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The financial cost of climate change

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

WEST COAST — With the tax season well underway, households are looking at eligible deductions that could see additional money back in their pockets after a year of extremes that include fuel and home heating costs, travel and food costs just to name a few. One of these deductions, which isn’t available to those residing on the island portion of the province, would be the northern residents deductions. These deductions, which include both a residency and a travel deduction, are to help offset increased costs faced by those residing in the prescribed northern zones with their higher cost of living, environmental hardships, and limited access to services. For those in a prescribed northern zone, like those residing in Labrador, households can claim the full amount of these deductions, and for those in prescribed intermediate zones, like areas surrounding Fort St. John’s, BC and Fort McMurray, AB, they can claim 50 per cent. Due to the heightened costs for residents on the island portion of NL to travel, whether by plane or by ferry, and with the unreliable nature of the ferry during inclement weather, the argument could be made that NL residents are dealing with an increase in isolation, and some feel additional tax breaks, in order to be able to afford hikes in travel expenses to and from the island, would be greatly beneficial. Gudie Hutchings, Minister of Rural and Economic Development, said tax breaks aren’t the proper solution. “Tax breaks only help people that are making money, and we want to help everybody. The issue now is, and the majority of people realize this, is we have to do something about climate change. The reality is, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are paying money now, but it’s going directly to the province. So we’re using this backstop now to say no, provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador, we are going to take that money ourselves and return it to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians,” said Hutchings. “They keep going on about home heating and all this kind of stuff (carbon tax increases). It doesn’t start until July.” Instead of focusing on tax breaks, the liberals see rate mitigation and economic programs as the most beneficial ways to assist the majority of people. “The northern residents tax credit was taken away 30 years ago, and it only applied to the tip of the northern peninsula. The whole island never had it. This isn’t a conversation you can have in two seconds, but it applies to people making a lot of money. It doesn’t help the everyday Newfoundlander and Labradorian ,who is making $30-40-50,000 a year,” said Hutchings. “It’s a line item on your tax return, and that’s only helping people who are already looking after themselves. Our policies and programs are there to help everyday Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and that’s what we’re fighting for every day.” Moving forward to a greener economy is how the liberals see the most money being saved. “We don’t have the price tag on Fiona yet, but it’s estimated to be $1.3 billion. The fires out west the other year, they were $4 billion. We have got to start getting off these pollutants, get off oil. We’ve got to make sure we’ve got a greener economy and the money needs to reward people for doing better, and that’s what we’re doing. We’re giving you back the money on the tax you’re paying at the pumps. The programs are out there to help you get off oil, and I keep reminding people that the federal rebate system is already working now. In Ontario and Alberta, eight out of 10 people are getting back more money than they’re paying in, and that’s a fact.” With the Carbon Tax increase slated for July, there are concerns that the already significant fuel costs will become unmanageable, but Hutchings said rate mitigation was a way to avoid an even worse increase. “There was a risk of everybody’s electricity bill doubling, so we’re keeping energy costs affordable for the vast majority of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians that use electric heat. Where would everybody be if their electric bill was doubling? Because 60 per cent of people in our province use electric heat,” said Hutchings. “I wish people were more factual because, all this fuss that the opposition is making (about the increased carbon tax), it isn’t coming into effect until July and that’s why we’ve given so much notice and put these programs out there. If you want to get off the oil and get on to a heat pump system, there are different pockets of money with provincial and federal programs which will cover $15,000 to get you started.” Hutchings sees bright things in Canada’s future, despite the difficulties over the past few years. “I know it’s hard times. We’re still feeling the impacts of a global pandemic. People still don’t realize the impact that the war in the Ukraine is having on things, but Canada’s foundation is strong and when we get to the other side of the bumpy waters we are on now – look, we’ve got the critical minerals, we’ve got the things everybody is looking for – everything is changing in our world markets and Canada is strong and we will be one of the first G7 countries to bounce back.” MHA Tony Wakeham (Stephenville – Port au Port) doesn’t believe it’s fair for Newfoundland and Labrador to front the costs for a project meant to benefit the whole country. “Surely the federal government should be able to commit to taking an equity stake in a project that will turn the country greener and not simply be left to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador who have to pay for this project in its entirety. At the end of the day, it’s meant to make the country greener, to help us reduce our carbon emissions. It’s meant to be a project for the entire country and it’s also part of the Atlantic Loop that the federal government continues to talk about.” As a vocal opponent of increased taxation to change the behaviour of residents in the province, Wakeham believes the landscape of NL makes it impossible for residents to avail themselves of the same lower-cost amenities other provinces may be able to. “What the people of the province are struggling with now is the high cost that they’re currently paying, especially on home heating fuel, and the fact that the federal government is about to increase carbon tax on home heating fuel and other fuel starting July 1, and that carbon tax is not having the effect that the federal government thought it would have in terms of emission reduction,” said Wakeham. “I would argue, here in Newfoundland and Labrador, it’s been nothing more than a hardship because, while the prime minister may want to modify behaviours of people in terms of the use of their automobiles and how often they use them, we do not have a public transportation system, especially in rural parts of the province. The bus services that exist in the Metro St. John’s area provides some relief, but I would argue that in itself isn’t up where it needs to be. For those of us who live outside that area, there are no other options.”

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