In a rare moment of unity, the Saskatchewan Party and the Opposition NDP agreed to send a message to Ottawa, expressing their concern over a carbon tax exemption not applying to the bulk of Saskatchewan residents.
“It is a rather rare day when we agree in the assembly,” Carla Beck, Saskatchewan NDP Leader, said Monday.
“This shouldn’t be about political gains. This should be about fairness and getting relief for the people of this province.”
Premier Scott Moe thanked the NDP for its support of the motion in a post to X platform, formerly Twitter. He thanked all MLAs “for voting unanimously to support our government’s plan on a carbon tax exemption for SaskEnergy.”
NDP member Jared Clarke introduced a motion expressing concern over a three-year federal exemption on home heating oil to address affordability needs, which was announced last week by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Heating oil, used more frequently in Atlantic Canada, is used to heat some homes in Saskatchewan, but it represents 0.4 per cent of all household heating. Natural gas is far more common.
Dustin Duncan, minister responsible for SaskEnergy, said after question period Monday that the issue comes down to a matter of fairness.
“If it’s fair for one part of the country to not have to pay the carbon tax, then it should be fair for us here in Saskatchewan as well,” he said.
The motion also “expresses deep concern over the divisive comments” made by Gudie Hutchings, the federal rural economic development minister, who said if people in the Prairies wanted a similar break they should elect Liberal MPs.
A Sask. Party member amended the motion to say the assembly supports not collecting or remitting carbon tax from natural gas if the “Liberal-NDP coalition” doesn’t offer an exemption.
The amendment and the motion passed unanimously, 52-0. A copy of the debate and the motion will be sent to the prime minister, as well as federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre.
“Last week’s announcement is a recognition that more time and new support is needed to help all Canadians across the country, who currently heat their homes using oil, transition to cleaner, more affordable home heating options,” Katherine Cuplinskas, press secretary for federal Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland, said in an emailed statement Tuesday.
“In 2021, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the legality of a federal price on pollution,” she added, referring to when Saskatchewan took Ottawa to court over the carbon tax but lost its challenge when the Supreme Court of Canada deemed it was constitutional.
The province paid approximately $172 million to the federal government from collected carbon tax in 2022. Duncan said the province is looking at options to avoid paying that remittance.
There are repercussions for not paying that money, and “we’re looking at that right now in terms of how do we best indemnify the board and the officers of SaskEnergy,” said Duncan.
And while there are clear concerns about the legality of withholding tax dollars, Duncan said he does not hope this plan signals to the federal government that the province is looking for another legal fight.
The government is still sorting out what the repercussions will be if SaskEnergy refuses to pay out come Jan. 1. Duncan said the Crown and the government are consulting in-house lawyers.
Duncan said the two-month deadline to enact some relief gives time for the federal government to, in his words, “do the right thing.”