Alberta carbon tax a divisive issue

25 Feb 2017
Lethbridge Herald
Dave Mabell

If you vote NDP, you likely support Alberta’s new carbon levy. If not, you’re probably among more than 64 per cent of Lethbridge citizens who say they’re opposed to the carbon tax and rebate program launched by the government last month.

A new study by the Citizen Society Research Lab at Lethbridge College shows more than 80 per cent of city residents who would vote for the New Democrats favour the climate change initiative, along with 53 per cent who’d vote Liberal provincially.

But just 10 per cent of the city’s Wildrose supporters agree with the program, and 18 per cent of Progressive Conservatives.

“It’s a highly ideologically charged issue, and the numbers show that,” says political scientist Faron Ellis, who supervised the research.

While more than 35 per cent of Lethbridge residents polled said they agreed with the NDP government’s program, more than 64 per cent were against it.

Opposition was highest among seniors, people without post-secondary education and households with an income between $40,000 and $100,000.

By now, Ellis points out, many lowerincome Albertans will have received carbon tax rebate cheques — while all drivers are paying an extra 4.5 cents per litre for their gasoline.

But with gasoline selling for less than $1 a litre once again, he says, who’s going to notice?

“If you don’t notice the tax, that defeats the purpose.”

Ellis points to drastic price hikes during the 1970s energy crisis as an example of the real shock that’s required to change consumers’ habits — to buy smaller cars and reduce needless trips, for example.

While it’s stirred voters’ opposition, Ellis predicts, the new tax is not going to change consumer behaviour. And a year after the tax was announced, opposition remains strong.

When the research lab asked for Lethbridge residents’ views a year ago, it found 67.2 per cent of Lethbridge residents didn’t agree with the plan.

A similar poll taken by researchers at Think HQ in Calgary reported 66.3 per cent of those they polled were opposed.

Since then, Ellis says, the government has spelled out plans to support energy-saving innovation and technology, while offsetting its impact on lower-income families.

But the survey shows 64.3 per cent of Lethbridge residents still reject the initiative.

And few of them hesitated when contacted by students conducting the CSRL survey, Ellis says.

The students were given fact sheets in anticipation that some people would ask for more information.

“People didn’t believe they needed more information.”

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