For a single moment, the sniping between the Progressive Conservatives and Liberals over New Brunswick’s soaring cost of living stopped.
In the legilsature on Friday, Premier Blaine Higgs once again challenged the Opposition Liberal leader to join forces with him to fight the Trudeau government’s carbon tax that he claims is the root cause of life becoming unaffordable.
Although Susan Holt delivered just as many partisan shots back at Higgs, she told reporters she hadn’t closed the door to the idea of the two sides approaching Ottawa together for carbon tax relief.
It was a rare, if fleeting, example of bipartisanship on an issue that’s proven a wedge: support the effort to stop global climate change or help keep money in people’s pockets.
“I think his suggestion is interesting that maybe we sit down and see if there are ways we could go and talk to the federal government about adjusting it,” Holt said, adding that the carbon tax as it now works is impacting New Brunswickers in a way the Trudeau government hadn’t anticipated.
“They’ve said themselves they didn’t actually do a rural impact review, and we heard from folks here that it doesn’t reflect our reality. So it needs to change in a way that is a policy properly developed for the people of New Brunswick and our realities here.”
It was a rare moment when the two sides seemed to see eye to eye.
Earlier, the Tory premier threw the gauntlet down during question period, as he had the day before, taking every opportunity to pin the federal Liberal government’s policies on Holt, calling Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “her buddy” after she repeatedly slammed his Tory government for not helping New Brunswickers cope with unaffordable housing and the high cost of electricity.
“Let’s put a unanimous motion and get rid of the carbon tax,” Higgs said. “Let’s do it, let’s do it right now.”
High costs for Canadians, the premier said, “is directly related to the cost of everyday fuel services, the cost of heating, all generated unnecessarily by the federal government.”
He then referenced three federal Liberal MPs in New Brunswick – Wayne Long, Rene Arseneault and Serge Cormier – who have asked their own government to reconsider the carbon tax that they say disproportionately affects rural residents who don’t have the same public transportation options and drive greater distances to get to their jobs or go about their daily business.
“Once again, I’d say, let’s join the MPs, my colleague across the floor’s MPs, who have gone to the federal government and said it’s really hurting Atlantic Canada,” Higgs said. “We can all be united on one theme. The cost of energy in this country is unaffordable and that’s because of federal policies.”
Afterwards, Higgs said his government had already put in measures to help make life more affordable, such as spending $100 million on heat pumps and insulation for low and middle-income New Brunswickers to cut back on energy costs, but he couldn’t address the root problem: federal carbon taxes.
“We should go and stand with the Leader of the Opposition and stand up for New Brunswickers and meet with the federal government and the prime minister,” Higgs said. “And say, ‘This is disproportionately hurting New Brunswickers’.”
For her part, Holt said she was growing annoyed by the premier’s attacks and linking her to Trudeau, whose popularity has sunk recently. She slammed the premier for disparaging her party’s ideas, such as cutting the HST from power bills – a move Mike Holland, the energy minister, said would cost the public treasury $120 million.
“I don’t know if he wants me to compare him to Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre or if he understands the difference between federal and provincial parties. It’s really, really frustrating to see him act as if he’s helpless and there’s nothing he can do to help New Brunswickers today with the power that he has with provincial policies that make life more expensive for New Brunswickers and chooses to blame Ottawa like it’s someone else’s fault.”
Green party Leader David Coon pulled out a federal carbon tax rebate cheque from his suit pocket when talking to reporters at the legislature. He supports efforts to cut back on greenhouse gases to help save the planet.
The federal program encourages people to reduce pollution by charging them more at the pump and then giving back all the money to taxpayers, no matter how often they drive, through rebate cheques. So if you walk, bike or use public transit, you come out ahead financially.
“The carbon tax that the premier is railing about, well, I got my refund yesterday, $276, for the carbon tax from the federal government.”
Coon said there were several measures Higgs could take to make life more affordable, such as introducing a rent cap, raising social assistance rates, improving minimum wage and ensuring the Irving Oil refinery pays for the clean fuel regulation rather than everyday consumers.
By John Chilibeck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Oct 23, 2023 at 08:58