Mason defends carbon tax

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The province stands firm on its decision to make municipalities pay the carbon levy.

“The purpose of the carbon levy is to encourage people to make choices and make better choices in terms of their energy use. We hope that municipalities will engage in that process. Many of them are far ahead of the provincial government in terms of their plan to reducing energy use,” said Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation Brian Mason at a Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Thursday at the Radisson hotel.

The new carbon levy will be included in the price of all fuels that produce greenhouse gas emissions and include transportation and heating fuels such as diesel, gasoline, natural gas and propane. It will not apply directly to consumer purchases of electricity.

Carbon tax will be applied across all sectors, starting at $20 per tonne on Jan. 1, 2017 and moving to $30 per tonne on Jan.1, 2018.

Carbon rebates and small business tax cuts will help lower and middle-income households and businesses adjust to the new carbon levy.

“Large organizations have resources and they have other options to make changes,” Mason said.

The City of Red Deer continues to call for the levy to have a revenue neutral impact on municipalities.

“Municipalities should be exempt from the carbon levy in recognition of the fact that we are also a public sector providing services to our citizenry. Ultimately this will just mean an additional tax on our citizens,” Mayor Tara Veer said.

“We anticipate it could be between a $2 to 4 million hit in 2017, which is the equivalent of a two to four per cent property tax increase on our citizens without adding any additional services.”

The city is also looking for clarity around how the levy will be applied to municipalities and an update on the how $700 million from the federal government’s Building Canada Fund will be spent in the province.

Mason said the federal government wants to see $300 million going to municipal projects and the province is working on assembling that list.

“Our hope, of course, is for municipalities to have access to that within this construction season,” Veer said.

“Given that we’re in a deeper and a more protracted recession than we have been in historically, it’s imperative that those public infrastructure dollars get on the ground in order to not just get Red Deerians back to work, but Albertans as well.”

Guy Pelletier, board chair at Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools, asked Mason about funding for capital projects on the province’s sunshine list, which includes a $10-million project to modernize St. Patrick’s Community School.

Mason said the projects on the list will be added to the five-year capital plan as funding becomes available.

“Those are all projects that are very likely to be funded, but a little patience is required,” Mason said.

Pelletier said St. Patrick’s, which has a lot of English as a Second Language students, has been at the top of the division’s capital project for two years.

“The kindergarten kids are in what used to be a hallway. It’s just not an environment conducive to learning compared to other schools. You’ve got kids going through one classroom to get to another classroom. Breakout rooms are challenging when you have kids who are still learning English,” Pelletier said.

szielinski@bprda.wpengine.com

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