Sask. budget does not account for carbon tax due to unknowns: finance minister

Finance Minister Donna Harpauer speaks to media at the reveal of her budget shoes at the Legislative Building in Regina on Monday, March 18, 2019. Michael Bell / The Canadian Press

Being vocal opponents of the federal carbon tax has been a focus on the Saskatchewan government since plans were announced in October 2016. The $20 per tonne carbon price will be applied to fuel starting April 1.

Despite their opposition, the Saskatchewan government did not factor the carbon tax into the 2019-20 budget.

READ MORE: Many Saskatchewan small businesses plan to absorb carbon tax costs

Finance Minister Donna Harpauer said this is because the federal government has signalled that certain government buildings, like school and hospitals, will be exempt from the extra fuel charges.

“We’ve yet to get any details on that. That’s the challenge we have as a government, as well as individuals and business owners, is that the federal government is imposing this without giving the information and details on what will be exempt and what will not,” Harpauer said.

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“We based [the budget] on their foreshadowing these buildings would be exempt and that’s a large majority of the buildings that we own.”

READ MORE: ‘The right balance’: Saskatchewan delivers balanced budget

The finance minister said the government has “wiggle room” in the budget to account for potential increased costs.

Finance critic Trent Wotherspoon described the move to not include the carbon tax as irresponsible.

“It’s certainly irresponsible to not factor in the reality that the province and the people are facing, so if there hasn’t been incorporation into a budget of impacts of what’s being imposed, certainly that’s irresponsible,” Wotherspoon said.

Wotherspoon said the opposition will be watching this, and other budgetary measures closely.

READ MORE: Carbon tax marks a ‘revolution’ to Canadian Constitution: Saskatchewan premier

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For drivers, this means approximately an extra 4.6 cents per litre for gasoline.

Harpauer said the province expects to save money on its vehicle fleet, pointing to the government selling off its airplanes, and flexibility is built into the fuel budget annually to account for fluctuating costs.

When asked about potential criticism of the budget being called not balanced over not including the carbon tax, Harpauer said you could apply that reasoning to many unknown costs.

“If they want to go there, they can say it’s not a balanced budget because we could have a crop failure. It’s not a balanced budget because we could have flooding or forest fires,” Harpauer said.

The finance minister likened the exclusion of carbon tax to projections of cannabis revenue in last year’s financial updates, saying there are too many unknowns.

If more information becomes available, Harpauer said it can be factored into quarterly budget updates. She added in the best case scenario, Saskatchewan will be successful in its constitutional reference case and not have to pay the tax.

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