Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says his government will launch a third constitutional challenge against the federal carbon tax, as his newly elected United Conservative government begins an aggressive legislative session designed to undo many of the policies of his predecessor.
Mr. Kenney outlined his legal strategy on Wednesday, as his government tabled legislation to scrap the province’s carbon tax and roll back its climate-change programs. His government also presented a Throne Speech that promised corporate tax cuts, changes to labour laws and other legislative changes, while the Premier said a spending freeze over the next four years would reduce the size of the public sector.
Mr. Kenney had previously suggested Alberta may not need to file its own legal case.
“I’ve given direction to our Attorney-General to prepare a constitutional challenge through a reference to Alberta Court of Appeal that will challenge the jurisdiction of Ottawa to bigfoot in here and punish Alberta taxpayers for filling up their gas tanks and heating their homes,” Mr. Kenney told reporters in Edmonton.
The province’s carbon tax will be phased out by next Thursday, but Mr. Kenney’s replacement – a narrower tax on industrial polluters meant to fund technology projects – won’t be ready until the fall at the earliest.
The Premier acknowledged that the federal government will almost certainly respond to the end of the province’s tax by imposing a federal carbon price. Along with his court challenge of the federal tax, Mr. Kenney said Alberta will support Saskatchewan’s appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada after that province’s Appeal Court ruled earlier this month that the federal government’s carbon tax is constitutional. Ontario is awaiting a decision in a similar case filed there.
Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna has already made it clear the backstop would apply in Alberta if the provincial carbon tax is repealed, although she has not said how quickly that may happen. She was not available to comment on Wednesday.
Mr. Kenney has promised a “summer of repeal” as his new government has called back the legislature with plans to undo much of the legacy left by former premier Rachel Notley’s New Democrats. The legislature is expected to sit until after the Calgary Stampede.
According to the speech, the first year of Mr. Kenney’s legislative program will see the province’s carbon tax repealed by May 30, along with a one-third cut to corporate taxes over the next four years and a lower minimum wage for young workers. The proposed legislation follows Mr. Kenney’s platform during the campaign for last month’s election.
“This government has gotten down to work diligently, turning every dial at their disposal, and thinking very hard for how to prepare Alberta for two decades ago. It’s backwards and it won’t work,” Ms. Notley said in response to the speech. The former premier is now leading the NDP in opposition.
The NDP Leader criticized the government’s move to dismember Alberta’s climate-change strategy by ending the provincewide carbon tax along with a number of energy-efficiency programs.
She also took aim at a number of proposals on labour rules, with changes to union legislation and an end to guaranteed overtime pay. “It’s a misguided belief that the road to job creation is paved with abandoned workers rights,” she said.
Several other major promises, including a new program to tax heavy industrial greenhouse gas emitters and repeal a farm-safety law brought in by the NDP, will wait until the fall.
The UCP will work on designing its new climate program over the summer. Mr. Kenney said the province will argue in court that the planned $20 a tonne tax on large emitters – less than the province’s current rate of $30 a tonne – should mean that the federal government has no business regulating emissions in Alberta.
He also invited the federal government to provide input on how Alberta’s new system would work. “Clearly we disagree with the idea of punishing consumers, but we do agree that there could be some value in a levy on major emitters,” he said.
The government plans to table a budget in the fall session, as it begins to implement a spending freeze designed to help the province return to a balanced budget. Economists have said a proposed four-year spending freeze amounts to a 14-per-cent cut after accounting for inflation and population growth.