A Calgary rally with petitions was one of many across the province Saturday, demanding a referendum on the proposed Alberta carbon tax.
More than 500 people showed up at McDougall Centre to protest the NDP government’s climate change legislation.
The event was organized by a group called Alberta Wide Rally.
People carried signs reading “Orange is the new Broke” and “I love Carbon”.
Many of the people who attended work in Alberta’s pummeled oil and gas sector.
“It hurts our own industry and it hurts our own people,” Trevor Marr said. “During the economic downturn, I’ve seen my wages dropped to about a third of what they were and that’s on a good day.”
Orion Fike, who is a member of ‘Oil People Helping Oil People’ also spoke to the crowd.
“Fear is definitely a motivation for this. It’s fear for what if? What happens when I lose my job? What happens when I can’t afford my power bill?” Fike said. “I can’t see us making that kind of sacrifice and still maintaining a certain standard of living that were accustomed to.”
There was plenty of fear and anger to tap into at the rally. Many people vented their frustrations with the NDP government, like Marjo Giesbers who works at Encana and has seen many of her co-workers laid off.
“To me – it’s just a tax. I think it’s unfortunate because there’s too many people out of work right now. And they have got no way of keeping a roof over their head or food on the table. It’s a sad situation. I’m one of the lucky ones, I still have a position. But a lot of my friends don’t, so it makes it hard on them and I’m here for them too,” Giesbers said.
Many of those at the rally demanded a referendum because they say the carbon tax was not part of the NDP election platform.
“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,” Duane Bratt, a Mount Royal University political scientist, said.
Bratt says there are similarities between this protest and the ones in 2015 over Bill 6 (Farm and Ranch Workplace Legislation). But he says in the case of Bill 6, there was some revamping by the NDP.
“In fact, one of the problems with Bill 6, is that they didn’t spend as much time thinking that one through.”
“They’ve (NDP Government) has 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,” Bratt said.
“It is their signature policy move. And even if they did (budge), you still have federal legislation coming in. I don’t think it’s going to make one whiff of difference from a policy perspective,” Bratt said about the call for a referendum.
While some organizers don’t hold out much hope for their petition, people like Orion Fike say he needs to send the government a message.
“We have to do something. We have to stand up and say we’re not OK with it. This is not all right. I’m not going to sit back and let it happen.”
“I have to fight. I have to push back,” Fike said.
Wildrose leader Brian Jean spoke at the rally in Edmonton at the Alberta Legislature.
“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,” Jean said.
In a statement to Global News, Alberta’s environment minister Shannon Phillips defended her government’s Climate Leadership Plan, saying it will diversify the economy and create new jobs.
“It was developed by consulting with Albertans including energy, communities, environmental groups and First Nations. We continue to work with those groups who will be affected by the plan. The carbon levy has allowed us to reduce the small business tax by one third and to provide two-thirds of Albertans with either a full or partial rebate,” Phillips stated.
“Other funds will be reinvested in energy efficiency programs for households, businesses and non-profits; green energy projects; and innovative technology designed to reduce greenhouse gas emission and diversify the economy. 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.”
The carbon tax is scheduled to take effect January 1, 2017.
Bratt suggests that once it is implemented, it’s unlikely it will be removed.
“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. And 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. I think it will stick. Once this has been established it is difficult to remove. Not impossible, but it’s difficult,” Bratt said.