but a one-cent impact on prices is, prima facie, nonsense.
As for the $26 million, it’s not clear from what orifice Houston pulled the envelope containing those calculations. The actual numbers can be easily estimated. The province collected $265 million in fuel tax in 2017-8, when the rate was 15.5 cents a litre. That works out to about $17.1 million per penny of tax for the year. For the three months he’s talking about, a one cent increase would yield an extra $4.3 million, not $26 million.
Naturally, Houston suggested a higher motive for his questions than a simple hop aboard the national Conservative anti-carbon levy bandwagon. Noting last month’s Stats Canada report placing Nova Scotia families at the bottom in terms of median income, Houston advised that “collecting more money from them is something that we should always do cautiously,” especially when the purpose was to pay for “a Justin Trudeau vanity project around carbon pricing.”
The irony here is that followed to its conclusion, Houston’s concern for low income Nova Scotians would have him supporting the federal tax. That’s because of the rebates. Citizens in provinces occupied by the resistance are claiming those rebates on their tax returns this spring. According to the federal government, rebates for 80 per cent of families will exceed what the 4.5 cents a litre carbon levy costs them.
In Nova Scotia, families will pay the extra penny a litre, but there is no rebate in sight.
Whether the federal Liberals’ estimate that 80 per cent of affected families will be better off remains to be seen. However, if that claim proves to be even close to accurate, the many low- and middle-income families in this province would have been better off under Trudeau’s “vanity project” than they will be with either the McNeil cap-and-trade or Houston’s implied do-nothing approach. Way to stand up for Nova Scotia families, guys.
In the meantime, amidst all of this trumped-up rage over a few pennies at the pump, yet another dire report has come out from Environment and Climate Change Canada. This one hits right at home, arguing that Canada’s climate is warming at roughly twice the rate of the rest of the world. But don’t worry, in our politics it’s business as usual.