REGINA - As was widely expected, the Saskatchewan government has followed through in introducing enabling legislation as SaskEnergy gets ready to cease the collection of the federal carbon tax for natural gas on Jan. 1.
Bill 151, titled the SaskEnergy (Carbon Tax Fairness for Families) Amendment Act, was introduced in the Legislative Assmebly on Thursday morning by the Minister for SaskEnergy Dustin Duncan. In speaking to reporters afterwards, Duncan explained what he hoped the bill would accomplish.
“The government of Saskatchewan is committed to providing carbon tax fairness for families in Saskatchewan by removing the carbon tax charge on SaskEnergy bills as of January 1, saving the average family in Saskatchewan about $400 a year," said Duncan. "What we wanted to do is ensure that we are transferring the onus from that portion of the federal Greenhouse Gas and (Pollution Pricing) Act from SaskEnergy as the entity to the (provincial) government, because ultimately it will be the government’s decision with respect to when and how to collect and when and how to remit or not to remit.
"That will not be a decision of SaskEnergy, so this provides legal indemnification for officers, board members past and present, as well as other agents that work for SaskEnergy that in the event that the government does make the decision to ultimately not remit it, that this will not be borne by officials or board members at SaskEnergy. This will be a government decision, and that any potential consequences will not be borne by them, they will be borne by the ministers.”
Duncan said what he hoped to see was for the federal government to remove the Carbon Tax on all forms of heating fuel in Canada, including natural gas in Saskatchewan.
“Our hope is that the federal government will commit to that and provide fairness for all Canadians including residents in Saskatchewan. There are legal remedies within the federal Act that can include fine or prosecution, including imprisonment… I can’t say what will happen in the event that the (federal) government doesn’t provide that fairness, but what we’re going to do is provide that fairness in the meantime and remove the carbon tax charge from the SaskEnergy bills beginning January 1.”
This legislation, should it pass, would mean the responsibility for the decision would solely lie with Duncan himself, which means he would be the one in legal jeopardy of being prosecuted or going to jail for violating the federal law.
Duncan confirmed he himself has retained legal counsel. However, the indication from Duncan is he hopes the federal government might relent on the issue.
“We are hopeful that the federal government will further the carveout that they provided to some Canadians. I think that certainly there’s a significant amount of support, although not a majority, in the House of Commons in the last week or so calling for fairness for all Canadians. We hope that, even though that didn’t pass, that that would certainly send a signal to the federal government. There’s even recent polling out this morning that indicates a vast majority of Canadians feel there should be relief for all residents in Canada when it comes to heating of their homes, particularly at a time when affordability is top of mind for everybody and winter is upon us. We’re hopeful that the federal government will see fit to provide the same fairness to all residents in Canada, including here in Saskatchewan.”
Opposition critic Erika Ritchie was asked for her party’s reaction by reporters and the indication is the NDP will take time to consider the bill.
“As you know, the bill was just tabled this morning, and so we need to take the time to take a look at the contents of the bill, do our due diligence and consult with legal experts, especially around some of the constitutionality potentially, so we want to look at those questions before we can give an endorsement,” said Ritchie.
When asked if the NDP supported the Minister accepting the responsibility instead of officials with SaskEnergy, Ritchie responded that “what we support is our government working in collaboration with the Feds to remove this tax. We said all along that we don’t support the carbon tax, that we want to see that carveout extended to all forms of home heating, and we expect our government to work with the Feds to make sure that does in fact take place by Jan. 1.”
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