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Dustin Duncan, now the minister responsible for SaskEnergy, speaks at the Legislative Building in Regina, on Aug. 22, 2023.Michael Bell/The Canadian Press

Saskatchewan’s Crown natural gas and electric utilities have removed the federal carbon price from home heating bills, a move that the government says will improve fairness for its residents in relation to the other provinces.

In the fall, the federal government announced that home heating oil, which is most widely used in the Atlantic provinces, would not be subject to the federal carbon price for more than three years. Saskatchewan asked for the exemption to cover all other forms of heating, but Ottawa denied the request. In response, the province said it would stop collecting the charge at the start of 2024.

Dustin Duncan, the minister responsible for natural gas utility SaskEnergy and electric utility SaskPower, said in a statement last week that his province was removing the carbon price as of Jan. 1 to help families “who were left out in the cold by the federal government.”

The Saskatchewan government says the decision will result in savings for about 98 per cent of families in the province who use natural gas from SaskEnergy to heat their homes, to the tune of approximately $400 each in 2024.

Heating accounts for up to 60 per cent of power consumption during the winter months for customers who rely on electric heat. SaskPower will eliminate the carbon price by reducing the rate rider on their bills by that amount, or an average of $21 a month through the winter.

Ottawa’s decision to give a break on heating oil has drawn an unusual united chorus of rebuke from Canada’s premiers, who in November unanimously called for fairness in the government’s climate and affordability policies.

All but two provincial leaders also said Ottawa should extend its carbon price exemption to all home heating fuels, not just heating oil. But the federal Liberals have rejected the idea of introducing any further exemptions to the carbon price.

Mr. Duncan said the due date to pay the levy to the federal government is the last day of February. Should SaskEnergy not remit those dollars, it would be breaking federal law, and executives could face fines or jail time.

But Saskatchewan passed legislation last month that aims to shield executives from legal consequences, putting that burden on the province. Mr. Duncan said SaskEnergy had asked the federal government to remove it as a registered distributor of natural gas. He said the company wants Ottawa to instead list the province as the distributor.

Premier Scott Moe told The Canadian Press in a year-end interview that it was “unfortunate” that the decision to stop collecting the levy would result in a violation of federal law, but said he believes it’s a fair move.

“That violation is coming about by the province making the very same decision on behalf of its residents as the federal government did on behalf of residents in Atlantic Canada,” Mr. Moe said.

Former federal environment minister Catherine McKenna slammed the Saskatchewan Premier’s interview statements on X, the social-media platform formerly known as Twitter.

“The rule of law is fundamental to our democracy. The disdain you show for it is unbefitting a Premier and puts our country on a dangerous road,” she posted on Saturday.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith – who had also requested a carbon price carveout for natural gas heating – responded to Ms. McKenna that Mr. Moe is asking the federal government to follow the rule of law.

“I sincerely hope that 2024 brings a change of attitude and perspective from the federal Liberals in how they approach dealing with Canadian provinces under the constitution,” Ms. Smith posted.

Meanwhile, Alberta’s United Conservative government reintroduced the province’s gas tax on Jan. 1, after pausing it in 2022. Motorists will pay nine cents a litre, according to Finance Minister Nate Horner.

The Opposition NDP criticized the UCP for reintroducing the tax, as Albertans continue to face economic pressures.

“The UCP spent the legislative session removing limits on the gifts they can receive, and increasing salaries for their friends on boards, but all the people of this province get is a tax hike,” energy and climate critic Kathleen Ganley said in a statement Monday.

Manitoba has gone in the opposite direction to Alberta, pausing its 14-cents-a-litre fuel tax on Jan. 1 for the next six months. The province has said it introduced the measure to help motorists with inflation.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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