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HomeWorld NewsCanada newsOfficial N.B. government site on carbon taxes slammed for exaggerations, omissions

Official N.B. government site on carbon taxes slammed for exaggerations, omissions

An official New Brunswick government web page set up to inform the general public about federal carbon taxes exaggerates costs that average consumers are likely to experience this year.

It also makes no direct mention of carbon rebates that will help offset those costs, even though that is a central feature of Canada’s two-part carbon tax and rebate program.

Moe Qureshi, director of climate research with the New Brunswick Conservation Council, says any member of the public trying to become informed about how carbon taxes work would end up misinformed — if they relied solely on the official information being provided by the province.

“It’s only telling half a story and half a story that’s a bit exaggerated,” said Qureshi in an interview.

“Even if the province disagrees with the carbon tax, I do think it’s their responsibility to present the information as accurately and as transparently as possible.”

Moe Quershi
Moe Qureshi shown here at a New Brunswick Legislature climate hearing last year. Qureshi said opposing carbon taxes is not an excuse for the New Brunswick government to misrepresent how they work or what they cost. (New Brunswick Legislature Livestream)

The New Brunswick government under Premier Blaine Higgs has been a staunch opponent of the Canadian government’s carbon pricing policy for several years.

The federal scheme involves taxing fossil fuel consumption to discourage its use and then rebating amounts collected back to consumers and businesses to offset the costs of paying the tax.

To promote its view of that federal program to the public, the province maintains a web page about the policy to explain what it says is “the federal carbon tax impact” on New Brunswick consumers.

However, there are questions about both the accuracy and completeness of the information the province has been communicating to the public.

Liberty Utilities is the natural gas distribution company in New Brunswick.  

According to the company, a claim on the province’s web page that the average residential gas user will pay $403.36 in carbon charges and sales taxes on those charges this year is 30 per cent too high.

Liberty is currently in front of the New Brunswick Energy and Utilities Board for a review of its rates and charges. 

A man with grey hair wearing a blue suit and standing behind a podium. Behind him are two New Brunswick flags and a Canadian flag.
In February 2023, Premier Blaine Higgs announced New Brunswick was reluctantly joining the federal carbon tax system so residents could access relief offered by the national program in the form of rebates. Nevertheless, current government messaging avoids any mention that that those rebates exist. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

Evidence it has submitted for that hearing shows the company’s average residential customer is expected to consume 66 gigajoules of natural gas this year, well below the 86 gigajoules used by the province in its carbon tax calculations for natural gas usage on its web page.

“Liberty estimates that the price of carbon charges for a residential customer using natural gas in 2024/25 will be $271 ($311.65 including HST),” said Liberty’s Nadine Chiasson in a statement sent to CBC News about what its own numbers show.

The New Brunswick government said in an email statement the province did not consult actual New Brunswick natural gas consumption data in arriving at its elevated estimate.  

Instead, it used a federal government estimate of how much energy the average New Brunswick household consumes per year, which in 2021 was 86 gigajoules.  

The province then calculated carbon taxes based on that number as if all of that household energy was supplied by natural gas, including energy used for things such as lighting and air conditioning, which could not be supplied by that fuel under any scenario.

“The 86 gigajoules are an estimate of the energy intensity of a household in New Brunswick, meaning that amount of energy would be consumed by a house each year in the province,” the province’s statement said about how its figures were calculated.

Government website
A section of New Brunswick’s carbon tax website claims New Brunswick households that use natural gas will face $403.36 in carbon-related charges this year. New Brunswick’s natural gas distribution company, Liberty Utilities, says that is an exaggerated estimate. (Government of New Brunswick)

The province’s carbon tax web page also appears to exaggerate costs facing New Brunswick drivers. 

According to estimates generated by Natural Resources Canada, passenger cars in New Brunswick in 2019, the last full year before the COVID-19 pandemic, consumed an annual average of 1,088 litres of gasoline, based on distances travelled and typical vehicle fuel economy.

But on its web page, New Brunswick instead uses 1,760 litres of gasoline to calculate annual costs of the carbon tax on a typical car.

That’s 62 per cent more fuel than what Natural Resources Canada suggests is normal in the province for an average vehicle, and it raised the province’s calculated cost of carbon taxes on a car 62 per cent — to $356.43.

The higher number was arrived at partly due to New Brunswick adopting an example of a car that drives nearly 30 per cent more kilometres in a year than federal data suggests is normal, while at the same time operating at 25 per cent poorer fuel economy than average.

Jennifer Winter is a professor in the department of economics and the School of Social Policy at the University of Calgary and the departmental science adviser at Environment and Climate Change Canada.

She gives New Brunswick credit for openly detailing how it estimates carbon costs for vehicles but has doubts the numbers are accurate for a typical driver

Jennifer Winter
Jennifer Winter is a leading Canadian expert on household carbon costs. She believes New Brunswick is likely overstating what drivers will be charged in carbon taxes this year. (Emilio Avalos/Radio-Canada)

“New Brunswick is transparent about its assumptions, which is good,” said Winter in an email.

“But the assumptions are likely overstating costs based on available data on vehicle fuel economy and average distance travelled in a year.”

Winter is a leading Canadian expert on how carbon costs affect households and says it is important to remember in any analysis of carbon taxes that “there is also a rebate and that offsets the costs.”

This year carbon tax rebates in New Brunswick are set at $380 for single adults living in the Moncton and Saint John metropolitan areas and $456 for those living anywhere else in the province.  

Couples are to be paid rebates of either $570 or $684, depending on where they live, and families of four will be sent rebates of either $760 or $912 on the same basis.

However that information is not directly included in New Brunswick’s carbon tax presentation.  

The web page does have a link to an external federal website, where information on carbon-tax rebates can be researched separately, but the word “rebate” does not itself appear anywhere on the New Brunswick site nor do rebate amounts.

There are no side-by-side comparisons offered to help the public understand the relationship between what they might pay in carbon taxes versus what they will get back in carbon tax rebates.

Qureshi said between exaggerated estimates of carbon costs and missing information on rebates, it is obvious to him the province’s carbon tax information site is not meant to be a genuine effort to inform the public about the federal policy.

“Not including the rebate information is a big red flag because that is integral to part of the carbon pricing system,” said Qureshi. 

“The whole point of the carbon rebates is to remove the burden on Canadian families and to offset some of those costs. I think they need to be a bit more honest about the full system of how that works.”

The province did not respond to questions about why it does not include information about carbon tax rebates on its carbon tax site. 

A request to interview a government representative about the quality of information that it is providing to the public about carbon taxes was also not responded to.

This article is from from (CBC NEWS CANADA)

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