Manitobans will be digging a little deeper into their pockets this week as the Trudeau government’s controversial carbon tax kicks in at the gas pumps, on heating bills and even on the propane people use for backyard barbeques.
Beginning April 1 motorists will pay a 4.42-cent per litre carbon tax on gasoline and a 5.37-cent per litre tax on diesel. Home heating will become more expensive for those using natural gas under a new 3.91-cent per cubic meter levy, costing the average homeowner $88 a year. And barbequing will cost a little more as a result of 3.1-cent a litre carbon tax on propane. All told, the carbon tax will be charged in 22 categories of fuel and is expected to cost the average Manitoba household $232 this year.
The tax is being charged in the four provinces that have refused to bring in their own carbon pricing, namely Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario and New Brunswick.
But that’s just the opening price tag for this new tax, which the federal government expects to increase every year from $20 a tonne in 2019 to $50 per tonne by 2022. By 2022, the carbon tax at the pumps will jump to 11.05 cents per litre and the average homeowner will pay an additional $220 a year to heat their home with natural gas.
But don’t worry, the federal government says most families will receive more in rebates under its new “climate action incentive payment” than they’ll pay out in carbon taxes. The tax-free rebate will be paid to Manitobans when they file they’re income taxes. The payments are set amounts and are not based on income or how much fossil fuel people consume.
According to the Finance Department, the average household will receive a $336 payment in 2019, about $100 more than they’re expected to shell out in carbon taxes on average. As the carbon tax rate increases, so too does the rebate, reaching $801 in 2022 for a family of four. Whether rebate amounts exceed what individuals and families pay out in carbon taxes will depend on their fuel consumption. A large family in a 2,000 square-foot home with a half-ton truck, an SUV and a six-cylinder sedan will likely pay more in carbon taxes than they get back in rebates.
But an individual or family living in an apartment with no car will likely receive more in rebates than they pay out in carbon taxes.
So what’s the point of all this? The Trudeau government claims the tax will encourage Canadians to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. They argue the tax will alter Canadians behaviour when it comes to how much they drive, what kinds of vehicles they purchase and how they heat their homes.
However, there is no evidence that will occur. In British Columbia, which has had a carbon tax since 2008, greenhouse gas emissions are growing faster than the national average. The results are especially bad when it comes to emissions from road transportation. From 2011 to 2016, emissions from on-road vehicles in B.C. soared 19.3% compared to the national average of 2.9% during the same period, despite a $30-per tonne carbon tax.
The reality is, the Trudeau government’s carbon tax is more about creating the perception that government is doing something to reduce emissions than actually effecting change.
We know that when governments do take concrete steps to reduce emissions, like closing coal-fired power plants, capturing methane at solid waste sites and electrifying transportation, there are measurable outcomes. But a carbon tax is unlikely to alter behaviour.
For example, how are most families that heat their homes with natural gas expected to reduce their emissions? Many already have high-efficiency furnaces, well-insulated homes and programmed thermostats that reduce temperature at night. What else are they supposed to do? Even switching to electric heat is still far more expensive than natural gas once the full $50-per tonne tax is applied, according to Manitoba Hydro figures.
And what about low-income Manitobans who don’t have the $5,000 for a new high-efficiency furnace or thousands of dollars to better insulate their homes?
In the end, adding a few cents to a litre of gasoline or a cubic metre of natural gas isn’t going to result in behavioural change when it comes to how much people drive, how they heat their homes or how often they barbeque. The evidence is pretty clear on that.