On Thursday, as out-of-control wildfires swept Alberta, prompting evacuations, air quality alerts, and apocalyptic images, Jason Kenney made good on an election promise to repeal the province’s carbon tax.
“As of today, the NDP carbon tax in Alberta is gone,” Kenney announced on social media.
“Our party has been working since the day of its creation for this moment,” Kenney said in the house Thursday as his government passed Bill 1: An Act to Repeal The Carbon Tax. “This opportunity to remove this huge deadweight cost that punishes hard working people for living ordinary lives in this province.”
The Alberta NDP announced the carbon tax in November 2015. It started at $20 a tonne in 2017 and increased to $30 a tonne in 2018. But in April, Albertans elected United Conservative Party leader Kenney, who vowed during the election to repeal it.
On Thursday, Kenney said repealing the carbon tax was about restoring democracy and creating jobs. He said the NDP had “callously imposed” the tax on people without warning for “committing the crime” of filling their gas tanks and heating their homes. “This was a huge act of political deception,” he said.
Kenney had scheduled a press conference to discuss the repeal, but cancelled it Thursday.
As he spoke, a total of 29 wildfires raged across the province, with 10 of those considered out-of-control, according to provincial government figures.
Smoke from the wildfires cloaked Alberta and even parts of neighbouring provinces, according to FireSmoke Canada, reaching as far as Vancouver. Environment Canada issued a “moderate risk” air quality warning for Edmonton and other communities.
Residents in northern communities have been forced to evacuate. In High Level, 5,000 people were driven from their homes by fast-moving wildfires. Other wildfires have forced people to flee their homes in Wabasca, Bigstone Cree Nation and Northern Lights County, the Canadian Press reported.
Kenney’s repeal of the carbon tax as wildfires rage in his province might look ironic to some.
A price on carbon was intended to dissuade the burning of fossil fuels that contribute to climate change. And climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of wildfires. In the past, these intense fires have halted oil sands production and caused billions in damages, hitting the very people Kenney is concerned about.
A recent government climate report states that a warmer climate will lead to more frequent and more intense extreme hot temperatures. “This will increase the severity of heatwaves, and contribute to increased drought and wildfire risks,” the report states.
Mike Flannigan, a professor at the Renewable Resources department at the University of Alberta, told The Narwhal that the number of wildfires in Canada have doubled since 1970.
“My colleagues and I attribute this to human-caused climate change,” he told the magazine. “I can’t be more clear on that. Human-caused climate change.”
Alberta is already familiar with extreme forest fires.
In May 2016, a massive wildfire destroyed 6,000 square kilometres of northern Alberta, forcing more than 80,000 people to flee their homes in Fort McMurray. The fire also stopped production in the oil sands. In 2011, a wildfire destroyed one-third of the town of Slave Lake and forced all of its 7,000 residents to evacuate.
The climate scientists said in their report that insured losses from the Fort McMurray fire were estimated at $3.5 billion, with the total cost unknown.
They said with medium confidence that human-caused climate change “has increased the likelihood of some types of extreme events, such as the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire.”
“Increasing temperatures, like those observed across Canada, will lead to drier fuels, and thus increased fire potential, as well as longer fire seasons,” the report continued.
In a video posted to Twitter on May 26, Kenney said local politicians near High Level were “optimistic” about the wildfires. “Everyone is working together extremely well,” he said, thanking firefighters for their work. He promised swift financial support to provincial evacuees.
“We’re hoping and praying for the best tonight,” he said.
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