A Wayward Word's Worth

Rural Canada gives the carbon tax flack

Barry Campbell watches the twilight slowly settle on the horizon and over his land- across the hay fields, his grazing cattle, and the woodlot where he cuts pulp to heat his home. There’s hardly a sound as the grass sways in the breeze, everything seems to be at peace save for Barry  himself. With a grimace he soaks it all in, shakes his head, and says flatly “It costs more to grow anything now, every penny hurts.” Of course it’s pennies per litre, for the fuel he needs to farm, that hurt the most.

“In this part of the country they’re gonna put farmers right out of business if they keep going,” he mutters. Campbell said he feels the pinch every time he turns around- when he goes to put diesel in his tractor, when he tries to buy fertilizer only to find it went up $100 a ton this year because of shipping costs, when he skips out on that fertilizer and in turn has to cut more ground for the same amount of hay, burning more fuel and more money.

He says it even happens when he’s trying to be greener- woodlot owners like him cut firewood to save on the oil that heats their homes, but if carbon taxed gas grows too expensive for his chainsaw, then it defeats the purpose. “The cost of oil right now is just outrageous, so much that it makes viscous cycles like that.” he says.

That’s a sentiment that even some in government can share, at least in part.

“Gas definitely has enough tax on it already,” said Charlie Hubbard, the MP for Miramichiers like Campbell. A farmer himself, Hubbard said he understands Campbell’s uphill battle all too well. In fact, he says that the 10 cents of excise tax on gasoline is already so high that it’s enough to cover its carbon cost, which means it won’t affect gas prices. He feels that would be a relief to rural Canadians who have to pay more at the pumps to drive further, and cut more wood.

Since its first whisperings, a Liberal carbon tax was met with furious opposition from Canadians like Campbell, who struggle to pay for fuel as is. The idea was, in essence, to implement a forced savings account on Canadians, so that the money we spend on fuel and polluting would be given back in the form of “carbon rebates,” and in turn we would invest in the environment and offset our damage. But instead of being hailed as the Liberals pioneering green plan, the green shift was dubbed as a scam. There was criticism from fellow left leaning parties like the NDP, who prefer a cap and trade system, and much harsher words from across the Parliament’s floor- our Prime Minister even declaring the green shift would “screw everybody.”

Peter Corbyn is a climate change activist who has worked as a presenter for Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth.” He feels that a carbon finance system must be put in place to wean Canadians off fossil fuels. But he said it should be done in a tactful way that won’t look like a government cash grab.

“Using the term ‘carbon tax’ allows the Conservatives to tell the country that the liberals want to increase our taxes, whether that is the case or not,” Corbyn said. “It makes Canadians feel that they’re robbing Peter to pay Paul, and that concerns me.”

“If a politician told me that I would be forced to save $200 per year, $4 per week, but would get most of it back once a year towards making my energy costs less expensive I would vote for them – plain and simple,” Corbyn said. “But I am not hearing that yet.”

The fact that Canadians aren’t hearing that yet may explain why the Liberals are currently lagging in the polls. It may also be what prompted grit leader Stephane Dion to adjust his green shift plan for rural Canadians earlier this month. The plan now offers $900 million dollars worth of proposals to fishermen, truck drivers and farmers. That includes adding rebates and incentives that add up to $250 million, and $400 million emission reduction credits, while lifting the word “tax” entirely from the proposal.

“It’s the big polluters, the huge industries who use allot of hydrocarbons, who’ll be paying the price for carbon in this plan, not the average joe,” Hubbard said, stressing that taxpayers will see a considerable return through carbon rebates.

But Campbell said he has little faith in the Liberal’s financial track record. “If we see adime from any dollar we give them it would be a first,” he said, tapping one of his muddy steeltoed soles against the tire of his tractor, as if to add emphasis. “I can’t think of any programthey introduced that came back to us in any form yet, they don’t have a track record, it’s just nil.”

Roger Duguay, leader of the New Brunswick provincial NDP’s, also has his doubts about the Liberal’s money management.

“If this excise tax already helps gas offset its carbon cost, then why wasn’t that moneyused to create green technologies and green collar jobs?” he said. To him, those actions speaklouder than any words in the green shift plan. “The Liberals don’t want to offend their friends inthe oil industry, the taxpayers will be the ones left with the bill,” he said.

“It certainly will be an extra cost people will have to bear,” Hubbard admitted, but he was quickto add that the cost of carbon is a small price to pay. “How long can you tolerate what’s going onwith pollution, with the environment? Sometimes you have to take a stand, I guess that’s whatDion is saying- it’s time to consider what the long term implications will be.”                             

Duguay said he wished the liberals would do just that, rather than a carbon tax that he feels is toolittle too late. “We have to be able to see past our noses- the environment can’t be saved in fouryear election plans.”

Duguay said that’s why the NDP is pushing for cap and trade system. Such a plan would set afixed limit on the amount of pollution big corporations emit, with huge incentives to stay below that level and even bigger penalties for exceeding it. Duguay said this would better motivate Canada’s big polluters to be greener. He also feels that costs would not trickle down to the consumers and taxpayers as much in such a plan.   

Campbell prefers that to what he sees as a tax wrapped in the empty promises of a return on his forced investment.  He’s not in denial, “We got environmental problems, no doubt about that,” he said, adding that he attributes all the extra rain this year, that cut into his profits, to climate change. “But what does a tax solve? I don’t see a shadow of a benefit to that,” he said, adding that he’d hate to be taxed to save the government’s ties with oil companies, under the guise of saving the environment.

Corbyn said the time to act is now, and either the green shift or cap and trade plans are much needed steps in the right direction. But he added neither plan will be of any good if the parties behind them can’t make the public see how crucial they are.

“Education is crucial. People need to learn how to become more energy efficient, and that moving to renewable energy sources is not as painful on the wallet as they are led to believe,” Corbyn said, adding that the cost of a climate crisis would hit our wallets much harder than any steps to prevent it. “We are gambling with the quality of life of future generations, plain and simple. I don not want to look my daughter in the eye in 50 years and say I failed her.”

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