EDMONTON – The spring sitting of the Alberta legislature is going into overtime as debate rages over the government’s climate change bill.
The sitting was supposed to end Thursday, but will continue next week as opposition members are proposing amendments to the bill.
They have particular concerns over the cost and implementation of the multibillion-dollar carbon tax.
The tax begins Jan. 1 and would increase the cost of heating bills and gasoline to encourage Albertans to go greener.
Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark said he believes the government needs to define where the tax money is going to go.
“There’s a pool of money – $3.4 billion – in the carbon tax, which will be spent in some undefined way. That’s really troubling,” said Clark.
“I need some more information before I can vote in favour of this bill.”
The Wildrose fought, and lost, an amendment Thursday to stop cabinet from raising the levy unilaterally in the future.
Wildrose house leader Nathan Cooper said more amendments are coming next week “to bring some accountability to this piece of legislation.”
Said Cooper, “We’ll expect certainly a number of late nights next week.”
The bill is at the stage where members can propose changes and speak to them at length, which can tie the legislature up in long days of debate.
Government house leader Brian Mason said he hopes to deal with all the amendments so that the government doesn’t have to invoke its power to cut off debate to pass the bill.
“I certainly don’t want to bring in time allocation,” said Mason.
“I hope we can deal with all of their amendments and all of their other motions to delay passage of the bill without doing so.
“We’re certainly going to come back next week for a little while at least.”
Progressive Conservative leader Ric McIver said he wants to see the carbon tax made neutral, meaning the money raised by the carbon tax is offset by tax breaks in other areas.
“The carbon tax is going to change everything,” said McIver.
“It’s going to make the way Albertans buy everything for all time more expensive. To cut short debate on something as far reaching as the carbon tax I think would be ill-advised.”
The government used its majority Thursday to defeat the opposition motions. Mason said the bill is carefully crafted and is good as it stands.
The tax is part of a broader plan announced by Premier Rachel Notley’s government last year to reduce Alberta’s carbon footprint both as the right thing to do environmentally and as a way to build up goodwill as it lobbies for new oil infrastructure such as pipelines.
The government is also capping oilsands emissions and phasing out coal-fired electricity.
The current bill before the house focuses on the carbon tax plan.
Under the terms of the bill two-thirds of Albertans, those in the middle to lower-income brackets, would receive full or partial rebates against the tax.
The rest of the money would be used to fund green initiatives and projects, including public transit.
Between the carbon tax and a fee on large industrial emitters, Alberta expects to raise $9.6 billion over the next five years.