Albertans eager to save some money with death of provincial carbon tax

As promised, Alberta premier Jason Kenney is set to pull the plug on Alberta's carbon tax.

Bill 1 will be the government's first order of business. The legislation to repeal the tax is set to be tabled in the legislature soon after today's speech from the throne.

Kenney said last week the bill would sail through the approval process and promised the tax would be dead by May 30.

Exact details about what this means for consumers and their rebate cheques will have to wait. 

"More details will be available when we table Bill 1 in the house," Finance Minister Travis Toews said in an emailed statement to CBC News. 

Government house leader Jason Nixon said it would help average Albertans.

"Passing the carbon tax repeal act will mean that ordinary people will no longer be punished for heating their homes and driving to work," he said Tuesday. 

Albertans are in line for a break on gasoline and natural gas costs.

According to researchers at the University of Calgary, the average household has been paying an extra $450 a year in carbon tax-related costs since the former NDP government brought in what it called its Climate Leadership Plan.

But four in 10 households received a rebate to cover those costs — and those rebates, along with the tax, will soon be gassed.

Relief may be short-lived 

Trevor Tombe, an economics professor at the University of Calgary, says any savings from the death of Alberta's carbon tax will likely be short-lived because the federal government will likely move to impose its own version of the tax here. 

"There may be a matter of days, potentially weeks, before the federal tax kicks in, but the federal tax is smaller for 2019," said Tombe.

The federal carbon tax was imposed in Manitoba, New Brunswick, Ontario and Saskatchewan on April 1.

Bryan Labby/CBC

The federal carbon tax is less than what Albertans have been paying. It's $20 per tonne, while the Alberta rate is $30. 

Albertans have been paying 6.73 cents per litre on gasoline and $1.51 per gigajoule on natural gas.

Federal carbon tax lower than Alberta's 

The federal rate on gasoline is 4.42 cents per litre and $.0391 per cubic metre on natural gas. Rebates are given to Albertans earning less than $47,500 per year and to families whose household income is less $95,000 per year.

Tombe says the rebates — $300 for singles and up to $630 for families — in some cases have been higher than the carbon tax paid by those individuals and families. 

He says once the carbon tax and the rebates end, those people will actually lose money.

"So for those households, eliminating the carbon tax is actually going to reduce their disposable income. And those tend to be lower income households by far."

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However, the federal rebates would be larger and apply to more people, according to Jennifer Winter at the University of Calgary's school of public policy.

"Under the federal system, 80 per cent of Albertans would receive a rebate that's greater than their carbon tax costs. Compare that to under the Alberta system, about 40 per cent of Albertans receive a rebate that is greater than their carbon tax costs," she said.

It's unclear how quickly Ottawa will move to impose its own tax here. The government has said it monitors major changes to provincial carbon price systems on an ongoing basis.

The press secretary to the federal minister of environment and climate change said in an email to the CBC that "any credible plan to fight climate change includes a price on pollution."

Sabrina Kim added: "Our government will review Alberta's legislation carefully; however, we have always been clear that in Canada it will no longer be free to pollute."

Nixon, who is also Alberta's minister of environment, admitted Tuesday that he has yet to speak with his federal counterpart, Catherine McKenna. 

He also couldn't say when Ottawa may move to impose the federal carbon price here.

"Look, the reality is, if they bring in a backstop [the federal carbon tax], it's less than what the NDP were putting on Albertans. And our premier has been clear on what our fight back strategy is, and we will continue to defend Albertans," he said.

Kenney has said part of that "fight back strategy" includes joining the government of Saskatchewan in appealing a recent court decision that ruled in favour of the federal carbon tax.

Lower food prices?  

The elimination of the carbon tax could lead to a small reduction in food prices at grocery stores and restaurants, because of lower transportation costs.  

Some savvy retailers could market the demise of the tax to drum up business.

"One campaign could trigger a series of different campaigns, which could actually lead to a slight situation where you see food deflation," said Sylvain Charlebois.

Julie Debeljak/CBC

But Charlebois, who is the senior director at the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, says any reduction would be short-lived.

"I'm not sure there's going to be any major shift to the grocery store or at the restaurant," he said.

He predicts the elimination of the tax could benefit local food producers. 

"It will allow Alberta-based companies to remain competitive against imported products. Companies outside our jurisdiction, most of them don't need to deal with a carbon tax. So that's going to help as well," Charlebois said.

City, school boards to save millions

The City of Calgary says it paid $6.4 million in direct carbon tax costs last year. The Calgary Board of Education spent more than $3 million, while the Calgary Catholic School District spent just over $500,000.

Nathan Denette/Canadian Press

The expected end of the Alberta carbon tax is just the beginning of the fight against carbon pricing, according to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. 

"Albertans are counting on the United Conservative government to repeal the carbon tax and then to go after the federal government's carbon tax," said Franco Terrazzano, the Alberta-based spokesperson for the group.