In Atlantic Canada, tens of thousands of rural residents – many of them older and living on limited incomes in an inflationary era – depend on oil to heat their homes. In theory, they can spend $30,000 they don’t have – to qualify for $10,000 or so in government subsidies they might get someday – to replace their carbon-based heating systems.[i] Most will be forced instead to pay the Canadian carbon tax they can’t afford to buy furnace oil – and gasoline for their cars.
Country people, most of them living a few kilometres rather than a few blocks from a grocery store, also have fewer choices than urbanites when it comes to driving. They basically have to hop into cars and drive a few kilometres to acquire the necessities of life. Say what you will about the stated benefits of Canada’s carbon tax, imposed by the federal Liberal government, but don’t tell people living outside of cities it’s good for them. (From our perch in the CrowsNest, we see the recent provincial byelection result in the Preston area of Nova Scotia as a mini-referendum on the federal carbon tax. The incumbent Liberals finished in third place.)
This leads to the crucial question: Are there better “green policies” than taxing carbon? The answer is an emphatic ‘yes’. Canadians tend to think of themselves as a more progressive nation than the US, but our southern neighbours have been leading the way in transitioning to green energy sources since the Obama administration introduced subsidies for renewables 15 years ago. Back in 2010, the Pembina Institute reported that U.S. governments would outspend ours by a ratio of 18 to one on renewables, and “more than eight to one per capita on clean energy programs and projects.”
Guess what? We haven’t caught up. Far from it. The Biden administration is now offering billions of dollars to subsidize green energy projects, and the International Energy Agency estimates about two-thirds of 2023 energy spending in the U.S. ($1.7 trillion) will be directed to solar and wind power, and vehicle electrification.
Canada is also introducing green energy incentives, if on a more modest scale. Still, it’s time this country took a second look at its overall approach to greening the economy. More aggressive public investment in renewables is surely preferable to the federal carbon tax, which punishes country folk who are more dependent on furnace oil and gasoline – through no fault of their own.
[i] These figures reflect the costs for removing an oil furnace and tank from a 2,000 square foot home, and installing in their place a heat-pump based system along with a primary electric heat source for colder weather.