New Brunswick’s new Tory premier says his government will develop a plan to reduce carbon emissions, but won’t give up on being part of a court challenge of the federal carbon tax.
Blaine Higgs, who was sworn in as premier last week, was briefed by federal officials on Wednesday.
“One of the most concerning aspects is, if the federal system is implemented in New Brunswick, we will pay a significant differential over provinces like Nova Scotia and P.E.I. on gas tax,” Higgs said Friday.
“Should the federal plan come into effect, as now proposed on Jan. 1, we would see an incremental increase of four cents a litre, and over the four year program we would see 12 cents a litre.”
Ottawa asked all provinces to put a minimum price on emissions of $20 a tonne by Jan. 1.
The tax will be imposed in April on New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario – the provinces which have not signed on to the federal plan or come up with their own plan to curb carbon.
Ottawa has said if it implements a federal carbon tax in provinces without a plan, it will rebate the money to residents.
Higgs said New Brunswick will join other provinces in a court challenge of the tax.
He said in the meantime, his government will develop a carbon plan as a backup, but doesn’t believe a plan that’s right for New Brunswick will meet the federal requirements.
That plan would have to be developed and submitted to Ottawa by Jan. 1.
“Any acceptance of the plan we submit to the federal government will not be conditional on giving up any legal fight,” Higgs said.
He said there’s no consistent baseline, and as a result it will be easier for some provinces like Nova Scotia – where there are five coal-fired plants – to meet the federal goals.
“We’ve had major emissions reductions in our province that met our standards. But we don’t have five coal plants. We don’t have easy pickings. We have industries that are meeting environmental standards and are top of the class in the industry,” he said.
Former Liberal premier Brian Gallant said the court challenge should not be pursued.
“I think that the court challenge based on jurisdiction is not one that’s worth following. I think it will be a bit of smoke and mirrors and seem like the government is doing something to stop the pricing mechanism, but at the end of the day it won’t get the results that we would want to see,” he said.
With a minority government, all the political parties in the legislature have been promising greater collaboration on issues, but the Liberals and the Green parties were not invited to attend the carbon tax briefing with federal officials this week.
The People’s Alliance – whose three members joined the Tories to defeat Gallant’s minority government – were invited by Higgs to attend the briefing.
When asked about that by reporters, Higgs said his party and the People’s Alliance are aligned on the position that there be no carbon tax in the province.
“I didn’t want to spend time arguing with officials, I wanted to spend time finding a formula that I would believe in, and was more aligned with the Alliance’s strategy too, because they don’t believe in the carbon tax either,” he said.
Higgs said the two parties are also aligned on the need to address a shortage of paramedics that has affected ambulance service in parts of the province. He said a solution will be announced on Monday.
Green Leader David Coon said he asked to be included in the briefing on the carbon tax but was told, “No.” He said he was told he might be briefed at a later date.
“The premier perhaps is a little upset right now with me, and that’s fine. He’ll get over it. Once he gets over it we’ll be able to start working together on things that we share in common,” he said.
Coon said all the parties need to work in collaboration, and noted he had not been consulted on a solution for the paramedics shortage, or on what should be included in the Tories’ throne speech.
Higgs said he has looked at what each of the parties submitted when the Liberals were putting their throne speech together, and will take that input into account.
He said the speech will include five main priorities for his government moving forward, rather than a long shopping list of promises.