Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault rises during Question Period, in Ottawa, Thursday, April 7, 2022. Guilbeault says Conservative MPs are spreading lies about a secret government plan to tax pickup trucks because of their greenhouse gas emissions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

By Mia Rabson in Ottawa

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said the Conservatives are lying about a secret government plan to add a green tax to pickup trucks.

There have been several tweets from Tory MPs, the Conservative party and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney in recent days insisting the government is about to extend a federal green levy to pickups.

“This so-called fee on trucks doesn’t exist,” Guilbeault said Wednesday, in a tweet responding to Conservative MP and leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre.

“It’s fear mongering, plain and simple.”

Poilievre said in his tweet that the government is going to “slap thousands in new taxes on anyone who buys a truck.” He encouraged supporters to join his campaign to “axe the truck tax.”

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney followed suit Thursday tweeting that “the Liberal-NDP coalition is planning a punishing tax on working people for buying pickup trucks.”

The federal Conservative party as a whole joined in with multiple tweets Thursday and Friday, asking if Canadians could “afford a $4,000 tax on your truck or SUV?”

The green levy being referred to already affects SUVs. In 2007 the Conservative government under prime minister Stephen Harper introduced what they called a “green levy for gas guzzlers” as part of a number of offerings for “ensuring a cleaner, healthier environment.”

A rebate for more fuel-efficient vehicles brought in at the same time only lasted two years, but the green levy is still in effect.

It adds between $1,000 to $4,000 to cars, SUVs and vans with higher than average fuel consumption when they are purchased or imported into Canada. There are currently 60 models tagged with the levy.

The vast majority are high-end luxury cars from brands like Lamborghini, Rolls-Royce, Bentley and Lamborghini, which all have starting prices over $200,000, or big SUVs like the Dodge Durango and the Toyota Sequoia.

In their 2007 budget the Conservatives predicted the levy would bring in $215 million in the first two years but has not come anywhere close to that, averaging about $15 million a year in revenues. Over 14 years the total revenue from the green levy is $220 million, including less than $4 million in 2020-21.

It did not apply to pickups in 2007, and has not for the 15 years it has existed.

Guilbeault said the Liberals are not proposing to extend it to trucks regardless of the Conservative accusations.

“This kind of politics is divisive and distracting from the important work we all have to do to fight climate change,” he said.

The accusation stems from a recommendation made to Guilbeault last month by the Net Zero Advisory Body tasked with helping guide the government’s policies to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

The ask to expand the green levy to pickups is one of 40 recommendations in its submission on the government’s new emissions reduction plan.

Dan Wicklum, co-chair of the advisory group and CEO of The Transition Accelerator, said in an interview the advice came as part of a suite of policies trying to make all levels of government, the private sector and individual Canadians step up and take responsibility for their own contributions to climate change.

He said pickup trucks as personal vehicles are not very efficient, but the body also was cognizant in its advice that any new levy needed to take into account the impact it would have on vulnerable populations.

“We felt was quite balanced advice and actually, we’re a bit disappointed when people misrepresent it,” he said.

Wicklum said there are no requirements for the government to take up the advice, nor should there be.

“Our role is to give advice but it’s up to the government to decide whether they take the advice or not,” he said. “And that’s the way it should be in a democracy.”

The Liberals are extending a rebate program to lower the cost of buying new zero-emission vehicles for another three years, and will increase the maximum qualifying price to ensure new electric SUVs and pickups coming on the market can get the rebate.

All vehicle owners, including pickup drivers, pay the carbon price on fuel purchased for their vehicles. Pickups, which typically use more gasoline per kilometre driven, will generally cost more in carbon tax to run.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 15, 2022.

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