Yukon Chamber of Commerce calls for independent trust to manage carbon tax revenue

The Yukon Chamber of Commerce wants a third-party organization to manage carbon pricing in the Yukon, instead of the federal government.

The Yukon Chamber of Commerce wants a third-party organization to manage carbon pricing in the Yukon, instead of the federal government.

But it’s an idea that’s unlikely to gain much traction with the governing Liberals or the official Opposition.

The chamber recently released a new carbon pricing policy for the territory, which calls for carbon tax revenue to be spent on renewable energy solutions and reductions in fossil-fuel use.

And it wants the revenue to be distributed by an arm’s length, apolitical body that it’s calling a Yukon Green Energy Trust.

That’s a far cry from the Liberal government’s plan, which is to have the tax administered by Ottawa and to give all the revenue back to Yukoners as a rebate.

But chamber president Peter Turner said the tax should be managed in the Yukon, not down south.

“I don’t want a bureaucrat who’s never been north of the Gatineau telling Northerners how to prioritize their carbon use,” he said.

The chamber’s policy expresses concern about the financial impact of a carbon tax in the Yukon, where “Yukon businesses and consumers may not have mechanisms for reducing their consumption to the same extent as people living in more heavily populated areas of southern Canada.”

But Turner said if there has to be a price on carbon in the territory, it doesn’t make sense just to give the revenue back to individuals and businesses.

“Why do we have a carbon tax in Canada?” he said. “It’s being implemented to incent people to change their behaviour and get off of carbon. And to the degree that it doesn’t do that, it’s a failure.”

Turner said using the money to fight climate change could also be good for the local economy, because it might reduce Yukon’s dependence on imported fuel.

In December, Yukon Premier Sandy Silver signed a pan-Canadian agreement that would see all provinces and territories implement a carbon tax of at least $10 per tonne by 2018, rising to $50 per tonne in 2022.

Silver has said the Yukon government will not create its own carbon tax, and will instead wait for Ottawa to impose one. The tax would be administered by the federal government, but the revenue would return to the Yukon.

The chamber’s proposal to use that revenue to cut fossil-fuel consumption is similar to the Yukon NDP’s carbon tax plan from the fall territorial election campaign, which would have seen the revenue split between rebates for low-income Yukoners and investments in renewable energy.

But the Liberal government is having none of it.

“The commitment is that we’ll give back the dollars that we receive from individuals and businesses,” said Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Ranj Pillai. “The reason that we were elected is that (people) were comfortable with the position we took.”

He said the Yukon government will invest in green projects — just not with carbon tax revenue. He mentioned the party’s campaign commitment to spend up to $30 million a year on energy retrofits for residential, commercial and government buildings.

Pillai also said the idea of creating an independent trust to manage the funds is “not something that we’re interested in at all.”

He’s not alone in that. Yukon Party MLA Scott Kent agreed that a third-party organization is not a good fit for the Yukon.

“Our biggest concern with the tax is that living is expensive enough here and we don’t think that Yukon families should have to pay that tax to support schemes like this Green Energy Trust,” he said.

But Kent and Turner agreed that the Liberal government hasn’t released enough information about how the carbon tax will work, and what impact it will have on Yukoners.

“There’s a lot of unanswered questions out there,” said Kent. “We need to hear from the premier about what exactly his plan is.”

The chamber’s policy calls for “a more rigorous analysis of the impacts of a carbon tax on individuals and families in the Yukon,” and suggests that the chamber could lead that research.

Turner said Yukoners need a better understanding of how much the price of gas or of shipping goods up the highway might increase under a carbon tax.

“There’s a lot of lack of clarity there,” he said.

Pillai said the government’s focus right now is on ensuring that the “appropriate mechanisms” are in place to administer the carbon tax with Ottawa.

The Yukon Chamber of Commerce has also released a new energy policy, which claims that the Yukon spends more than $200 million annually on imported fossil fuels.

The policy calls on the Yukon government to incentivize energy efficiency upgrades and switches to renewable energy for space heating, to reduce the amount of money leaving the territory to pay for fuel.

Turner also wants to see the Yukon take a closer look at the economic viability of a domestic oil-and-gas industry. He pointed to an economic development study of the Liard basin that was commissioned by the Yukon government last year but has yet to be released.

Turner said he’d like to see that report, and he’d like to see another study commissioned covering the rest of the territory.

The Yukon government says the draft report on the Liard basin “remains under review,” and will be published when it’s finalized.

The Liberal government has said it will not allow hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the territory, but it does support a conventional oil-and-gas industry.

Contact Maura Forrest at maura.forrest@yukon-news.com