Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci.Gavin Young / Postmedia

By GRAHAM HICKS

So the Alberta carbon tax is now in its second year of implementation.

So far, it is doing next to nothing toward achieving this government’s extraordinarily expensive Climate Leadership Plan goals.

So far, it is, as respected University of Calgary economic Jack Mintz says, just another
“government tax-and-spend slush fund.”

This tax is a miserable failure.

It is adding dramatically to the cost of gas at the pump – 6.73 cents per litre hidden within the overall price per litre – without producing results.

Vehicle dealerships are not reporting a dramatic shift from SUVs to sub-compacts. Most individuals cannot dramatically reduce their miles travelled. Gasoline sales have not dropped.

It’s an especially cruel tax on home heating. It’s not like any home owner today can further renovate to  reduce the amount of natural gas used to heat our homes.  From January to April, four months, my ENMAX natural gas charge was $181 (excluding all the other taxes, delivery costs etc.) The carbon levy for the same months was $130.

When the carbon tax was introduced there were assurances, over and over by Premier Rachel Notley herself, that it would be “revenue-neutral”, that the carbon tax revenue would ALL be spent – by our prescient socialist government of course – on massive new programs to allegedly reduce Alberta’s total GHG (green house gas) emissions.

Now comes an announcement from Finance Minister Joe Ceci that future increases in the carbon “levy” will be used to “support public services”, i.e. monies collected over a certain amount will flow into general revenues.  Just another broken promise.

In fact, it’s quite impossible to figure out, from provincial budgets and economic statements, just how the “dedicated” carbon levy is being spent.

I am so confused. The government’s three-year Climate Leadership spending outlook, starting in 2017/18, suggested an average spend of $1.76 billion a year. Yet according to its latest economic statements, the government is on track to only spend $577 million on climate leadership projects within the 2017/18 fiscal year.

Meanwhile, the total 17/18 revenue grab from the carbon levy will be $1 billion.

Other than generalities – rebates, homeowner incentives, transit, research, infrastructure, Indigenous support – spending from the Climate Leadership pocket is baffling.

From what budget, for instance, does the $100 million a year over 10 years to compensate energy companies for early shut-down of coal plants come from?  Are “green transit” grants coming from regular provincial grants, or from the Climate Leadership budget? From what budgets do industry incentives towards the goal of 30% renewable energy by 2030 come from?

Somewhere along the line, one number does stand out: $386 million over three years for “program delivery”, i.e. the cost of a brand-new bureaucracy, mostly the Energy Efficiency Alberta agency, to administer this money.

A couple of things are being done right. Industry seems accepting of the Carbon Competitiveness Incentive Program – in which penalties for exceeding an emissions quota can be used by the offending company to clean up its act.   And rebates to lower-income Albertans make sense.

Most frustrating and illogical is the fact that 90 percent of the Climate Leadership goals – to reduce Alberta’s emissions in keeping with Canada’s overall international commitments – could be done with barely any government regulation or spending.

Simply to switch the fuel feeding our power plants, a reasonably easy exercise of switching from coal to abundant and cheap natural gas, would dramatically reduce emissions at no cost to the public purse or to our monthly power bills.

Alberta’s world climate leadership potential is not in all the sexy, groovy, sustainable energy initiatives well underway elsewhere, but in being the go-to global experts on the greening of carbon-based fuels.

We should be focusing on Alberta’s existing expertise in creating technology and processes to continue to clean up the cheapest, most easily accessible and practical energy sources in the world, on which this provincial economy depends. Natural gas and carbon capture should head up that list.

But this is not what the Notley government – with its desire to be carbon-free at home whilst exporting carbon-laden bitumen to Asia – wants to hear.

I would more respect this government for admitting the carbon levy is simply the equivalent of a three per cent sales tax, as economist Mintz has calculated, than being so damned self-righteous about saving the world,  while in fact doing next-to-nothing about global warming.