Senate OKs Carbon Tax Probe

The Senate will holding hearings, the first by a parliamentary committee, on the household cost of a carbon tax. The investigation by the energy committee follows government research that identified widespread public scepticism over carbon pricing.

“We want to look at the issues that surround the government’s intention to reduce greenhouse gases in Canada,” said Senator Richard Neufeld (Conservative-B.C.), committee chair. “We want to know how that’s going to affect Fred and Martha, the people on the street, the ordinary citizen. I don’t think any of that has been done.”

The environment department in a Strategy For Canada 2016-2019 proposed a 17 percent reduction in 2005 greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, a target set by cabinet six years ago in the Copenhagen Accord. Strategy called for a total 30 percent reduction by 2030. The department has not yet detailed any regulations to meet its targets.

The Senate approved a motion that its energy committee “identify and report on the impact transitioning to a low carbon economy will have on energy and users, including Canadian households and businesses; identify and report on the most viable way electricity, oil and gas, transportation, buildings and trade-exposed energy intensive industries can contribute to a low carbon economy in meeting Canada’s emission targets; and identify areas of concern and make any necessary recommendations to the federal government that will help achieve greenhouse gas emission targets in a manner that is sustainable, affordable, efficient, equitable and achievable.” A final report is due by September 30, 2017.

“This is not to say that we shouldn’t be changing,” said Neufeld, a former B.C. energy minister. “That’s not what we’re saying. This is not to say that climate changing isn’t happening. This is to ask what the effects are.”

“Fred and Martha should have the right to know that this is what could happen,” Neufeld told the Senate. “That is what we’re trying to do.”

Natural Resources Canada in private focus group research concluded Canadians are unwilling to pay out of pocket for climate change programs, and fear any carbon tax will merely punish homeowners and motorists: “Since people rely on their vehicles as their primary mode of transportation, a small increase in operating costs would not affect their driving habits but would only increase personal expenditures,” said a 2015 report Public Opinion Research On Energy Issues by researchers at Leger.

Average temperatures nationwide have risen more than 1.3° since 1948, about twice the global rate, according to Department of Natural Resources data Overview Of Climate Change In Canada. However focus groups told researchers they had “objections or doubts about various government actions that could be imposed to curtail greenhouse gas emissions.”

Carbon taxes were considered “simply another way for governments to tax residents and would not have its intended effect on consumer behaviour,” Public Opinion said. Cap and trade systems were deemed complex and “unrealistic”. Use of green technology including hybrid vehicles was more popular, though “many participants believe it would be useful for the Canadian government to provide tax incentives” to promote their use.”

The research was based on focus groups in Vancouver, Whitehorse, Calgary, Mississauga, Ont., Montréal and Truro, N.S.

By Tom Korski

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