Saskatchewan carbon tax case heads to court — province argues its unconstitutional

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Lawyers are expected to pack a Regina courtroom Wednesday to argue the constitutionality of a federally imposed carbon tax.

A panel of five judges is to listen to arguments from both the Saskatchewan and federal governments as well as from 16 interveners on both sides of the dispute.


READ MORE:
Saskatchewan’s justice minister says carbon case likely headed to Supreme Court

Saskatchewan opposes the federal government’s plan to force a carbon tax on the province and plans to argue it is unconstitutional because it’s not applied evenly in all jurisdictions.

Ottawa says the constitution gives it the power to impose a carbon price because climate change and greenhouse gas emissions are national concerns.

The two-day hearing is to open with Saskatchewan presenting its case followed by submissions from other carbon-tax opponents.

WATCH: Trudeau’s carbon tax is ‘unconstitutional, ‘Moe says







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The governments of New Brunswick, Ontario and Alberta’s Opposition United Conservative Party are among the presenters.

On Thursday, Ottawa is to get its turn as well as interveners from the pro-carbon-tax side.

“I would put this case on a short list of important federalism decisions that courts have grappled with,” said University of Alberta law professor Eric Adams.

He said there are merits to both arguments.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan, Ottawa carbon tax case ‘monumental’ for Constitution, expert says

Where Saskatchewan will want to keep the court focused on the federal-provincial division of powers, Ottawa is likely to steer its argument towards the issue of climate change itself, Adams said.

Saskatchewan Attorney General Don Morgan has said challenging the constitutionality of Ottawa’s carbon tax is the right thing to do for his province’s residents and its energy sector.

Saskatchewan is one of four provinces without a carbon pricing plan that will be subject to Ottawa’s fuel charge starting in April.

New Brunswick, Ontario and Manitoba are the others.

The federal government’s carbon price starts at a minimum at $20 a tonne and rises $10 each year until 2022.

WATCH: How climate action incentive payments work






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Delaying Waterfront LRT would cost billions in lost tax revenue, productivity: BIA report

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Call it Toronto’s forgotten transit line.

While council has officially endorsed the Waterfront LRT as one of its priority transit projects, talk of the proposed light-rail line along the city’s lakefront has consistently been drowned out by debates about more high-profile schemes such as the relief line or Scarborough subway extension.

Tim Kocur, head of the Waterfront BIA, is trying to rally support for an LRT on Queens Quay E.
Tim Kocur, head of the Waterfront BIA, is trying to rally support for an LRT on Queens Quay E.  (Steve Russell / Toronto Star)

The Waterfront Business Improvement Area is hoping to change that. On Wednesday, the group is releasing an economic analysis it says shows the urgent need to move ahead with the line in the next few years.

“This is a huge opportunity to build transit first for a neighbourhood that is already growing but has even more growth potential. It’s truly staggering,” said Tim Kocur, executive director of the Waterfront BIA, which covers the lakeshore area bounded by Stadium Rd. and Yonge St.

The report was prepared for the BIA by Hatch, an engineering consultancy firm. It contemplates a seven-kilometre version of the Waterfront East LRT that would run between Union Station and Coxwell Ave., connecting downtown to the Port Lands and the Beach. Designs drafted by the city have the line running in a dedicated right-of-way along Queens Quay East from Bay St. to Parliament St.

The Waterfront East line would cost upwards of $1 billion, and is part of a larger $2-billion light-rail network that would stretch as far as Long Branch in the west. Some parts of the network are still in early design phases and, according to timelines presented to council, wouldn’t be complete until sometime after 2028. City staff are expected to provide an update on the project in the second quarter of this year.

The BIA report contends the Waterfront East LRT could be built as early as 2025, and compares that accelerated timeline to a worst-case scenario in which the project would be delayed until 2045.

It concludes that not building the route until then would cost $1.8 billion in lost productivity between 2025 and 2045. The delay would also cost more than $20 billion in foregone tax revenue to the city, provincial and federal governments.

The figures are based on projected waterfront development the report says would take place sooner if the line were built over the next six years.

Queens Quay East is already seeing significant construction, and the long-planned redevelopment of the Port Lands is expected to create a new commercial and residential hub almost equivalent in size of the existing downtown.

Sidewalk Labs, which is planning to build a high-tech test community on Quayside, has described the LRT as “critical to the future and success” of the project.

The BIA report claims moving forward the in-service date for the Waterfront East LRT would accelerate the creation of 19 million square feet of office space, 25,000 new housing units, and 1.3 million square feet of retail along the waterfront, which could support more than 135,000 new jobs and 67,000 residents.

Kocur conceded that much of the development would likely happen regardless of whether the LRT is built, but said without the transit line it wouldn’t happen as fast. He argued that by pairing new builds with new transit, the city has the opportunity to avoid repeating mistakes made in areas such as Liberty Village, where rampant development hasn’t been matched with new lines.

“This is a chance to build transit first as opposed to trying to catch up after the development has already happened,” he said.

Council voted in 2016 to designate the Waterfront LRT as one of the city’s priority projects eligible for federal funding, along with the relief line, Eglinton East LRT, and Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack plan.

Although the provincial and federal governments last year announced $9 billion in combined funding for Toronto transit projects, there is not yet a formal agreement to fund the Waterfront LRT.

City and provincial leaders have expended much more energy championing other projects council has endorsed, raising the possibility the waterfront project will be pushed to the back of the line.

Councillor Joe Cressy, who represents the ward that would cover much of the Waterfront East LRT route, said nothing should dislodge the relief line’s position as Toronto’s top transit priority.

But the councillor, who sits on the Waterfront BIA’s board, said that with the Port Lands development expected to start coming online over the next decade, the city can’t afford to wait to build transit to that area as well, and the clock is already ticking.

“We are building new commercial and residential neighbourhoods all along the waterfront east,” he said, and “the longer we wait to invest in transit the more productivity we’re losing.”

In the run-up to the June 2018 provincial election, the now-governing Progressive Conservatives were the only party not to make a specific pledge to fund the line.

Mike Winterburn, a spokesperson for Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek, said Tuesday the province is aware the city is working on a final design for waterfront transit, but has not yet “formally requested provincial funding.”

“Should the province receive a funding request, the business case would be considered in the context of other provincial infrastructure and budget priorities.”

Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at bspurr@thestar.ca or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr

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Trudeau questioned on pipelines, carbon tax, Indigenous rights in Regina town hall

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau fielded questions on everything from pipelines to Indigenous rights to his favourite childhood toy Thursday evening before a lively Regina crowd.

There was no clear issue that dominated the event. He took about 20 questions and was asked about everything from a controversial arms deal with Saudi Arabia, immigration, deficits, support for mental health, as well as steel tariffs and the carbon tax.

One man who works in the steel industry asked Trudeau why his government inked a new trade deal with the United States with steel and aluminum tariffs in place.

In response, Trudeau said in every conservation he has with U.S President Donald Trump he raises the issue that « these punitive American tariffs » are hurting both Canadian and American workers.

« Yes, I would have liked to have been able to convince the president to pull back the steel and aluminum tariffs before signing, » Trudeau told the crowd.

« That was not going to be possible. That was very clear from the U.S. administration, » he said, adding that the choice came down to whether or not to secure the trade deal, which he said is worth $2 billion a day to the Canadian economy.

The town hall took place a day after a similar, but more raucous meeting Trudeau held in Kamloops, B.C., where he faced questions about pipelines and reconciliation with Indigenous people.

In a repeat from the previous evening’s event, the question of pipelines was front and centre.

« You’ve got yourself in a hell of a predicament. You pissed off the Greens, you pissed off your base, you pissed off us that don’t like you and the pipeline still isn’t in the ground, » the same questioner said during the town hall, which had more than 1,000 attendees.

« You can legalize marijuana, but we can’t twin a pipeline, an existing pipeline to the coast. »

Yellow Vest protesters outside event

Before the town hall began, roughly a dozen protesters gathered outside the venue — the University of Regina’s kinesiology building. The group included a pro-oil and gas protester and an Indigenous rights protester.

« I’m not pleased with what’s going on, » said protester Gloria Armstrong.

« He’s giving away money to so many other people — the $10.5 million that was given to the so-called criminal [Omar Khadr] and veterans are not getting money. »

As the event got underway, a convoy of trucks gathered outside. 

Protesters voiced their displeasure with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ahead of his town hall meeting in Regina on Thursday. (Bryan Eneas/CBC News)

Thursday’s event was not without its interruptions, however, including when Trudeau answered questions about pipelines. 

At one point a woman stood in an aisle and held a sign expressing solitary with the members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, who earlier this week set up checkpoints on a service road in B.C. in protest of a proposed natural gas pipeline.

She asked about the actions of the government and the RCMP, which arrested 14 people. 

One person in the crowd shouted, « Is that reconciliation? »

Later in the evening, Trudeau received praise from elder Noel Starblanket, seated at the front of the crowd, who said Trudeau has done more for Indigenous peoples than any other prime minister in Canada. 

Trudeau defends immigration system

Thursday’s crowd grew particularly animated when Trudeau fielded a question from a man who wanted to know what the prime minister is doing about border control.

At first. some audience members cheered at the question, but boos followed when during an exchange with Trudeau, the man said that Islam and Christianity don’t mix and « they » want to kill « us. »

Trudeau said there is no open border and defended Canada’s immigration system as effective at both allowing people into the country and integrating them into society, singling out Syrian refugees. 

On Friday, Trudeau is expected to make several stops around the city in the company of Ralph Goodale, the Liberals’ lone MP in Saskatchewan.

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Sask. in 2019: Tax hikes, fees & new regulations

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Saskatchewan residents are ringing in the New Year but with it comes some fee changes and new regulations to be aware of throughout the province.

Regina tax & utility hikes

Regina residents can expect to pay more taxes as of January 1st.

City council voted to raise the mill rate to 4.33 per cent at its budget meeting in December, meaning the average homeowner with a house valued at $350, 000 will pay around $86 more in property tax.

Residents will also see a slight increase on their utility bill due to a three per cent water rate increase, every year for the next three years.

The increase will translate to roughly an extra four dollars on your monthly bill.

Saskatoon civic rates & fees

The Bridge City will see a property tax increase at 4.4 per cent effective Jan.1.

Water and wastewater rates will also go up overall by 9.25 per cent.

Residents will also have to pay more for other services including licensing their pets or playing a round of golf at a public course.

Potential provincial carbon tax implications

The federally imposed carbon tax’s fuel levy is expected to come into effect April 1st.

According to gasbuddy.com this could impact gas prices in the province and right across the country.

Senior petroleum analyst Dan McTeague warns a five per cent per liter carbon tax could result in a jump at the pumps.

This prediction comes as gas prices hit a two year low in the province.

Meantime, the natural gas break that took effect in November for homeowners and businesses in Saskatchewan could be short lived due the carbon tax.

SaskEnergy dropped its commodity rate to the lowest offered since 1999 and could see another drop by April 1st, however the crown corporation warns the tax could have implications for residents.

Officials say the average residential natural gas bill could increase 12 per cent which translates to $100-$120 more per year.

Saskatchewan will fight the carbon tax in court in February.

Provincial park passes

There is some welcome news for outdoor enthusiasts when it comes to booking sites at provincial parks.

Starting in April residents can reserve campsites with an upgraded online reservations system and this year seasonal campsites will be moved to the online reservation system.

Due to high demand, there will continue to be a queuing system for book reservations in Saskatchewan.

There will also be some increases to passes including the annual park entry permits which will increase $10 to $75.

Weekly permits will go up to $40 and three-day entry permits are no longer available in the 2019 season.

Seasonal electrical sites are up $500 to $2,600.

You can see a full breakdown of prices and learn more on booking reservations here.

 Mandatory truck-driver training

New mandatory semi-driver training following the Humboldt Broncos Bus crash will also come into effect in January.

As of March 15 the rules will apply to drivers seeking a class 1 commercial license in the province, meaning potential semi-truck drivers will require a minimum of 121.5 hours of instruction.

The new training will focus on professional driving habits, vehicle inspections and air-brakes.

Officials have said changes were the in the works since 2017 but the April 6th tragedy that claimed 16 lives expedited the process.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Your tax bill could change in 2019. Here’s what to expect.

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A whole host of federal tax changes come into effect in the new year. Some will hit your paycheque, others your bills — and if you’re a small business owner, there are a couple of changes coming for which you’ve likely been preparing for months.

Starting in January, Canadians’ Canada Pension Plan contributions increase from 4.95 per cent to 5.1 per cent on earnings between $3,500 and $57,400. It’s the first of five years of graduated increases running until 2023, when the rate will reach 5.95 per cent.

The increases are going to pay for what eventually will be an enhanced CPP. The Quebec Pension Plan will see similar changes.

« You can think of it as a cost right now, but you’re actually going to be contributing toward an enhanced Canada Pension Plan benefit over time, ultimately leading to a higher amount of pensionable earnings, » said Jamie Golombek, managing director of tax and estate planning with CIBC.

« So you’re actually going to get something in return for that extra contribution. »

Partially offsetting that increased CPP contribution on your paycheque will be a drop in Employment Insurance premiums, from $1.66 to $1.62 per $100 of insurable earnings.

2019 also will be the first tax year when low income workers can qualify for a more generous Canada Workers Benefit, a program intended to help the working poor stay employed.

The maximum benefit will increase by between $300 and $400, based on whether the applicant is single or part of a family. That brings the maximum benefits to $1,355 for a single person or $2,335 for a single parent or couple, depending on personal incomes.

However, as 2019 is the eligibility year, low income workers will have to wait until 2020 to get the boosted benefit.

Experts say more than half of Canadians who live in poverty are working.

« Gone is this idea, I hope … that people live in poverty because they just need to find a job, they need to pull up their boot straps and get off their couch, » said Michele Bliss of the non-profit advocacy group Canada Without Poverty. « That idea is so antiquated. »

Small business tax changes

One of the big news stories of the past year and half has been the changes the federal government is making to small business taxes. The most controversial change affects the rules on how much passive income an incorporated small business can hold.

Passive income is money earned in interest on funds that sit idle within an incorporated business, without being reinvested or used to cover operating expenses. As of January 1, business owners can hold up to $50,000 in passive income before they start to lose access to the advantageous small business tax rate.

Small businesses pay a relatively low tax rate — currently 10 per cent — on the first $500,000 of business earnings. But staring in January, if those businesses hold in excess of the new limit on passive income, some of that first half-million in earnings will be subjected to the much higher corporate rate, depending on how far over the new limit they are.

The federal government’s goal is to encourage business owners to reinvest their passive earnings into their businesses, or into hiring more people, rather than sitting on the cash.

« I think a lot of small businesses are still unaware that some of the changes are coming, » said Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

« In fact, that’s one of my biggest worries. I think a lot of firms are sitting ducks for the Canada Revenue Agency. »

However, the small business tax rate is going down from 10 to 9 per cent in 2019 — a move long promised by the Liberal government, one that many saw as an attempt to placate a small business community angered by the passive income changes.

« But the passive investment increases are going to eclipse any reduction in taxes that a small business might feel, » said Kelly.

Still, the federal government estimates the average small business — one that has eligible business income of $107,000 — will keep an extra $1,600 per year after the cut.

And for some really small businesses — especially those not incorporated and with no passive income to worry about — that tax cut will be very welcome.

« 2018 was actually one of the toughest years we’ve had. We sell a niche product that’s been copied and is now sold in box stores. So we’re competing with a lot of big businesses here, » said Katrina Barclay of Malenka Originals in Ottawa. Her store refurbishes outdated furniture with a special chalk paint.

« At the end of the day, at the end of the month, if there’s a little bit of extra money left over that we can reinvest into the business, then it definitely helps. »

Higher prices at the pump

Possibly the most politically charged tax change coming in 2019 is Ottawa’s new carbon pricing system. In jurisdictions that don’t have carbon pricing mechanisms of their own, Ottawa will levy a tax on fossil fuels of $20 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions starting in the new year, rising by $10 each year to $50 a tonne by 2022.

Emissions over set limits from large, industrial emitters in provinces without carbon pricing systems will fall under the federal governments carbon pricing rules starting in January. For consumers, the cost of fossil fuels and the services they support will start going up in April.

The government estimates that, once the carbon tax is in place in the provinces where it will be imposed, the cost of a litre of gasoline will go up 4.42 cents, natural gas will go up 3.91 cents per cubic metre and propane will go up 3.10 cents a litre.

People in those provinces will get direct rebates to offset the increased costs. The amount will vary based on the province and the number of people in the household. In Ontario, for example, the rebate for the average household (defined as 2.6 people) would be about $300 a year, or about $248 in New Brunswick, or $336 in Manitoba, or $598 in Saskatchewan.

« I think the government has designed this system in a way that will prevent us from getting a big ding from the carbon pricing system, » said Nick Rivers, Canada Research Chair in Climate and Energy Policy at the University of Ottawa.

In Yukon and Nunavut, consumers will see the cost of fossil fuels rise due to carbon pricing — but because the territories themselves are adopting the federal system, the revenue will go to the territorial governments, not to individual households.

Other tax and price changes coming:

Postage stamp prices are set to increase.

Many personal income tax credit and benefit amounts are being indexed to inflation:

  • The basic personal amount rises to $12,069
  • The annual contribution limit to tax-free savings accounts will increase to $6,000 from $5,500

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Sask. film industry seven years after the provincial tax credit cut

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It was almost seven-years ago when the Saskatchewan Film Tax Credit was axed, an industry that once saw multi-million dollar movies made now is barely hanging on.

“We’re not gone, we’re just smaller,” ACTRA Saskatchewan Union Branch Representative Mike Burns said.

“We certainly are productive and we are still creative, and the industry is funded by Creative Saskatchewan which does a good job with the resources that they have. Unfortunately, resources they have are under what required to attract larger productions here.”

The province’s Creative Sask. gives the film industry two million dollars through grants.  A study commissioned by the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce and Sask Film that was done in 2012 said the industry generated $44.5 million in economic spinoffs and created about 850 jobs when the tax credit was available.

READ MORE: Chamber says Saskatchewan film tax cut kicked industry out at the knees

“We do continue to see activity in the province although it has declined, some film producers have chosen not to film in Saskatchewan, but overall we have not seen an impact in our provincial economy when it comes to that,” Ministry of Parks, Culture and Sports Dep. Asst. Minister of Stewardship Candace Caswell said.

“In Manitoba, they had a $220 million in business in 2018, in Alberta, almost $300 million, this isn’t small business this a big business,” Burns said.

While the industry still sees independent and low budget films using what Saskatchewan has to offer, Burns hopes to see bigger budget films make their way back to the province.

It would take a plot twist in this year’s provincial budget, which the premier has already said it’s going to be tight.

“We think eventually there will be a bigger and better film industry here again,” Burns said.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Scott Moe uses fight against carbon tax to define 1st year as Sask. premier

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Scott Moe is almost one year into his tenure as Saskatchewan premier and he has used his opposition against a federal carbon tax as a major front in the early battle to define his leadership.

Moe points to the pending tax as one of the biggest economic headwinds facing his province. Since replacing Brad Wall as premier at the end of January, he has asked the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal to rule on whether the federal government’s plan to impose one on the province is constitutional.


READ MORE:
UCP, Suzuki Foundation granted intervenor status in Saskatchewan carbon tax challenge

The province argues its own climate change plan, which doesn’t include a carbon tax, is enough to reduce emissions.

“We need to ensure that we are able to stand up against these policies and ensure that we can continue to grow our economy so that we can have the opportunity to invest in the services that people expect,” Moe said in a year-end interview with The Canadian Press.

WATCH BELOW: Sask. premier calls carbon tax a ‘vote-buying scheme’






Moe has aligned himself with fellow anti-carbon-tax crusader, Ontario Premier Doug Ford. The two have visited each other twice and held a joint news conference at a premiers meeting in New Brunswick this summer.

Moe said Ford was elected to fight the carbon tax and Moe admires Ford’s ability to do what he says he will.

Moe is the first to admit he’s brought a different style to the job than Wall. Wall had was consistently ranked as one of the country’s most popular and well-known premiers and his gift for delivering a good sound bite made him popular on the national stage.

Moe said replicating that has never been his goal.

“I’ve just tried to be myself and I think that’s important if there’s going to be any success at all,” he said.


READ MORE:
Saskatchewan says federal government not doing enough to resolve western oil crisis

Saskatchewan’s Opposition NDP also has a relatively untested leader as well.

Ryan Meili, named to the party’s top job in March, has raised mental health, addictions and Indigenous issues over the last year.

He doesn’t think the province should go ahead with the carbon tax court case.

“The thing that concerns me is they (government) have no backup plan,” he said in a year-end interview. “They got this court case which nearly every expert, it’s pretty clear, (says) is highly unlikely to be successful. And even if it is, it’s months and maybe even years away.”

Meili said the government has resisted taking action on climate change and that has been harmful.

“Certainly nothing you could refer to as leadership, and that’s been an embarrassment,” he said.

The Appeal Court will hear the case in February.

And Moe said he is looking forward to the next federal election in October 2019. The next provincial election is October 2020.

“It’s an interesting time for people that are political watchdogs,” Moe said. “We look forward to the next number of months.”

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Why there won’t be an Alberta sales tax any time soon, and who to blame for provincial pipeline paralysis

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In a year-end interview with the CBC, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley ruled out the idea of introducing a provincial sales tax (PST), saying it’s not a conversation she’s interested in having while trying to get the provincial economy back on track.

Notley sat down with CBC Calgary News at 6‘s Rob Brown and talked about the state of the economy, the impact of carbon pricing, who to blame for the pipeline paralysis and the upcoming 2019 provincial election campaign.

What she didn’t talk about was how much fuel consumption has decreased since the implementation of the carbon tax, and whether she regrets putting all her eggs in the Trans-Mountain pipeline basket.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: Albertans are very angry right now. Who do you think they should hold responsible for the fact that construction [on the Trans Mountain pipeline] hasn’t started yet?

A: There’s a number of different factors. It’s been almost 70 years since we’ve gotten a pipeline built to Canadian tidewater. You probably heard me talk about it when I was at the Canadian first ministers meeting in Montreal a couple weeks ago. It’s as if Canadian political leaders both federally and provincially, for the last 10 to 15 years, sat around and watched this car crash happening in slow motion, and they sat back and politely admired the problem without actually digging in to find a fix.

  • Watch an extended version of CBC News’ interview with Premier Notley above

We know the obvious barrier to getting Trans Mountain built is the decision of the Court of Appeal — and they identified different problems: the direction of the previous federal government to the NEB [National Energy Board] to exclude consideration of marine safety, and the failure of the current federal government to engage in appropriate consultations with Indigenous people.

As the people of Alberta, we just sit by the wayside and pull our hair out, and get increasingly frustrated — particularly now — because we’ve got the [price] differential blowing out.

Q: You’ve been focused on the prime minister lately, and used much sharper language in describing him. Any regrets about going all in on the Trudeau/Trans Mountain basket? And giving in on Gateway and Energy East?

A: I wouldn’t put it that way. We worked very hard on Line 3, on Keystone, and, as you know, with Trans Mountain.

Gateway was pretty much over by the time we got elected, because the court’s review of it was a great deal more scathing and the fix for it much more complicated than what we’re dealing with Trans Mountain.

Premier Rachel Notley announces at a news conference her government wants expressions of interest from private companies wanting to build an oil refinery in Alberta. (David Bajer/CBC)

And of course, with Energy East, I’m very frustrated — like all Albertans are — that we can’t function more like a country in terms of supplying our product to Canadians. But I do think we need to continue to have that conversation about shipping our products east. That’s one of the reasons we’ve been raising concerns about Bill C-69.

Q: As a province, we’re still riding the economic ups and downs of the royalty roller-coaster. You’ve spoken in the past about how we need to have a conversation about a PST [provincial sales tax].

A: No, no,  no — I haven’t been talking about that.

Q: Your exact quote is: « In the long term, is this a conversation we need to have? I think it is — but not right now. It needed to happen in the context of a government needing a mandate. »

Is this something you want Albertans talking about in the coming campaign?

A: No. Not at all.

Q: Why not?

A: Because we are working really hard to bring Alberta through a recovery and to get our oil and gas industry back on its feet — and to do a lot of other work that we have been doing to promote diversification and economic development.

Now is not the time to bring something like that in.

Instead, what we need to do is carry on with what we have been doing, and on some fronts it has been successful.

Before we got to the point, in August, of the Federal Court of Appeal decision, Alberta was leading the country in economic growth this year. It led the country in economic growth last year, creating well over 100,000 jobs since the depth of the depression.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said it’s not the right time to have a conversation about introducing a provincial sales tax to Alberta, in a year-end interview with CBC’s Rob Brown. (CBC News)

Q: Introducing a PST could address that. So if not now, when it’s so acutely needed, then when?

A: I don’t think you take that kind of money out of the economy when the economy is struggling.

Right now, it’s just not on my horizon.

My horizon is for our economy to get to a point where it has actually recovered, where people who have lost their jobs have work again, and where they feel confident and secure in that employment. That’s absolutely our focus right now.

Q: Are you tax adverse because of the backlash you’ve seen with the carbon tax?

A: No. It’s really about what the economy can handle. For instance, If you look over at Saskatchewan, they took a much different approach. They took a very austerity-based approach to their public services and then they extended their sales tax — which is not insignificant —  to construction, out of the blue, and we’ve seen their growth diminish quite significantly.

That doesn’t work to build the economy. And so we’re focused on building the economy.

Q: We’ve had two years with a provincial carbon tax. What kind of decline in fuel consumption have we seen in Alberta in those two years?

A: I would have to get back to you on that. Because, of course, it’s related to economic activity as well. So you’ve got a lot of different things going on at the same time.

Q: Do you know if we’ve had a decrease in car emissions during that time?

A: I honestly can’t tell you right now because I wasn’t prepped for that. What I can say is just yesterday, through our CLP [climate leadership plan], we had our second and third auctions for renewable energy. And in doing that, we’ve now managed to bring in enough renewable energy — electricity — to power 300,000 homes in Alberta, to create 1,000 jobs, and to do so less expensively than anywhere else in North America

In the last 12 months, through our climate leadership plan, and the carbon pricing it generates, we’ve tripled the amount of renewable energy being used in Alberta in 12 months. As opposed to the amount of renewable energy being used in Alberta over the previous 20 years. So we’re doing some good work there.

Q: British Columbia measured fuel decrease — and in the first five years, they saw, I think, a 16% decrease. I can appreciate you don’t have those numbers at hand, but wouldn’t they be top of mind so you can explain to Albertans, in two years, that we’ve made this much of a difference in cutting emissions from vehicles? Are you not getting those numbers?

A:  We may have been, Rob, but there’s other things that have been going on: the economy was picking up, and so that’s a factor [with emissions] that you have to take into account.

As you know, our carbon pricing at this point still — as a portion of the fuel cost — is still very very small. But at the same time, what we are doing is we’re able to look at other things we’re doing — other projects we’re funding through it. That’s why I’m telling you about the renewable energy piece, which is a very direct, measurable thing.

We’ve also been able to dedicate funds toward the phasing out of coal. And as you can imagine, going from being the single biggest coal producer in the country — the rest of the country doesn’t produce as much coal combined as we do in Alberta — we’re well on track to be completely off coal by 2030.

That is going to bring about measurable reductions. There’s a lot of things we can look at.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley arrives at the first ministers’ meeting in Montreal on Dec. 7, 2018. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Q: Your party is trailing provincially. You’re ahead in Edmonton but behind in Calgary. Do you think you can win the next election without winning Calgary?

A: I think Calgary is absolutely fundamentally important … but we’re not into the election campaign yet. We’re still focused on doing things like governing the province, which we were elected to do, and that’s why we’ve been focused so much on work around the energy industry, the curtailment, the rail, pushing for more upgrading here in Alberta and more diversification like the announcement I made today.

The fact is, when we get to the campaign — I’m looking forward to it — I think when you get to the actual election, it turns into a choice between two options, and I’m looking forward to that debate.

Q: Your personal approval numbers are higher than your party’s. Does that keep you up at night? Do you feel like you’re carrying a burden?

A: Not at all. At the end of the day, polls are an interesting snapshot in time. The campaign is where people make their decisions. You get a chance to talk to folks about what your record is, what your vision for the future is, and to present that with as much honesty and integrity as you can — and that’s when we’ll have those conversations.

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Halifax Board of Police Commissioners submits budget based on 2.9 per cent tax increase – Halifax

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The Halifax Board of Police Commissioners met Monday to discuss the 2019-2020 police budget.

A budget based on a 2.9 per cent tax increase had been previously proposed, but the board requested more options based on the three tax increases being considering by council; 1.9 per cent, 2.1 per cent and 2.9 per cent.

READ MORE: Halifax could see tax increase as staff report recommends 2.9 per cent bump to property tax

The budget based on a 2.9 per cent increase has an operational budget of $89,949,100 and would have a surplus of $202,900. The other two budgets would require several cuts.

The commission looked at reducing the budget for external DNA analysis, outside policing, external software licensing and maintenance, as well as security.

The report notes that a reduction to the outside policing budget could have a negative impact on joint investigation efforts with other policing agencies and reducing software licensing and maintenance could be problematic if there is any fluctuation in costs for existing contracts.

The board did note though that none of the reductions would directly impact public safety and there would be no staffing reductions.

READ MORE: ‘No comment’: Halifax police commissioners remain quiet after update on street checks

After some debate about creating a fourth option that was a combination of all three budgets, the board voted to submit the budget based on 2.9 per cent to regional council.

Tony Mancini was the lone ‘no’ vote, saying that they should look to tighten the belt whenever possible. Mancini will have another chance to vote on the budget, when he does so as a councillor in January.

“When I go to council, I’m going to be wearing that other hat, so I’ll be looking at all our business units and see where this one lies,” he said.

“I may chose not to support it or I may chose to support it. It’ll depend on what the overall increase to our taxes will be.”

A staff report earlier this year recommended Halifax council increase tax by 2.9 per cent in part due to increased compensation for municipal workers. The collective agreement for police is one of four that has an average salary increase above the rate of inflation.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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City of Toronto land transfer tax revenues miss target for first time

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The City of Toronto’s budget-balancing golden goose — the land transfer tax — is sick.

For the first time since the tax on real estate exchanges was introduced in 2008, revenues that used to gush into Toronto’s operating budget will miss the target — $818 million this year — recommended by city staff and approved by city council, staff acknowledged Monday.

In fact, those revenues are expected to fall short by $99.2 million, or 12 per cent, “primarily driven by lower residential market activity,” says a finance update going to city council this Thursday.

Luckily for residents and the services they expect, other underbudget expenses and overbudget revenues are expected to propel the city to a year-end overall budget surplus of $14.7 million.

But the missed target is proof, says Councillor Gord Perks, that warnings were justified from him and Toronto’s former city manager about the perils of leaning so hard on land-tax revenues.

“For the last eight years, in order to keep (property) taxes low, Mayors (John) Tory and before him (Rob) Ford relied on the land transfer tax to get them through, and now we can’t do that any more,” Perks (Ward 4, Parkdale—High Park) said in an interview.

“Looking ahead we will face a stark choice between keeping taxes low to protect the interests of people who own their own homes and cutting services, or keeping services at good levels and increasing taxes.

“Luckily we didn’t lose big time this year but it should be a very sobering reminder to all. If we don’t have healthy finances, you will not be able to get a seat on the bus, you will not be able to get your kid into a (city-subsidized) daycare, your pothole will not get fixed, the library hours in your neighbourhood will get cut.”

City staff forecast, when the tax was introduced, a very modest boost to Toronto finances. But by 2015, with a roaring real estate market seemingly eager to best every target set by city council, annual revenues had jumped to a half-billion dollars.

Council escalated expectations every year, more than quadrupling the original target to help pay for increased demands on city services while keeping property tax hikes at or below the inflation rate.

City manager Peter Wallace, who left his post earlier this year, repeatedly warned city council against relying too heavily on such an unpredictable revenue source, urging either an increase in property taxes or new revenue sources to avoid future service cuts or big hikes in user fees.

Toronto’s ability to keep “kicking the can down the road” were ending, he said.

Councillor Gary Crawford, budget chief during Tory’s first term that recently ended, said he knew land transfer revenues had “softened” but was surprised by the size of the dip.

Last May a finance official told councillors that increased commercial real estate transactions should make up for the slumping residential sector and “we think we’ll be able to meet” the target.

Crawford said he needs to learn what’s behind the big drop. City council faces, in deliberations for the 2019 spending blueprint to be set in February, “a much tighter budget cycle — we will have to look at expenses and different ways of income generation,” he said.

He rejected Perks’ criticisms, saying the situation is not so dire and there are signs of a real-estate rebound. But he agreed with the frequent critic of the Tory administration that “we have to ween ourselves off the land transfer tax.”

Council has looked at new revenue sources, or “tools,” in the past. Facing a need for transit funding in 2013, council looked at a host of options, including reviving the car tax killed in 2011, a levy on owners of parking spots at malls and other businesses, and a gas tax, but rejected them all.

In late 2016 council backed Tory’s plan to toll the Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway, only to have then-premier Kathleen Wynne say no in the face of complaints from 905-belt MPPs.

Ford and his councillor brother Doug, now Ontario premier, wanted to kill the land tax altogether.

Tory aide Don Peat on Monday noted the overall budget surplus, adding the mayor is determined to keep his re-election promise to limit property tax hikes to the inflation rate or below.

“Every year, Councillor Perks routinely predicts budget calamity and calls for sky-high tax increases — while he is entitled to expressing that opinion, voters have endorsed the Mayor’s fiscally responsible approach that invests in key areas, like transit, while keeping taxes low,” Peat said in an email.

Enid Slack, an internationally renowned expert on municipal finance at the University of Toronto, said of the revenue reckoning: “Land transfer tax revenues can be very volatile but municipal expenditures tend to be stable over time. For this reason, it is difficult to rely too heavily on land transfer taxes to pay for municipal services.”

The Toronto Real Estate Board has long criticized Toronto’s tax. Von Palmer, who speaks for the board, said the city can reduce its reliance by bringing rates in line with inflation, meaning buyers of many homes at or below average price would no longer be hit with the top rate, and by raising the threshold at which first-time homebuyers pay no land transfer tax.

David Rider is the Star’s City Hall bureau chief and a reporter covering Toronto politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider

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