A majority of NWT Chamber of Commerce members who responded to a weekly online poll indicated proposed increases to the carbon tax this spring would be a major threat to operations or completely devastating.

The federal government is forcing provinces and territories to respond to its demand for stronger carbon pricing in order to “send a signal” to petroleum and gas users that they should use less or find an alternative (which aren’t feasibly available at present).

The NWT Chamber asked its members to, with one being least, to five being worst, (with characterizations provided) please choose:

1 (insignificant, they can be absorbed) — 0 per cent

2 (current measures are enough) — 0 per cent

3 (ill advised right now) — 20 per cent

4 (a major threat to operations) — 53.3 per cent

5 (devastating) — 26.7 per cent

After the poll was posted on Jan. 4, some NWT Chamber members contacted our office to explain how their living and business costs have already doubled in many cases since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020. They underscored how any further increases to their business operating costs or their personal living expenses could see them reluctantly looking to leave the NWT.

After seeing the poll results, Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby took to social media:

“Minister of ENR Shane Thompson had one message at COP26 for the federal government and that was that we cannot afford to pay for their promises. Clearly he and cabinet have failed to impress upon the Liberals that this will be catastrophic for NWT businesses as well as to everyone’s personal cost of living.

“There must be something done to exempt the NWT from the federal carbon tax program. Cabinet must work harder to make the federal government listen to Northerners.”

The federal government’s Arctic and Northern Policy Framework, does call for “strong, sustainable, diversified and inclusive local and regional economies.”

It states: “However, Northern economic development is challenged by higher operating costs for businesses due to the region’s small and dispersed population, sparse infrastructure and higher energy and connectivity costs.”

The federal carbon pricing scheme appears to work against its own policies.

What has NWT MP Michael McLeod had to say about his government’s policy?

Well, for example, McLeod in April 2021 told NNSL Media he welcomed the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling which upheld the constitutionality of the federal government’s original carbon tax. Jurisdictions including Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario challenged the tax’s constitutionality, arguing it went against the division of powers and overrode provincial control over natural resources.

He was quoted as saying: “Climate change is significant in the North and it is something I hear about on a regular basis where people are very concerned about what is happening.”

We are concerned about pollution and are aware humans have played a role in accelerating increased changes to the climate. But there is also the reality of living and working in the subarctic and Arctic and understanding the extremely minor amount of pollution the NWT contributes to Canada’s total.

Fort Simpson residents are used to the constant drone from the four diesel generators inside the community’s power plant. A football-field-sized solar energy project installed in 2012 provides up to 15 percent of Fort Simpson’s power needs, but diesel fuel is still needed until a reliable and viable alternative can be found. Photo by James O’Connor

As soaring inflation and supply chain problems force prices up and reduce the value of a dollar, operating costs for NWT businesses will increase after April 1 if the carbon tax rebate on heating fuel is removed.

The Standing Committee on Government Operations reviewed Bill 60 on Jan. 16. The NWT Chamber of Commerce was present to continue to oppose this credible threat to the NWT’s private business sector.

The concept of a price on carbon as a measure to force a reduction in use is fine if there are readily available and practical alternatives. If that means electricity, our costs are roughly triple those found in southern Canada.

Most of the electricity generated for NWT communities comes from hydro-electric facilities, but 25 per cent comes directly from diesel generators. Solar panels only account for about 0.6 per cent of the NWT’s total power supply. Remote large industries, such as mines, generate their own electricity on-site, almost exclusively using diesel generators to produce their electricity.

So if the federal government’s goal is to move us towards electricity, then we need to have more funding and efforts directed towards big-ticket projects such as Taltson hydro expansion and the Slave Geological Province Corridor.

The federal government must live up to the Arctic and Northern Policy Framework and not paint the North with the same wide policy brush as it does the rest of Canada.

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