"Is the government finally going to get the message that it's not going to work for us to have this Carbon Tax in the North? There is no way for us to not burn fossil fuels here."
— NWT Chamber President Yanik D’Aigle to Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal.
In Yellowknife this week to sell his government’s latest proposed budget, Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal sat down with business and civic leaders who pressed him on the hardships the incoming carbon tax will inflict on the region.
Vandal appeared unaware of the financial burdens of the upwardly revised Carbon Tax as expressed by representatives from the NWT Chamber of Commerce, Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce and city Mayor Rebecca Alty. He asked if Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault had ever visited the city. He has not.
"We're all on board to be able to reduce our emissions … but there is no way for us to not burn fossil fuels here," said NWT Chamber President Yanik D’Aigle.
"We already have the highest cost of living, we are already incentivized to reduce operational costs for businesses and for people. We’re trying to grow our population, to grow our industry to incentivize mines to come up here, to incentivize industry to come up. But they're not."
D’Aigle, an area bank manager, noted transportation costs can be four times the amount found in the south and the harsher Carbon Tax coming into effect tomorrow is just going to aggravate that situation. He said heating costs doubled through the pandemic and the restructured rebates offered under the new tax regime will have little real benefit for businesses and residents.
Vandal interjected: "So the rebate that you receive from the price on pollution is not working?"
The consensus was 'no' to a shrugged 'we don’t know' around the table, with heating fuel being taxed for the first time — rebates are extended, but will not be proportional to usage — and community governments now losing tax-exempt status.
"The spin-off effect is horrible. It really is. It's just horrible. And we talked about this last year, I remember … we had the same conversation. I've had this conversation for many, many years. But it hasn't changed. Nobody was listening," said D’Aigle.
"And so now you’re going to impose this, the federal government is really incentivizing people to not come to the North, to not do business in the North to not move to the North."
Replied Vandal, motioning to his staff: "Okay, well listen, we've heard you loud and clear. I’ll bring this back to the minister or other ministers like natural resource and environment, to make sure that you can rest assured they will receive your message."
D’Aigle: "I’ve heard, 'We’re going to hear back, but we don't hear back.' So for me, it would be more of a when and how and who … we need to have an answer."
Vandal promised to have a response by late April. The NWT Chamber will follow-up with the minister at that time.
Other issues mentioned in the hour-long early Thursday morning session in the YK Chamber’s boardroom were housing (private housing, work camp housing, public housing, new units coming online in Yellowknife), workforce challenges, immigration needs, mental health and addictions, critical minerals, the Giant Mine remediation project, the city’s submarine water line replacement project and Taltson hydro expansion.
Vandal hinted strongly that there will be a positive announcement about that key green energy project that will see the existing Taltson generating station beefed up to connect the NWT’s hydroelectric systems to provide clean energy, including to the mineral-rich Slave Geological Province. In fact, he was set to tour the facility during his multi-day visit here.
Notably, additional funding for Aurora College’s transformation into a polytechnic university was absent from the proposed budget.
Vandal is also Minister responsible for the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CanNor), and officials were in attendance around the boardroom table, along with reps from Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC).
On Tuesday, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland delivered the 2023 Federal Budget, which proposes a $40B+ deficit for the coming year with no plan to bring Canada’s finances back into balance. The document includes billions in new tax incentives for low-carbon-emission energy projects — all requiring the country’s grid to be supercharged.
Perhaps that explains the interest in the Taltson expansion.
“Such a significant expansion of clean, secure, and affordable electricity will require massive new investments in power generation and transmission,” states the budget. “Canada needs to move quickly to avoid the consequences of underinvestment.”
You can read Premier Caroline Cochrane’s reaction to the budget here.
Minister Vandal also spoke to Cabin Radio later Thursday morning about the Carbon Tax, insisting: "are “not going to cost any families, anywhere in Canada, any more.”