Alberta urged to avoid Down Under's blunder


It was a Down Under blunder that should serve as a lesson to Alberta as it embarks on its own controversial carbon tax, says a think tank that led efforts to scrap that country’s short-lived climate change strategy.

Chris Berg, senior fellow with Australia’s Institute of Public Affairs, met with Postmedia’s editorial board in Calgary Monday to discuss his own country’s carbon tax experience just weeks before Alberta’s so-called Climate Action Plan comes into force.

“We were told we would lead the world, but it didn’t look like the world was interested in carbon taxes,” Berg said.

“It was, in my view, the most substantial financial debate in Australia’s history.

“At least four party political leaders lost their job over the issue. It cost the Australian economy $8 billion a year for two years, it raised electricity prices by 25 per cent ... and contributed to higher prices at the supermarket.”

Australia’s ruling Labor Party introduced the Clean Air Act in 2011, a move critics said broke an election promise not to introduce a carbon pricing scheme.

A carbon price of $23 per tonne of emitted carbon dioxide was imposed on the country’s 500 top polluters, though some of the highest emitting companies were granted free carbon units if they were exposed to imports or traded internationally.

Ultimately, Berg said, it was individual taxpayers and smaller businesses facing the trickle down effect of the carbon tax who shouldered the brunt of the financial burden, with little to no impact on the global climate change.

“The idea that anything we in Australia could do to make a legitimate impact on climate change was fairly ludicrous,” said Berg, whose IPA held rallies, drafted flyers and drummed up opposition to the scheme.

“It’s easy to say we’re making big polluters pay, but fundamentally these taxes have an effect on individual people — people have to pay these taxes.

“Climate change is a global problem, not a regional problem.”

Two years after coming into force, the incoming Liberal government of Tony Abbot, who’d vowed to axe the tax, repealed the act, killing the carbon pricing plan after only two years.

The first phase of Alberta’s carbon tax is set to come into force Jan. 1, and will impose $20 per tonne of CO2 emissions, not only on emitters but on individuals as well, raising the price of gasoline by 4.5 cents per litre, diesel fuel by 5.35 cents and hiking the cost of natural gas more than $1 per gigajoule in its first year.

Alberta’s carbon tax further expands to $30 per tonne of CO2 in 2018, increasing the price of gas 6.7 cents per litre, eight cents for diesel and an extra $1.52 per gigajoule of natural gas.

Alberta’s government predicts that will mean the average Alberta family will shell out an additional $338 in taxes next year, though a sliding scale of rebates to mitigate the impact is also being created as part of the plan.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which is hosting Berg’s tour of Canada where he’s meeting with media, business and political leaders, has said the impact on the average family by 2018 will be about $600.

Story: Shawn Logan -- Calgary Sun