Wildrose says ailing Alberta economy shouldn't be punished further by carbon tax

EDMONTON – Alberta’s Opposition leader is accusing Premier Rachel Notley’s New Democrats of letting Ottawa push the province around on its climate- change strategy.

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean noted in question period that federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is promising that a new national target for greenhouse-gas reductions will soon be set in consultation with the provinces.

“Why should Ottawa be allowed to interfere with how we run our industries?” Jean asked Notley.

“A Trudeau government interfering in Alberta’s oilpatch. Now where have I heard that story before?” added Jean, who was referring to former prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s national energy program in the 1980s.

Other provinces seem to have more clout with Ottawa, suggested Jean, who noted that Montreal was allowed to dump raw sewage into the St. Lawrence River, but Alberta is pilloried for its environmental record.

“Why does the premier continue to stand by and let Alberta be pushed around by Ottawa?”

Notley hotly disagreed. She said that while the federal government has a say on environmental rules, “if we do our homework, they’ll stay out of it.”

“We’re doing our homework (by preparing a new climate-change strategy) after those folks over there stuck their head in the sand and tried to pretend there was no problem,” said Notley of the Progressive Conservatives who were defeated in last spring’s election.

“Alberta’s energy products won’t see new markets if we continue to follow (the Wildrose) denial-dinosaur approach on climate change.”

Alberta is just days away from introducing changes to its rules for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Notley has said the plan will be released before she heads to Paris for a climate-change summit. That meeting begins at the end of the month.

One option is a carbon tax that could push up the price for consumers on everything from heating bills to gasoline.

Notley hasn’t said which way Alberta is leaning, but earlier Thursday, in a speech to mayors and reeves, she reiterated that the province will put “a fair price on carbon.”

Jean said now is not the time to punish an Alberta economy ailing from low oil prices by imposing a carbon tax.

“When thousands of Albertans are being laid off and we have 100,000 unemployed Albertans right now, now is not the time to kick them when they’re down.”

British Columbia has a $30-per-tonne revenue-neutral carbon tax that brings in about $1 billion a year, which the province has used to lower other taxes.

Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark has said a carbon tax could work, but only if it is tied to reductions in personal and corporate income taxes.

Notley’s government has also promised changes to phase out coal-fired electricity plants.