Drivers say Sask.'s move to become first province to tax electric vehicles is political

·4 min read
Finance Minister Donna Harpauer said Saskatchewan is the first province in Canada to introduce a tax on passenger electric vehicles. The province is also looking into taxing charging stations.  (Matt Duguid/CBC  - image credit)
Finance Minister Donna Harpauer said Saskatchewan is the first province in Canada to introduce a tax on passenger electric vehicles. The province is also looking into taxing charging stations. (Matt Duguid/CBC - image credit)

Electric vehicle owners in Saskatchewan are not being as quiet as the cars they drive.

The Saskatchewan government is slapping a $150 annual fee on passenger electric vehicles, starting Oct. 1.

The move was announced as part of the province's 2021-22 budget, released Tuesday. Finance Minister Donna Harpauer said Saskatchewan is the first province in Canada to implement a tax on electric vehicles.

For Will Yip, who bought a Nissan Leaf last week, that means paying more than he initially budgeted for.

"I bought an electric vehicle because I thought it would be cost-efficient, not because I'm trying to save a bunch of trees," Yip said.

"And the fact they're kind of changing the rules without letting us know ahead of time, that's the part that frustrates me."

Will Yip bought his electric vehicle, a Nissan Leaf, one week before the province introduced a new tax on EVs.
Will Yip bought his electric vehicle, a Nissan Leaf, one week before the province introduced a new tax on EVs. (Will Yip)

Yip would have liked to see the government consult with EV owners before introducing the tax.

"They're just kind of being petty and kind of not being creative," Yip said.

It is another blow to EV drivers in the province, who had a green rebate for owners of zero-emission and hybrid vehicles pulled back in 2012 by a previous Sask. Party government.

"What we're sort of seeing is a pattern. When you take into account the rebates on gasoline being proposed, that basically circumvents the carbon tax, as well as a province that doesn't have an electric vehicle incentive, we're seeing this pattern that makes it easier to pollute and more expensive to be sustainable," said Joel Murray, vice president of Tesla Owners of Saskatchewan.

Minister Donna Harpauer said passenger electric vehicles are getting taxed because they don't contribute to the fuel tax, which is used to maintain roads and highways.
Minister Donna Harpauer said passenger electric vehicles are getting taxed because they don't contribute to the fuel tax, which is used to maintain roads and highways.(Matt Duguid/CBC )

A conversation about fairness

Harpauer said the government is implementing the tax to help pay for roads and highways.

"We need to have the conversation of fairness. If you have a gas or diesel vehicle, of course, you're contributing to road maintenance replacement. EVs are using the same roads, and there's the same wear and tear but there's no contribution because of the fuel tax," Harpauer said on CBC's Morning Edition.

Tyler Krause, president of Tesla Owners of Saskatchewan, said the fairness argument is "a little bit ridiculous."

Yip, who pays a carbon tax to charge his Nissan, called it "a smokescreen, a straw dog."

Other electric vehicles like farming equipment, commercial vehicles and inter-provincial trucks are exempt from the tax, meaning the new tax will mostly affect those who live in cities.

"They really emphasize that this is about fairness while there's a ton of different vehicles that are using our roads that that aren't having to pay for a fuel tax, but also aren't electric vehicles," Krause said. "For example, natural gas-powered vehicles, they don't pay a fuel tax, but they're not having to pay that either.

"If they want to single out the owners of EVs, they should just be up-front about that."

Joel Murray, who owns a Tesla, said the tax makes it easier to pollute and more expensive to be sustainable.
Joel Murray, who owns a Tesla, said the tax makes it easier to pollute and more expensive to be sustainable.(Matt Duguid/CBC)

Viewed as a political move

There are about 400 EVs on Saskatchewan roads, but Krause expects the number could rise now that there's a Tesla storefront in Saskatoon.

The province expects to generate $60,000 in revenue with the new tax.

Krause said that figure is "a drop in the bucket."

"To quite honest, the administration costs to administer that is likely going to be higher than what they're bringing in from the fee itself. So it's very clear that this is not helping them financially. It can only be helping them politically," Krause said.

Saskatchewan has introduced a new tax on passenger electric vehicles.
Saskatchewan has introduced a new tax on passenger electric vehicles. (CBC)

According to the Ministry of Finance, the gas tax is forecasted to generate about about $65 million less in 2021-22 than it did in 2019-20.

"It's more of a statement, because they can't honestly expect that $60,000 in taxes on EVs is really going to put a dent in road maintenance," Yip said.

Krause doesn't expect the government to repeal the tax, or that it will deter people from buying electric vehicles. However, he hopes the government will offer incentives for future EV owners.

"They're not doing anything else to actually help the electric car community. They're not doing anything else to try and promote cleaner modes of transportation as far as personal vehicles are concerned," Krause said.

Minister of Environment Warren Kaeding said the government does not have a policy in place to reduce carbon emissions from vehicles on the road.

"We want them to know that we're not happy with it," Krause said. "And if the tax does increase, a lot of us are probably going to put up a fuss about it even more than we are right now."