Carbon pricing schemes around the country will increase across the country next week when the federally mandated price on carbon rises to $40 per tonne.
But in New Brunswick, any increases to the price of gasoline on Thursday will not be due to the carbon price. Legislation to increase the provincial carbon tax system stalled out in the legislature and wasn’t passed in time for royal assent on Friday. Lawmakers debated the bill on March 19 and March 23, but it never made it to a second reading vote.
The provincial price on carbon will remain at $30 a tonne, technically putting New Brunswick in violation of federal law. But government house leader Glen Savoie says he doesn’t foresee any penalties from the federal government.
“If I was to give an opinion I would suggest that the federal government would understand that we do have the legislation in the system and wouldn’t penalize us,” Savoie said.
“I would always say there’s uncertainty, but I would say you’re going to see the status quo in terms of what we have until we get that bill passed.”
Global News has asked the federal climate change department if New Brunswick will face any penalties for failing to up its price on carbon on April 1 and is awaiting a response.
The assembly is scheduled to return on May 11, meaning the carbon tax legislation will have to wait till then.
Savoie laid the blame for the bill’s slow passage on the opposition.
“We made it a priority and put it out as early as we could,” Savoie said.
“The opposition ragged the puck so much, they dragged their feet so much on it we couldn’t get it through.”
Opposition parties have a different view.
“The government controls the priority of the bills debated in the house. If they wanted it done, they should have made it priority number one on the order paper,” Liberal Party spokesperson Jon Cogger said in an email.
The division has been an ongoing theme over the last two weeks. Opposition parties forced a lengthy debate on Thursday’s routine adjournment motion, calling on the government to institute a legislative calendar, setting out exactly when the assembly will sit in a given year.
Savoie said a tentative calendar for the year was circulated to all parties about a month ago.
“They spent almost a couple of hours on that,” Savoie said.
“I would question their priorities in terms of, is it more important for them to play politics, or is it more important to get work done on behalf of New Brunswickers.”
The lengthy debate on the adjournment motion also limited time for debate on a motion that would approve the use of a hybrid system for sittings of the assembly. That debate timed out on Thursday afternoon before a vote could be held.
The opposition says the real issue is a lack of sitting days, which leaves little time for anything outside of the government’s main priorities.
“Gov’t can’t get its business done in the handful of days it was willing to sit, never mind the business of maintaining checks and balances on executive power,” Green Leader David Coon wrote on Twitter.
“The Legislature needs to establish an annual calendar to replace the just-in-time schedule from the Premier’s office.”
There was much more urgency when New Brunswick implemented its own carbon pricing system last year. The bill establishing the carbon tax was one of several passed during a skeleton sitting of the assembly on March 17, as the province began to shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
New Brunswick was under the federal backstop from April 1, 2019 to March 31, 2020 after the proposal of Brian Gallant’s Liberal government was rejected by Ottawa. If the assembly had failed to pass the legislation enacting the provincial system, the backstop would have raised fuel prices by 6.6 cents on April 1, 2020.
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