Canada’s carbon tax is out of step with reality

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has chosen to make life more expensive by increasing the federal carbon tax by 50 per cent amidst the COVID-19 economic and health crisis.

Meanwhile, governments around the world are moving in the opposite direction, because hiking taxes during a global pandemic is a bad idea.

Provinces have already tapped the brakes on their own carbon tax hikes. British Columbia Premier John Horgan announced that he would not be going forward with his planned April 1 carbon tax hike.

Instead of mirroring the federal carbon tax hike, Newfoundland and Labrador is maintaining its tax at $20 per tonne. The price of carbon allowances in the Quebec-California cap and trade system have also fallen due to COVID-19 and the current macroeconomic realities.

The European Union’s cap and trade scheme, which applies to 30 countries, has also seen its carbon tax rate drop significantly.

For most of 2019 and early 2020, EU carbon prices traded around 25 euros per tonne before nosediving to around 15 euros per tonne in March.

The EU’s cap and trade carbon tax rate has fallen 32 per cent below its 2020 peak.

While the tax rate has increased since bottoming out, S&P Global Platts Analytics forecasts the COVID-19 shock will keep downward pressure on the cap and trade market.

Other counties are providing further carbon tax relief. The Norwegian government reduced its carbon tax rate on natural gas and liquified petroleum gas to zero and will keep the rates below the pre-coronavirus level until 2024. Norway also deferred payments on various fuel taxes until June 18.

Estonia Finance Minister Martin Helme formally called for his country to consider leaving the EU’s cap and trade carbon tax system to provide relief.

The prime minister later announced that Estonia would not seek to leave the EU’s carbon tax system, but the Estonian government lowered the excise tax on electricity to the minimum allowed by the EU and lowered its excise tax on diesel, light and heavy fuel oil, shale oil and natural gas.

“Due to the economic downturn, both people’s incomes and the revenue of companies are declining, but daily household expenses such as electricity or gas bills still need to be paid. To better cope with them, we are reducing excise duty rates on gas and electricity for two years,” Helme explained.

Outside of the EU, the United Kingdom is saving its taxpayers between 15 million and 20 million pounds per year by walking back its plan to increase its carbon tax top up.

New Zealand’s cap and trade tax rate has fallen by more than 20 per cent this year, and South Africa pushed back carbon tax payments by three months.

It’s worth noting that it’s unlikely Canada’s carbon tax will have any meaningful impact on global emissions. Only 45 countries (out of 195 countries worldwide) are covered by a carbon tax, and only 15.6 per cent of total emissions are covered by these carbon taxes, according to the World Bank.

Furthermore, about half of the emissions covered by carbon taxes are priced significantly lower than Canada’s federal rate and too low to make a difference.

With Canada only accounting for 1.5 per cent of global emissions, it’s easy to understand Trudeau’s acknowledgement that, “even if Canada stopped everything tomorrow, and the other countries didn’t have any solutions, it wouldn’t make a big difference.”

Now more than ever, Canadian taxpayers need relief. With carbon tax burdens declining around the globe during the COVID-19 crisis, walking back the recent carbon tax hike should be a no-brainer for our federal government.

Aaron Wudrick is federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. Franco Terrazzano is its Alberta director.

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