(Paige MacPherson is Alberta Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. This op-ed was published in the Edmonton Sun on Monday, October 24, 2016.)
Alberta’s NDP MLAs sure talk a good game about the environment. They talk the talk, but they aren’t walking the walk.
The government is slapping a multi-billion dollar carbon tax on Albertan families and businesses, further taxing people for driving their kids to school and heating their homes in the winter.
Don’t like it? Change your lifestyle, they say. Drive less, or drive a smaller car.
Meanwhile, Alberta taxpayers forked over $2.8 million to purchase vehicles for Alberta government bureaucrats and ministers. Some were luxury vehicles. Most were SUVs and pick-up trucks. Gas-guzzlers.
Taxpayers also pay for the gas, which will soon cost more thanks to the carbon tax.
Why are government officials – so focused on reducing carbon emissions – driving around in pick-up trucks and SUVs? Surely a more fuel-efficient fleet would be more appropriate?
“As someone who spends six hours a week on the QE2, and does that in treacherous road conditions, I need to have a vehicle that is appropriate for the driving conditions,” said Service Alberta Minister Stephanie McLean. “Any minister and deputy minister needs to have a vehicle that is safe and can contend with the treacherous road conditions that we have in the winter.”
Funny. Staying safe on sometimes-treacherous roads is exactly why other Albertans drive trucks and SUVs, too.
But while government officials have their vehicles and gas paid for, other Albertans will be forced to pay the carbon tax. The average Albertan family of four will shell out $888 in 2018 on gas taxes alone.
For Albertan families who struggle, the premier has literally advised them to change the car they drive.
“What people can do most efficiently to reduce what they pay is to reduce their emissions,” said Premier Rachel Notley in April. “So if you change the car you have … you can pay less.”
Of course, government ministers will never have to make such decisions. Only Albertans who don’t hold senior government positions will have to choose between paying more carbon tax and driving a safe vehicle in the winter.
This is an incredible double standard.
If the government is genuinely serious about reducing carbon emissions, they should put their money where their mouths are.
For starters, get rid of the program forcing taxpayers to purchase cars for government ministers and bureaucrats.
It is perfectly reasonable for taxpayers to provide a vehicle for the premier, for security reasons. Beyond that, it’s government excess.
Even Albertan government employees who do not have cars purchased for them are reimbursed for mileage at a very generous rate – 50.5 cents per kilometre (or $301.89 for a round trip between Calgary and Edmonton). MLAs are paid seven cents less, but on top of mileage they’re also reimbursed for gas.
Reimbursing mileage isn’t unreasonable. Like countless other Albertans, many MLAs drive often as a necessity of their job.
But mileage reimbursement is intended to cover both gas and wear-and-tear. Paying MLAs for gas and mileage is redundant and expensive.
And since the majority of MLAs are encouraging Albertans to drive more fuel-efficient cars, they can do the same; meaning mileage reimbursement should be more than enough.
To save tax dollars and really incentivize government employees and MLAs to reduce their emissions, the mileage rate should be brought down to a reasonable level. Many organizations pay a lower rate. For perspective, the Hockey Alberta mileage rate for travelling hockey referees is 36 cents per kilometre. At the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, we reimburse at a rate of 30 cents per kilometre.
It’s hypocritical and plainly unfair of government officials to impose a carbon tax, telling people to change their cars, when those same government officials are held to a different standard on the taxpayer dime.
Ultimately, the government should scrap the carbon tax.
But at the very least, they should try walking the walk.