A clean-air advocate is calling on the New Brunswick government to go back to the table with its carbon-pricing plan and include stakeholders, as it did with the Clean Air Act 20 years ago.
Judy LeBlanc says the government‘s plan to repurpose a portion of the existing gas tax to finance climate change programs instead of putting an economy-wide price on carbon is “not good enough.”
She fears it won‘t satisfy Ottawa‘s requirement to create incentives for consumers and industry to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions, and will result in a federally imposed carbon tax in New Brunswick.
LeBlanc says the financially strapped province and its aging population can‘t afford to have that happen and must come up with a better, homegrown plan.
“Maybe in the [provincial] government‘s eyes they‘re not causing undue hardship to you and I as citizens [with the proposed plan], and you know what, that may be true right at this moment,” she said.
“But I‘m not willing to risk our prime minister stepping in and saying, ‘Sorry New Brunswick, it‘s not good enough.‘”
If the federal government imposes a “one size fits all” levy on New Brunswick‘s carbon dioxide polluters, LeBlanc contends industry will recoup those added costs through layoffs or by passing them along to citizens, the majority of whom are seniors already struggling on fixed incomes.
“Then indeed we are going to suffer even more.”
In a year-end interview, Premier Brian Gallant told CBC News he can persuade the federal government to approve of his carbon-pricing plan, which would see 2.3 cents of the 15.5-cent-per-litre provincial gas tax diverted into a climate change fund in April, followed by larger proportions each of the next four years, reaching 11.6 cents in 2022.
He contends the plan creates a price on carbon, even though there won‘t be any net tax increase on New Brunswickers at the gas pumps.
‘I mean no disrespect Mr. Premier but I do not believe that this is the best you can do, and selling it as the best there is will not move us forward.‘ – Judy LeBlanc, clean air advocate
Gallant says New Brunswickers shouldn‘t pay an additional carbon tax because the province has already hit the 2030 target of reducing emissions to 30 per cent of 2005 levels, has promised to phase out coal by 2030, and taxes gas higher than Alberta.
But federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna has said New Brunswick‘s plan doesn‘t meet Ottawa‘s requirement for “a new incentive to cut carbon pollution.” The province must create a new “price signal” that “makes pollution more expensive,” she has said.
‘Should send alarm bells‘
LeBlanc, a chronic lung-disease patient who has been out of the public spotlight for years after successfully lobbying for the Clean Air Act with the late Cynthia Marino, said she felt compelled to speak out again after hearing McKenna‘s comments.
They “should send alarm bells to all of us in this province,” she said. “It signals us a message the prime minister will step in if we don‘t do something better.”
LeBlanc has written a letter to Gallant, urging him to “hit the restart button on this important issue” in 2018.
“I mean no disrespect Mr. Premier but I do not believe that this is the best you can do, and selling it as the best there is will not move us forward,” the letter, carbon copied to McKenna, states.
“I do not pretend to have the answer to this complicated carbon tax issue but I do believe that we have the expertise beyond your ministers right here in New Brunswick.”
Canada hasn‘t ‘caught up‘ to N.B.
LeBlanc points to the “environmental stewardship” the province achieved in 1997 with the Clean Air Act, which made history by being co-written by “ordinary citizens” like her, and has “stood the test of time.”
It reduced provincial emissions to 17 parts per million, which continues today, while the national average stands at about 34 parts per 100 million.
The act also resulted in air quality conditions being readily available to the public, advisories being issued when conditions are poor and an annual public report on air quality.
“That act protects us today every bit as much as it did back in 1997,” said LeBlanc, who believes having patients, doctors, industry representatives, scientists and environmental experts at the table made the difference.
“In 20 years the rest of the country has not caught up” to New Brunswick, she said.
“We have been on the proper path and I think that that should allow us some breathing room to bring stakeholders to the table, look at the carbon issue as a group and come up with a solution far better than what‘s been offered.”
The federal government will formally review all provincial plans after Sept. 1, 2018, and on Jan. 1, 2019, impose its regime on provinces that don‘t meet its standard.
That means New Brunswickers will vote in the Sept. 24, 2018, provincial election without knowing whether Gallant‘s plan will get federal approval, and they‘ll be paying the existing, diverted gas tax, or a new federal tax, a few months later.