N.W.T. MLAs side with territory on carbon tax bill, but just barely
After months of debate, criticism and negotiation the Northwest Territories' Act to Amend the Petroleum Products and Carbon Tax Act passed Wednesday night.
Nine members voted in favour of the bill and eight opposed.
MLAs have slammed the bill for punishing residents for their reliance on fossil fuels when energy alternatives are not a realistic option for northerners.
"Our winter roads are becoming less reliable, our climate is changing, and we are being charged this tax as if it is our fault; the people who are causing these emissions. This is not fair," Jane Weyallon Armstrong, MLA for Monfwi, said ahead of the vote Wednesday.
Nunakput MLA Jackie Jacobson said the tax leaves his constituents no choice but to pay the higher prices, something he said they can't afford.
"People in Nunakput can barely live, put food on the table, find employment and earn income to pay for the heat, the power, and the housing. How can we tax people who have nothing to give?" Jacobson asked at third reading of the bill Wednesday, a question he's posed throughout the discussions on the bill.
He said he understands that the carbon tax is coming regardless of which government takes control of its administration, but said he doesn't want to show support for the change.
"I don't want to be painted with that brush," he said, adding that the whole 19th Assembly should be standing up together to oppose Ottawa's tax.
"If anything, the North should be paid for cleaning southern air," he said. "Our carbon emission across our territory is 0.05 per cent, Mr. Speaker. They should be giving us more."
Federal minister points to rebates
Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal was in Yellowknife Thursday to discuss the 2023 federal budget.
When asked about cost of the carbon tax on N.W.T. communities with no alternative to heat their homes, Vandal referred to the rebate available through the tax and other programs the federal government has launched.
"Affordability has always been key to our government," he said, referencing $10 childcare and a newly announced grocery rebate.
When pressed about those with limited income who can't afford to wait for a rebate, he reiterated the different rebates.
"We're working hard to make sure we understand the realities for Canadians that are facing this affordability crunch which is why we're bringing in all of these policies including the rebate on the price of pollution," he said.
N.W.T. MLAs have further criticized the federal government for not being clear on how its backstop will roll out.
Caitlin Cleveland, MLA for Kam Lake, said in the legislature Tuesday that she voted the bill into second reading specifically to get more information on the federal government but, months later, is no further ahead.
MLA for Hay River South Rocky Simpson said Wednesday that even those in Ottawa seem not to know.
Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek said she recognizes and shares her colleagues' concerns and has been raising them with the feds.
"Despite raising all these issues, I am not getting responses. We are not getting responses. We are not seeing a flush of alternatives coming to the North," she said ahead of the vote Wednesday.
"The best that I have extracted most recently is an understanding that federal government departments should in fact meet with communities in the North."
Wawzonek said that for the remainder of her post as minister, she intends to press the federal ministers to help the North get off fossil fuels.
"We need to do that for climate change reasons, and we need to do that for the cost reasons, and to do it because it's the right thing to do," she said. "And I will certainly continue to pursue that."