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Feds go around Manitoba government to get carbon tax funds to schools

Ottawa is going around the Manitoba government in order to give $5.4 million in carbon tax revenues to the province’s schools in the latest carbon-tax battle between the federal Liberals and a provincial Conservative government.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister last month refused to play ball and help the federal government distribute carbon tax revenues so schools in his province could make energy efficient upgrades.

Manitoba’s share is from $60 million available this year for schools in the four provinces affected by the federal carbon price – Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick.

Although all four governments are opposing the tax in court, only Manitoba wouldn’t agree to work with the federal Liberals to distribute the funds to local school boards.

Ottawa expects to raise about $2.3 billion this year from the $20 levy it is applying to fuels for every tonne of greenhouse gas emissions they produce when burned. Ninety per cent is being returned to individual households through income tax rebates, but some was set aside to help small businesses, schools, universities, hospitals, municipalities and Indigenous communities.

Alan Campbell, president of the Manitoba School Boards Association, said he felt the need to step in after federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said the funds for Manitoba schools would be instead go to municipal governments, hospitals and universities.

He said school boards have higher costs because of the carbon tax, including for heating school buildings – some of which are a century old – and running bus fleets. He said board trustees have to do what they can to avoid raising school taxes to cover those additional costs.

“This opportunity for us to take some of the revenue that’s been generated through that tax and reinvest it into the schools that are owned by the communities that we represent is important,” he said.

Campbell acknowledged there were some concerns raised about wading into the political hostilities around the carbon tax because the association and school boards are not partisan. But he said in the end it was more important to not let Manitoba schools miss out on funds that can help them reduce carbon tax costs by investing in things like better windows and more efficient furnaces.

In a statement last week, McKenna said the goal was only to help schools.

“We were disappointed that, in Manitoba, the option proposed for schools to get their share of the revenues from our climate plan could not proceed as originally planned,” she said. “But where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

The school boards association contacted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on July 24th. Campbell said once talks began, “it was hours and days” before the agreement was developed.

Pallister said Wednesday he didn’t “oppose” the money for schools, but rather that it would be “unprincipled” for the government to take money from carbon tax revenues since Manitoba doesn’t agree with the measure.

“I said that Manitoba is not going to be part of a mirage,” he said.

Manitoba is one of three provinces with a court challenge against the federal government’s decision to impose a carbon price on provinces that didn’t have their own, equivalent carbon pricing system. Courts in Saskatchewan and Ontario have rejected provincial arguments in separate decisions this spring, and both rulings are being appealed.

Manitoba was going to impose its own carbon tax initially, but Pallister suddenly scrapped that plan last October.

The school boards association will receive the funds through an agreement with Ottawa, and then distribute them, likely on a per student basis, to school boards who can show they will use them for the intended purpose.

 

 


Saskatchewan wants Supreme Court to push back carbon tax appeal

The Saskatchewan government is applying to have its Supreme Court hearing on the constitutionality of the federal carbon tax pushed back.

An email from the Ministry of Justice says a delay would help Saskatchewan co-ordinate its legal challenge with similar ones coming from other provinces.

The top court was tentatively set to hear the case Dec. 5.

The province says its lawyers were supposed to submit a factum for the appeal by the end of this month, but they have not done so.

Justice Minister Don Morgan hosted a meeting Tuesday in Saskatoon with justice ministers and their legal teams from Ontario, New Brunswick and Alberta.

He believes the Supreme Court will want to hear all of the various legal arguments or cases at once instead of one at a time because of their similarity.

During the meeting the group discussed ways to strategize their legal arguments against Ottawa’s carbon levy.

The federal carbon tax was applied to Saskatchewan, Ontario, New Brunswick and Manitoba when those provinces did not have of their own.

Ontario lost a challenge in its top court last month.

Alberta, which killed its provincial carbon tax earlier this year that was brought in by the previous NDP government, is to have the federal levy imposed in January. It has also filed a legal challenge.

Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer says his government is trying to catch up with Saskatchewan and Ontario, and it was important for the ministers to compare notes.

He wants the provinces to work together so that the matter is heard by the Supreme Court in a “co-ordinated and thoughtful way.”

“We’re trying to work out (the) strategy to make sure each province can bring forward its strongest case to the Supreme Court,” he says.

Ontario Attorney General Doug Downey says his government has until August to file its notice of appeal to the Supreme Court.

There are pros and cons about presenting the cases together, he says, but wouldn’t comment on his government’s preference or strategy.

Morgan says he believes Saskatchewan’s court fight is costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, but that it’s worth it.

He says it’s difficult to calculate the exact amount since the province is relying on a mix of in-house and outside lawyers. The price tag includes court filings, travel expenses and other out-of-pocket costs.

“The importance of trying to determine federal and provincial – where the lines are – is important enough that we’re more than willing to spend the money to try and get clear resolution and clear answers to where we need to be,” he says.


Trudeau says Alberta carbon tax fight won’t affect Trans Mountain line decision

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Alberta’s opposition to a carbon tax won’t influence his cabinet’s decision on whether to approve the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

“Moves that a province may or may not make will have no bearing on the approval process for important projects like the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion,” Trudeau told reporters Friday.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has promised to bring in legislation to kill Alberta’s provincial carbon tax as the first order of his new United Conservative government.

Kenney has also promised to fight in court any move by Trudeau’s government to replace the provincial levy with the federal one.

When asked if Alberta will get the federal tax, Trudeau said, “There are many discussions still to have on this.

“What we are going to ensure is that nowhere across the country will it be free to pollute.

“We’d much rather work with the provinces on that. But if some provinces don’t want to act to fight climate change, the federal government will, because it’s too important for Canadians.”

Kenney’s spokesperson, Christine Myatt, responded in a statement: “We look forward to approval of the Trans Mountain expansion project and fully expect the federal government to do everything in its power to see that this pipeline gets built.”

The federal tax has been put in place in Ontario, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and Manitoba _ provinces that have not implemented their own carbon levy.

A week ago, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal ruled in a split decision that the tax imposed on provinces without a carbon price of their own is constitutional.

The court said establishing minimum national standards for a price on greenhouse gas emissions does fall under federal jurisdiction.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe has promised to appeal the decision up to the Supreme Court if necessary.

Ontario is also challenging the federal tax and is waiting for a decision after arguing its case in court last month.

Kenney’s office reiterated its promise to launch a similar challenge.

“We look forward to introducing legislation that will repeal the (Alberta) NDP’s job-killing carbon tax and are prepared to fight any federally-imposed carbon tax all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada,” said Myatt.

Kenney campaigned, and won, Alberta’s election last month on a platform that included repealing the provincial carbon tax.

The bill is expected to be introduced shortly after the Alberta legislature begins sitting May 21.

Kenney has promised to replace it with a program of levies on GHG emissions by large industrial producers. The money raised will then be used for carbon pollution technology and research that Kenney says can be shared globally and will have a broader impact on arresting climate change.

He says the current carbon tax on home heating and gasoline at the pumps hurts working families, while having no effect on global GHG emissions.

Alberta’s program offers rebates for low and middle-income families, and Trudeau noted the federal one does too.

“We’ve made sure that the average family is actually better off with the climate action incentive we return to them at tax time than they would be paying as an extra price on pollution,” said Trudeau.

“Fighting climate change while making it affordable for Canadians is at the heart of how we’re going to move forward.”

Trudeau’s cabinet is expected to make a decision as early as next month on whether to approve Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which will triple the capacity of oil shipped from Alberta to the west coast.


Industry reacts to proposed fines for Ontario gas stations not posting anti-carbon-tax stickers

Buried in Ontario’s budget bill are fines of up to $10,000 per day for gas station operators who don’t display government-mandated stickers about the price of the carbon tax.

gas-stickerThe budget contains a new piece of legislation called the Federal Carbon Tax Transparency Act that would require gas stations to display the sticker on each pump. The sticker shows the federal carbon tax adding 4.4 cents per litre to the price of gas now, rising to 11 cents a litre in 2022.

The legislation lets the government send inspectors to see if gas stations are properly displaying the stickers and sets out penalties for non-compliance.

Individuals could be fined up to $500 each day, or up to $1,000 a day for subsequent offences. Corporations could be fined up to $5,000 a day, or up to $10,000 a day for subsequent offences.

Obstructing an inspector would carry a fine of at least $500 and up to $10,000.

“This is a new low, even for (Premier) Doug Ford,” NDP energy critic Peter Tabuns said in a statement. “It’s bad enough that he’s wasting public money on partisan promotion, but now he’s threatening private business owners with massive fines for failing to post [Progressive] Conservative Party advertisement.”

Similar critiques came from federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, who denounced the fines as “ridiculous.”

“Not only is this a violation of freedom of speech, it will cost small business owners across the province who don’t want to take part in this government propaganda campaign,” McKenna said in a statement.

“This should be denounced by all political parties as a new low for our political discourse.”

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said Ford is wasting tax dollars and abusing legal tools to bolster his anti-carbon tax campaign.

“This has nothing to do with transparency and everything to do with helping his federal cousins win the election,” Schreiner said in a statement.

‘We cannot accept this carbon tax’

The provincial Tories are slamming the federal carbon tax at every turn, and while Ford has said he is staying out of the upcoming federal election, he directly linked the two Friday in a speech to the Ontario General Contractors Association.

“When you go to the ballot box think of your future,” he said. “Think of the country’s future. Think of your children’s future, because we cannot accept this carbon tax.”

In response, the Ontario Convenience Stores Association said on Twitter: “Independent family run gas stations are more then happy to install the carbon tax sticker on all our pumps supporting Ford Nation in educating customers of the carbon tax download on all Ontarians. Let us know how to help?”

Energy Minister Greg Rickford’s director of communications said the stickers are about transparency.

But critics note that the stickers don’t mention carbon tax rebates.

The carbon tax is expected cost to a typical household $258 this year and $648 by 2022.
With files from Michelle Warren.