Protect us from climate change, Premier Higgs, not the carbon tax

Flooding along the Wolastoq (St. John) River in 2019, the second 100-year-flood in two years.

Premier Blaine Higgs should take a stand to protect New Brunswickers from climate change. This is the fight he should be waging.

New Brunswickers know climate change is real and is affecting our lives already. From ice and wind storms, to heat waves, to floods, we know this is not how it used to be. Climate change is damaging the places and hurting the people we care about.

Not doing anything about it is getting increasingly expensive, too — since 2014, damage from extreme weather events has cost the province more than $170 million.

New Brunswickers want action on climate change. A 2018 poll showed that 91 per cent of New Brunswickers think climate change is a problem, with 65 per cent calling it a “serious” problem.

Economists say putting a price on carbon pollution, be it through a cap and trade system or carbon tax, is one of the most cost-effective ways of reducing the pollution that is unbalancing our climate.

Last week, the Court of Appeal in Saskatchewan ruled that a carbon tax is well within the constitutional jurisdiction of the federal government.

New Brunswick argued, and lost, against the carbon tax in the Saskatchewan case. Premier Higgs has said he will wait and see whether New Brunswick will launch its own court case.

With respect, I’d rather see him intervene with strong action that protects our communities and our health, instead of spending citizens’ tax money fighting the federal government in court.

Now that the court has weighed in, the Premier can put climate action, including putting a price on pollution that meets federal requirements and lets the province decide how to spend the money, front and centre.

He could negotiate with the federal government to get home heating fuels exempt, as the other Atlantic provinces did. He could cut other provincial taxes, such as the excise tax (as our neighbours in P.E.I. and N.L. did), to allow Atlantic carbon prices to rise in lockstep.

Premier Higgs should regulate New Brunswick’s largest polluters to at least the level set by the federal government. The federal output-based system is fair to industry, and works well with New Brunswick’s export-driven industries. A carbon price rebate similar to what consumers receive means that 20 per cent of emissions (and less for some industries) have a carbon price, a level not harming competitiveness.

Premier Higgs should complement this plan, of course, by fully implementing the province’s climate action plan, including phasing out coal-fired electricity by 2030, phasing in lower-emitting fuels (clean fuel standard), strengthening efficient building standards, implementing targets for electric vehicle sales, and increasing our use of renewable energy.

Not doing so is a choice — a political choice that does not help New Brunswickers prepare for climate action or to keep our families and communities safe.

Doing as much as we can means New Brunswick cuts pollution in line with science and invests in infrastructure and other adaptation measures to keep our families and communities healthy and safe.

As it stands today with the federal carbon price in New Brunswick, independent analysis from the Parliamentary Budget Office confirms that the majority of New Brunswickers will come out ahead. In 2019, the average household in N.B. will receive $256 through the Climate Action Incentive, which is greater than the cost of the carbon tax for most households.

Combining the Climate Action Incentive rebate with the NB Power home audit and energy efficiency incentives can put all householders even further ahead. There are also grants for small businesses, schools, hospitals and municipalities.

New Brunswickers have the skills needed to build the renewable energy system almost all of us want. Premier Higgs can show true leadership in championing the diversification of our economy away from one that is powered by energy that is bad for our health (coal, oil and gas) and toward one that relies mostly on solar, wind and other renewable sources.

In doing so, Premier Higgs will join the growing list of leaders creating opportunities for workers, businesses and communities in a low-carbon-footprint world.

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