Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announcing a three-year pause on the carbon tax on home heating fuel oil in Atlantic Canada. Notably, while Trudeau had no jacket and his sleeves rolled up, all 16 MPs standing behind him were more formally attired, with all the men wearing suit jackets. CPAC

 

REGINA – Second reading of the act that would enable SaskEnergy to withhold collecting and remitting the federal carbon tax on home heating natural gas took place on Monday, Nov. 20.

The act is The SaskEnergy (Carbon Tax Fairness for Families) Amendment Act, 2023.

These are the speeches on both sides of the house, from Minister of Crown Investments Corp. Dustin Duncan, Saskatchewan Party MLA for Weyburn-Big Muddy, followed by the response from NDP MLA for Saskatoon Nutana, Erika Ritchie.

Minister of Crown Investments Corporation Dustin Duncan, on Nov. 20, 2023. Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan

 

Dustin Duncan (SP):

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to move second reading of The SaskEnergy (Carbon Tax Fairness for Families) Amendment Act.

Our government recently announced its intention to stop collecting the carbon tax on home heating effective January 1st, 2024. We’ve been clear in our position that we oppose the carbon tax and feel that it would be better to remove it entirely for everyone from everything. That remains our position and has been our message to the federal government. We have delivered that message to the federal government at every opportunity and will continue to do so because we believe that it is in the best interests of the people of this province.

Our decision to stop collecting the carbon tax on SaskEnergy bills is a direct response to the federal government’s decision to unfairly change the application of the carbon tax. The decision by the federal government to stop charging the carbon tax on home heating oil unfairly impacts the people of this province.

We believe that removing the carbon tax from SaskEnergy bills is in the best interests of the people of this province. It’s the only fair thing to do and it is a necessary measure to ensure Saskatchewan families can afford to heat their homes this winter. Removing the carbon tax will save Saskatchewan families an average of $400 next year.

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The federal government could choose to restore fairness while making life more affordable for Saskatchewan people by exempting all home heating sources from the carbon tax. They have said that they will not do so. Our government, Mr. Speaker, cannot accept this. That is why we are taking action to remove the federal carbon tax from home heating sources delivered by our Crown utilities.

The overall intent of the legislation is to ensure that the efforts of this government to make home heating affordable through the removal of the carbon tax from SaskEnergy bills does not also implicate unelected officials in any potential legal ramifications. The proposed amendments clearly state that the Crown and its minister have the sole authority to pay or withhold payment of any charge, tax, or levy required by part 1 of the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act.

Specifically the proposed legislation designates the Crown as the sole registered distributor of marketable natural gas and nonmarketable natural gas in Saskatchewan in place of the corporation with all powers, rights, authorities, responsibilities, and obligations for the purposes of part 1 of the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act which is the federal legislation that pertains to the carbon tax.

The amendment states that any carbon tax payments to the federal government would be made from the General Revenue Fund and would be made at the sole direction of the minister. It allows the minister to issue directives regarding the distribution and delivery of marketable and non-marketable natural gas related to the corporation’s role as a service provided to the Crown and requires that all directives be made public on the corporation’s website to ensure that responsibility for any decisions made with respect to the compliance with federal carbon tax legislation remains with the elected government.

The proposed amendments also specifically indemnify the corporation and individuals in the corporation. This specifically includes current and former directors of the corporation, officers of the corporation, employees of the corporation, agents of the corporation, members of the corporation, affiliates of the corporation, and representatives of the corporation. In short, the Crown and its ministers assume all responsibility associated with collecting, remitting, or withholding the federal carbon tax.

Mr. Speaker, we have not taken this course of action lightly. We as a government understand the potentially severe consequences of our actions on this issue. But it is not our intent for anyone else to be forced to bear the consequences of our decisions. We value the hard work of the women and men who work at SaskEnergy providing essential services to the people of this province and we want to see that work continue without fear of penalty or reprisal for implementing decisions made by this government. With that, Mr. Speaker, I move second reading of The SaskEnergy (Carbon Tax Fairness for Families) Amendment Act.

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NDP MLA for Saskatoon Nutana Erika Ritchie on Nov. 20, 2023. Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan

 

Erika Ritchie (NDP):

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It’s a pleasure to be on my feet and enter into debate on Bill No. 151. I want to start off by saying that I think in Saskatchewan we are facing an affordability crisis. Groceries have never been more expensive. The cost of other life essentials have continued to rise and Saskatchewan people are feeling it whether it’s in the grocery store, at the pump.

We’ve been very clear on this side that we agree that SaskEnergy shouldn’t have to pay the carbon tax. And we’ve also been very clear that we’d like to see relief at the pump by having the fuel tax removed for a period of six months from fuel. We’ve also been very clear about a wage increase, increasing the minimum wage and other benefits for workers.

And so certainly it is a complex matter. There are constitutional issues that this bill is raising, questions around legal liability, cost implications. I heard the minister opposite make mention just now of Saskatchewan people not having to bear the consequences of this legislation, but I would submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that any legal and financial liabilities that are borne out of legislation that is in violation of federal law is going to be hitting taxpayers. And so I take strong exception to the statement by that minister that they will bear the consequences.

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And I think it’s important that they remember that it is taxpayers’ money that they are holding in trust and need to ensure that they are spending wisely. We’ve seen all too often how this is a government that squanders and mismanages and leaves the taxpayer on the hook.

And so when it comes to this piece of legislation, we will take our time to review the bill. We will seek legal consultation to understand from the legal experts the implications of this bill, those constitutional questions, and then also the financial impacts of this bill, because certainly we don’t take that duty lightly on this side of the House. Our due diligence is a vital matter and it’s the job of the opposition to do that. So we will not be rubberstamping a bill that’s before this House, and we’ll have many questions that we will need answered on the merits of this bill in the days ahead.

And I would just also say that while we have been very clear in our opposition of a price on carbon and its effect on Saskatchewan people during an affordability crisis here in Saskatchewan, that we’ve also asked that the revenues collected from large emitters under the provincial carbon tax should be used by providing relief to Saskatchewan people on their power bills by building more renewable power generation and promoting energy efficiency retrofits for households and business.

I’m sure we’ll have much more to say on this bill in the coming days, and with that I will make a motion to adjourn debate on Bill No. 151.

 

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