‘It just needs to stop’: Carbon price protesters slow traffic on Trans-Canada Highway

Click to play video: 'Alberta premier weighs in on carbon pricing protests'
Alberta premier weighs in on carbon pricing protests
WATCH: RCMP say they continue to monitor protests against the carbon price increase closely to protect the safety of protesters and motorists. Now Alberta Premier Danielle Smith says she opposes both the increase and potential blockages on the highway. Adam MacVicar has more on the debate over pricing pollution. – Apr 2, 2024

Police were diverting traffic on the Trans-Canada Highway west of Calgary on Monday as a protest against the hike in the federal carbon price slowed traffic to a crawl.

Hundreds of protesters, many waving Canadian and Alberta flags and holding “axe the tax” signs, blocked the major highway down to a single lane. RCMP officers were on hand to monitor the event.

At around 5:37 p.m., Mounties said they were diverting traffic on Highway 1 west of Cochrane, Alta. and asked motorists to seek alternate routes.

“I’m here because our country is falling apart and our government has been running us into the ground and it just needs to stop,” said military veteran Gary Lambert of Innisfail as he stood on the side of the highway.

“It’s not just about ‘axe the tax.’ It’s about the freedoms. It’s about our right to free speech.”

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The event, organized by a group called Nationwide Protest Against Carbon Tax, was one of about 15 that took place across the country, including on Parliament Hill.

There were also protests at various provincial boundaries. Protesters temporarily blocked part of the Trans-Canada Highway linking Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Click to play video: '‘Axe the tax’ protestors west of Calgary halt traffic Easter Monday'
‘Axe the tax’ protestors west of Calgary halt traffic Easter Monday

Ottawa’s planned $15-per-tonne increase in the federal consumer carbon price came into effect Monday. It means a litre of gasoline is up 3.3 cents per litre.

There were also protests at various provincial boundaries. Protesters temporarily blocked part of the Trans-Canada Highway linking Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and Saskatchewan and Alberta.

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In Ottawa, dozens gathered on Parliament Hill, some waving homemade signs. Others draped themselves in Canadian flags and ones that displayed profanity directed at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

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One protester held up a sign saying, ‘Who’s the fringe minority now,’ a reference to what Trudeau called the thousands who descended on Ottawa in 2022 to protest COVID-19 mandates and express wider government grievances against the federal Liberals.

In British Columbia, BC United Opposition Leader Kevin Falcon joined about 70 protesters in Richmond.

Falcon said the 23 per cent increase in the levy is a “cruel April Fool’s joke” on B.C. residents, especially those who pay the highest gas taxes in the country.

John Rustad, the leader of the Conservative Party of BC, also attended the rally. He said by 2030 the average family of four will have paid close to $27,000 in the carbon fees.

Some provinces have called on the federal government to cancel the hike because of the affordability crisis. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the increase also means larger quarterly rebate cheques.

Alberta was hit with another hike Monday as the provincial government fully reinstated its fuel tax, meaning an increase of four cents per litre. The 13-cents-per-litre tax was suspended for all of 2023 and partially reinstated in January 2024.

Lambert said he’s upset about both federal and provincial tax hikes.

“People gotta realize it’s not just the one tax,” he said.

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Allan Hunter of Airdrie said he was also troubled by the double whammy.

“The Alberta gas tax increase is a bit hypocritical of the (United Conservative Party government), but the carbon tax isn’t just about the carbon going in your tank,” said Hunter.

“Everything you purchase, every one of these trucks going by, every one of these cars going by, everything we consume in this country is going up today.

“Thanks Justin, you just made things even less affordable for Canadians.”

Lynne Hoff arrived at the protest with her truck pulling a manure spreader. A man wearing a Trudeau mask stood in the back.

“It’s the Liberal Manure Spreader,” said Hoff, adding people at the protest want to send a message.

“I think it’s only going to build. This is just the beginning.”

But one Alberta economist says the carbon tax is actually giving individuals more purchasing power.

University of Alberta economist Andrew Leach is one of 343 signatories of an open letter published by the Canada Ecofiscal Commission which supports the federal carbon tax. In the letter, the commission says the price-and-rebate approach incentivizes carbon emissions reductions while maintaining purchasing power for most households.

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Leach said people filling up jerry cans or lining up at gas stations to save a few dollars shows that the tax impacts consumer behaviour.

“It’s not the government telling people you need to drive 20 per cent less,” Leach said.

“There’s a substantial lineup (at some gas stations)  because people are willing to sacrifice time and convenience to save a few pennies on gas. The thing people need to wrap their minds around is – that is not the only thing people do to save money on gas. The same way that somebody might choose to line up at Costco, somebody else might choose to bike to work. Somebody else might choose to take transit.”

Leach added that people with the highest emissions footprint pay substantially more in carbon price. According to him, The people who would  benefit from “axing the tax” are generally the people in the highest income bracket.

“They benefit by leaps and bounds more than the average person, and generally people in lower  brackets  would lose a little bit with this axe the tax policy,” the economist said.

“Do you think you use more carbon emissions than the average Canadian? And if you do then, yes you’re probably losing on average from the carbon price. It’s just math. But if you don’t have a larger house or a larger car or drive more, etc. then you are probably on the winning side of the carbon price rebate.”

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–With files from Carolyn Kury de Castillo and Paula Tran, Global News.

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