The Saskatchewan government has introduced legislation it says would allow it to stop remitting the federal carbon tax on natural gas bills while providing legal protections to those who work at its Crown energy corporation.
The Saskatchewan Party government announced last month that SaskEnergy would stop paying the carbon tax on natural gas on Jan. 1 in response to Ottawa’s decision to suspend the tax on home heating oil.
The federal measure greatly helps those living in the Atlantic provinces, where it is a major source of home heating. Saskatchewan and other provinces have said it’s unfair that natural gas hasn’t been treated similarly.
The bill introduced Thursday in the legislature would designate the province as the only registered distributor of natural gas in Saskatchewan.
It says it would protect the Crown corporation, all its current and former directors, officers, employees and other associates from the legal consequences of failing to remit the tax.
Federal law says corporations that don’t pay the carbon tax could face steep fines and executives could also go to jail.
“I think what we’ve tried to do is provide as much security as possible,” Dustin Duncan, minister responsible for SaskEnergy, said of the bill.
“This will be the government that will make the decision if we get to the point of not remitting the carbon tax.”
He said he has hired personal legal counsel on the matter and the province is expected to cover the cost of his lawyers.
Duncan previously said he is willing to go to “carbon jail” for not paying the tax. The province would be responsible for paying the fines, he added.
Donna Harpauer, the province’s deputy premier, spoke with Deputy Premier Chrystia Freeland about the issue, Duncan said.
“At this point, everything indicates that there will be no more exclusions, but we are hopeful that that will change,” Duncan said.
The federal government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in late October that Ottawa will not offer any more exemptions, saying heating oil is much more expensive than natural gas and those who use it have no other options available.
The Saskatchewan government says removing the federal carbon tax from SaskEnergy bills would save the province’s average family $400 next year.
Last year, SaskEnergy remitted $172 million in carbon taxes to the federal government.
Saskatchewan’s opposition NDP said it is reviewing the bill before taking a position.
In late October, the provincial legislature unanimously passed a motion supporting the move not to remit the tax to Ottawa.