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Editorial: Carbon compromise

Carbon tax
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It’s a good thing when Atlantic Canadians can reduce their carbon footprint without major increases in fuel taxes and other energy costs. But it seems to be a problem for some critics, who feel that pocketbook pain is necessary to deal with the growing climate change crisis.

The federal plan to fight greenhouse gas emissions was unveiled this week. The dreaded carbon tax has been replaced by a “price on pollution,” a more palatable term for worried Canadians.

Ottawa’s carbon proposals come on the heels of a chilling Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report this month which suggests planet Earth is in a much more precarious position than was ever believed.

The federal government largely accepted compromises offered by three Atlantic provinces to achieve carbon reduction, thus allowing the region to avoid hefty increases at the pump. New Brunswick held out, joining Ontario, Saskatchewan and Manitoba as provinces that declined to offer carbon plans. They now face the full brunt of an Ottawa-imposed carbon tax and a federally administered rebate program.

Wisely, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia came up with made-in-Atlantic Canada solutions. Swayed by regional concerns, Ottawa was willing to compromise, and kept fuel hikes to a minimum. The three provinces took steps to reduce the impact of Ottawa’s tax hikes at the pumps, and the end result largely keeps the status quo, much to the relief of consumers and businesses.

The federal plan to fight greenhouse gas emissions was unveiled this week. The dreaded carbon tax has been replaced by a “price on pollution,” a more palatable term for worried Canadians.

Ottawa accepted the N.L. plan which sees the province repeal a temporary four cents per litre (cpl) gas tax, replaced with a 4.42 cpl carbon tax. The average consumer will see a slight increase in pump costs while many industries are exempt. Home heating won’t be taxed. Ottawa agreed with N.L.’s argument that the cost of Muskrat Falls is too large for taxpayers to handle another tax hike.

In Nova Scotia, Ottawa accepted the province’s cap-and-trade solution, meant to keep major industries in the province and citizens employed, and avoids an 11-cent tax hike at the pumps. So instead of federal rebates and higher taxes, N.S. will get cash to fund green energy programs, pay for adaption to climate change and help clean energy startups.

P.E.I. hoped its plan of incentives and rebates would prevent the federal government from imposing a carbon tax. It largely worked, although Ottawa insisted on a four cpl hike on gas and diesel. The province reduced its excise tax by three cents, an overall minor increase Islanders can live with. Heating oil is exempted.

Some critics feel that the bigger the change in price, the bigger the change in behaviour, and that Ottawa’s plan falls far short of the aggressive policies required to achieve climate change goals.

The federal carbon plan has rattled the Opposition, which claim it’s a campaign gimmick. If that’s the case, Ottawa seems to struck the right note with Canadians.

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