November 5, 2016 1:08 pm
Updated: November 5, 2016 9:39 pm

Protesters call for referendum on Alberta NDP carbon tax

Protesters gathered at the Alberta Legislature Saturday to sign a petition and call for a referendum on the NDP's carbon tax. But one political scientist does think the NDP will budget. Julia Wong explains why.

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A province-wide rally was held Saturday afternoon to protest the Alberta NDP and specifically a carbon tax expected to take effect in the New Year.

The rally in Edmonton was held at the legislature, with protesters calling for a referendum on the carbon tax, which will tax home and business heating bills along with gas at the pumps.

Romeo Kovacevic from St. Albert said he came to the rally because he is tired of Premier Rachel Notley.

“There’s nothing against being green but not the way she is forcing it down our throats,” he said.

“You would have to impose it one way or another but to not even consult people.”

Kovacevic admits that paying the tax to, hopefully, make the province more environmentally-friendly is fair, though he said some families may not have the extra money to pay the tax.

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Gayska Schafer likens the introduction of the carbon tax to the introduction of a provincial sales tax.

“It’s just another reason to tax us. The NDP says they’re not going to tax us and they’re for the people yet they push this through saying it’s for the environment. It’s not for the environment,” she said.

Fellow protester Dennis Koss said the provincial government should have priorities other than the carbon tax.

“Get rid of this carbon tax and get people back working,” he said.

READ MORE: Calgary’s unemployment rate the highest in Canada for 4th straight month

Wildrose leader Brian Jean said it would be smart for the NDP to hold a referendum on the tax.

“Obviously a government that responds to the request of the people would have a referendum. If it doesn’t do that and ignores the people, they will hear about it in the next election,” he said.

Jean, who does not think the federal carbon pricing plan is constitutional, said he has a plan to replace the carbon tax if it is repealed.

“We will have to lower taxes in other areas, lower property taxes and lower income taxes. We need to make sure the people of Alberta do not suffer as a result of this carbon tax or another one imposed by the federal government,” he said.

Similar rallies were held Saturday in Airdrie, Calgary, Drayton Valley, Fort McMurray, Lethbridge and Red Deer.

Duane Bratt, a political science professor at Mount Royal University, said anger over the carbon tax is understandable considering the province’s current economic climate and unemployment rates.

“They are angry. So what can galvanize that anger is the carbon tax. That’s because that’s going to hit everybody,” he said.

“But I don’t think the NDP is going to budge on this at all. It is their signature policy move. Whether it’s a one-term government or a two-term government or three-term, this is the initiative that people are going to remember – good, bad – about the Notley government.”

When asked whether the NDP government could have done anything differently, Bratt said no.

“I don’t think there is a way that you can do it except by not doing it at all,” he said.

“People say, ‘well this is undemocratic because you didn’t campaign on that, it wasn’t in your platform.’ Well, dealing with climate change was in their platform.”

Bratt said the carbon tax is dramatically different from Bill 6, Alberta’s farm-safety legislation, which also saw protests and unhappiness from constituents before it became law.

“One of the problems with Bill 6 is that they didn’t spend as much time thinking that one through. They’ve spent a lot of time thinking the climate change strategy through. So while they may have budged on Bill 6, they are not going to budge on this,” he said.

READ MORE: Farmers rally against Bill 6 at Alberta legislature

Other provincial parties have said they would repeal the tax but Bratt said that may be difficult.

“You’ve got Wildrose, you’ve got Jason Kenney saying we’ll scrap the tax. The problem with that is by the time 2019 rolls around, it will have already been in play for at least two years. You have federal legislation so this would require defeating the Notley government, bringing in government that could make that change and then defeating the Trudeau government federally and making sure that doesn’t happen either,” he said.

Wildrose party members recently gave the Official Opposition leader a mandate to fight the looming tax. Party members voted to endorse a change to the policy manual in order to promise the Wildrose will repeal the tax should it win power.

READ MORE: Wildrose votes to fight to repeal Alberta’s carbon tax

“The members have ratified exactly our position on a very bad and regressive tax,” Jean said in an interview.

The tax is being touted by the NDP as a way to fight climate change and reduce the province’s carbon footprint.

In a statement to Global News in regards to Saturday’s rally, Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said:

“The Climate Leadership Plan diversifies our economy and creates new jobs. It was developed by consulting with Albertans including energy, communities, environmental groups and First Nations. Alberta’s carbon levy ensures that all funds raised by the levy will be reinvested here in Alberta rather than have the federal government impose a federal levy.”

READ MORE: Alberta government outlines impact of carbon plan

The levy would start at $20 a tonne of greenhouse gases in 2017 and will move to $30 a tonne the next year.

READ MORE: How much is this carbon tax going to cost me?

On Jan. 1, 2017, gas prices will jump 4.5 cents per litre. Diesel will go up 5.4 cents a litre and natural gas will increase by $1.01 per gigajoule.

One year later, more increases are expected. The levy will take in 6.7 cents per litre on gasoline, eight cents per litre on diesel and $1.51 per gigajoule for natural gas.

Low- and middle-income Albertans will get cheques that are expected to completely cover the costs of the levy to their households.

The levy is expected to bring in $6.8 billion over the next five years. Coupled with a different levy on industrial emissions, the province will take in $9.6 billion by 2021. The money is to be plowed back into the economy, including $3.4 billion earmarked for large-scale green projects and $2.2 billion for public transit.

Ottawa has also introduced its own carbon pricing plan, which would see the price on carbon to rise by $10 per tonne each year until it reaches $50 per tonne in 2022. Trudeau has said carbon pricing will be imposed on provinces that don’t match the tax either through direct pricing or through a cap-and-trade mechanism.

READ MORE: Rachel Notley won’t team up with other provinces to fight carbon tax

Alberta’s environment minister has previously said the province is willing to talk to Ottawa about a federal price on carbon of up to $50 a tonne if the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is approved.

With files from The Canadian Press. 

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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