June 15th, 2024

Barnes blasted for blurry carbon talk

By Collin Gallant on July 20, 2018.

Environment Minister Shannon Phillips speaks with reporters at Medicine Hat city hall in 2016. Phillips had some choice words for local UCP MLA Drew Barnes, who has made comments this week blurring the lines of what his party's plan is for the carbon tax. That vague talk coupled with a growing impression the UCP will do away with the carbon levy, has Phillips wondering what Barnes's plans are for green energy projects in southeast Alberta that rely on it.


Shannon Phillips says Albertans — and Hatters in particular — should demand answers to how an opposition promise to cancel the carbon levy will affect economic growth in the southeast.

It comes the day after the environment minister said her government intends to honour green energy supply contracts with companies planning to build windfarms near Medicine Hat.

But, she added, a potential United Conservative government after 2019 could spell an end to those and other projects.

In response, local MLA Drew Barnes, the UCP’s finance critic, reiterated his own opposition to the carbon levy, but added his party hasn’t said it will cancel anything, and that a fully costed platform could be expected closer to the next election.

Phillips says that stance offers no certainty for investors, and cancelling the levy would stunt economic diversification in southeast Alberta.

“At the end of the day, we have very large companies making significant investments in southern Alberta, spending hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Phillips, citing proposed wind farms in Bow Island and Oyen, along with retrofits to other facilities to improve efficiency and avoid levy costs.

“Companies are not willing to make investments and put people to work based on a shrug and a maybe from conservative politicians who are blindly following ideology and climate change denial,” she added.

“That’s what Mr. Barnes is offering. That’s what Mr. Kenney is offering. They’re putting these things at risk.”

Her comments on Thursday come after Barnes claimed the New Democrats’ Climate Leadership Plan, and specifically the carbon tax, have hurt Albertans, and a UCP government would fully evaluate options if elected.

“When we have all the information, if Albertans grant us that honour, we will make the very best decisions then,” he told the News. “We’ve said nothing about cancelling anything.

“We will do what is best for Alberta families and Alberta communities … The NDP is governing now. They’ll have to answer Albertans’ questions at the next election.”

UCP Leader Jason Kenney has often proposed the carbon levy as harmful to consumers and the economy, and should be done away with.

He has however, voiced some support for keeping a decade-old system for charging large industrial emitters, which was updated this year by the NDP.

This month, the new Ontario government cancelled that province’s cap and trade system, as well as some renewable energy contracts. That has led many to wonder about a possible chilling effect on green energy sector investments.

On Thursday, Ontario conservative Premier Doug Ford announced his province would join Saskatchewan in a court challenge opposing the national carbon pricing plan.

That plan requires provinces to develop their own systems to charge $50 per tonne by 2022, or have Ottawa impose a system for them.

Alberta’s carbon price, currently set at $30, results in an extra 6.75 cents per litre of gasoline and $1.52 on a gigajoule of natural gas.

Conservatives have called that punitive on Albertans, and only raises the cost of living and doing business in the province.

Phillips said most of that money goes back to Albertans in the form of income-adjusted rebates, grants to homeowners, businesses and industry, while lowering emissions and driving economic activity. They also add some price stability for Alberta’s green energy contract auction system, which led to commissioning the local projects that are connected to a construction budget of $800 million.

Industry observers as well as the province have said the wind and solar patterns in deep southern Alberta are prime for energy development.

“Mr. Barnes owes Albertans an explanation of who would be hurt in his riding, in southern Alberta, and across the province if they do what they say they’re going to do,” said Phillips.

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