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Carbon tax countdown: reprieve unlikely for big jump at the pumps

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It seems unlikely Nova Scotians will be getting a last-minute reprieve from the federal carbon tax, set to take effect on Saturday.

Waiting for her husband at a north end gas station Monday, Andrea Hay couldn't help but notice the current price of gas around here, and balk at the idea it will be at least 12 cents higher Saturday morning.

"Pretty concerned, especially when you're driving a V-6," said Hay.

"The gas prices have been pretty atrocious, especially when you're trying to get back and forth to work."

The federal charge is expected to impact Nova Scotians far more than its maritime neighbours, but the government and opposition have very different views on how to ease the burden for residents.

"This will be the biggest jump anywhere in the country," said N.S. Liberal Environment & Climate Change Shadow Minister, Iain Rankin.

"Previously we negotiated the cap and trade system that limited the cost the pump to one cent a litre, while bringing in revenue to fight climate change, while everywhere else had the backstop, so six or seven cents a litre, and then they've increased to about ten cents, so you're going to see about a four cent increase, whereas here, we're going to see almost the full 14 cents," said Rankin.

"So, it'll be a 13 cent to 14 cent increase here."

Prices in New Brunswick and P.E.I. are only expected to rise about three cents.

The steep hike in Nova Scotia was also predicted by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation last week.

Concerned about a disproportionate impact around here, the four Atlantic Premiers wrote to the Prime Minister last week, requesting an urgent meeting and a delay in implementing the tax because of ongoing high inflation and an apparent discrepancy in the expected costs.

CTV News reached out to the Prime Minister's office to confirm receipt of the letter and inquire whether a meeting was being arranged.

There was no response before deadline.

"It's a bad thing. It will punish Nova Scotians unnecessarily," said N.S. Premier Tim Houston from his office in Pictou.

"The price of gas will go up. Diesel will go up, [and] Home heating. And that means that the price of everything will go up. Everything that needs to be moved from where it's produced or grown to a market is going to cost more," said Houston, noting none of the Atlantic premiers dispute the climate is changing and action does need to be taken.

"We don't believe a carbon tax is necessary. We put forward a plan to the Federal government that is actually better for the environment and certainly more affordable for Nova Scotians, but that plan was rejected because it didn't include a carbon tax," said Houston.

But Rankin says the PC plan had other shortcomings.

"I think time is up for them to come up with a plan that's commensurate with the federal guidelines. I think it's just politics at this point, the last few days before it takes effect."

Houston argues the carbon tax concept simply doesn't fit in the maritime region.

"The carbon tax is meant to deter behaviours. Put a tax on it and maybe people won't do what we don't want them to do. But in this province, a very rural province, we have to drive to work. Public transit? Not an option for most Nova Scotians. Walking to work? Not an option for most Nova Scotians. Biking to work? Not an option. We still have to drive, we still have to heat our homes. So the carbon tax makes things more expensive, but it won't modify behaviour, therefore it doesn't improve the planet," he said.

Even with quarterly rebates as the tax is fully phased-in over the next seven years, federal officials estimate Nova Scotians will be shelling out $635 more, with P.E.I. at $569 and New Brunswick at $501.

But, there are options to provide relief, say the opposition Liberals.

"There's a number of different things under the provincial control. One of them is the gas tax. Another one would be income tax," said Rankin.

But the Premier dismissed the idea.

"We're running a deficit. That means we're investing more in Nova Scotians than we're collecting. So to hear the opposition suggest that we reduce healthcare spending, just so we can send more money to Ottawa, it doesn't make any sense to me," said Houston.

"This Carbon tax is unnecessary. It will punish people, and any suggestion that we should roll over and accept that, and reduce healthcare spending, and reduce investments in housing, and reduce investments in roads and poverty, it doesn't make sense why they would take that position."

Hay says she's not considering a different vehicle yet, but acknowledges fuel prices are painful.

"Even if you live close to your job or further away, it still impacts family. Your ability to make money to pay for the gas," she said.

For the latest Nova Scotia news, visit our dedicated provincial page.

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