Smoky River Regional Economic Development
In last week’s article I wrote about the new carbon tax being implemented in Alberta. Albertans have been told to expect to pay an extra seven cents per litre for gasoline and $1.68/ GJ for natural gas by 2018.
The province estimates the carbon tax will amount to roughly $470 in increased heating, electricity and transportation costs for an average household in 2018, assuming that household consumes the same amount of fossil fuels as it did in 2015.
Now the point of a carbon tax is to encourage people to reduce their carbon footprint, through initiatives such as walking more, using public transportation, getting rid of that spare refrigerator or freezer, wear a sweater instead of turning up the heat – initiatives many of us are already undertaking. But, living in northern Alberta, are we your average household? For many rural resident’s having an extra freezer or refrigerator reduces the carbon footprint, by reducing the number of trips made to town to buy groceries.
For rural residents, trips for medical services such as a regular medical check ups, eye exams or physio therapy require a trip to town. Living in rural Alberta, a severe lack of public transportation, whether that be to get around town or to travel from one municipality to another, makes owning a car a necessity When I worked for the government, I had an office in Downtown Edmonton. Because of limited air travel from peace River to Edmonton, I frequently had to drive there. However, once I was there, my routine was to park my car at the hotel and rely on public transportation.
Public transportation is great, when you have it. By using public transportation, I saved money on gas and parking and I saved time on trying to find a parking spot. It was a great convenience.
The only community in northwest Alberta that offers a formof public transportation is the City of Grande Prairie. None of our rural communities have a bus service, other than a few handivans that help transport seniors and people with disabilities for medical and other appointments. It wasn’t that long ago we lost greyhound services between many of our municipalities, meaning a vehicle is a necessity for most of us.
Our children need to go to school, to hockey practice, tae kwon do lessons, gymnastics and after school events, and they need to be driven. And most of us don’t have the option to walk to work.
It is not completely clear how all the funds collected under the new carbon tax being implemented by the Alberta Government, will be utilized. The provincial government pledged to use some of the money raised by its carbon tax to compensate certain industries and low-income residents who will be affected by the climate change policy. But there has been no mention of compensation to municipalities who will also be impacted by the carbon tax.
A recent Edmonton Journal article, stated that the City of Edmonton could face a carbon tax bill of six million dollars annually. While Smoky’s five municipalities won’t see anything near that amount, the reality is the cost of running our municipalities will go up. With already tight budgets, our municipalities would be faced with reducing services or raising property taxes to cover the increased cost brought on by the carbon tax.
No doubt the Alberta government will come up with incentives for the large urban municipalities to improve LRT and bussing services, to encourage large urban dwellers to use public transit – and so they should. But the government should not forget our rural and small urban municipalities.
Rural dwellers should not see their tax dollars for carbon emissions going to fund large urbans transportation projects. Our dollars need to be redirected to our region, perhaps a provincial bus line to offer bus services between our municipalities. Rural residents should get greater tax breaks for all medical travel. And rural producers should receive compensation for running a farm, allowing Alberta to reduce emissions made by bringing in crops from other regions.
A carbon tax may be progressive and necessary, but let’s hope it addresses the unique nature of living in rural Alberta.