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Small-business lobby group sharpens criticism of Liberals’ carbon-tax program

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  • OTTAWA — An organization of small-business owners that helped spearhead a public campaign against the Trudeau government’s tax-change proposals for private corporations is sharpening its criticism of the Liberals’ forthcoming carbon-tax program.

    The carbon tax has generated intense political debate across the country and it’s destined to be a key campaign issue in October’s federal election.

    The Canadian Federation of Independent Business released a poll Tuesday that says the majority of its members believe the carbon tax is “deeply unfair.”

    Most of its members, the report also said, worry they’ll be unable to pass along the bulk of the extra carbon-tax costs to their customers, leaving smaller businesses in a position where they’ll have to subsidize household rebates under the program.

    The survey, however, could be self-reinforcing. More than two-thirds of CFIB members polled didn’t support any kind of carbon pricing to fight climate change.

    The online survey was completed by 3,527 CFIB members in the four provinces — Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick — that will have to follow the Trudeau government’s carbon-pricing system as of April 1 because they don’t have their own regimes. 

    The lobby group, made up of more than 110,000 small- and medium-sized businesses, represents a small segment — just under 11 per cent — of Canada’s small- and medium-sized businesses.

    Still, the organization has found success in the past as a critic of government proposals.

    In late 2017, CFIB helped lead a vocal campaign against Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s package of tax-reform proposals for private corporations. The campaign spent months criticizing his plan, warning it would hurt the very middle class the Trudeau government claimed it was trying to help.

    Morneau defended the proposals by insisting they were designed to stop wealthy owners of private corporations from unfairly taking advantage of the tax system.

    In the end, the uproar forced him to back away from some elements of his plan.

    CFIB has strongly opposed the federal carbon-tax plan out of concern it will pile on too many costs for smaller companies.

    The Liberal government believes carbon pricing, which has been in place for years in provinces like British Columbia, Quebec and Alberta, is one of the best ways to lower emissions. The Liberals argue pollution is already getting expensive for Canadians as costs from climate-change-related weather events have climbed to more than $1 billion a year.

    The federal climate-change plan also includes efforts to develop clean-fuel standards, create new energy-efficiency building codes and phase out electricity generation from coal.

    “Our plan puts a price on what we don’t want — pollution — so that we can get to what we do want: a better future for our kids and our grandkids tomorrow, and money back in the pockets of hard-working Canadians today,” Finance Minister Bill Morneau tweeted Tuesday.

    The opposition Conservatives have repeatedly called the Liberal system a “tax grab” that will hurt the bottom lines of small businesses and families, kill jobs and make the country less competitive. Moving forward, the Tories warn carbon-tax bills will only get bigger.

    Several provincial leaders have also become vocal opponents of the federal program.

    Under the program, Ottawa says 90 per cent of the revenues it collects will be returned via rebates to households in each of the four provinces. Consumers will get by far the largest share because the government expects them to ultimately pay most of the new costs, passed down from businesses.

    The CFIB poll, conducted in November, says about 80 per cent of respondents didn’t think it would be easy for them to forward costs on to their customers. It found 55 per cent of those surveyed didn’t expect to pass on any of the additional costs, while 25 per cent said they will be able to pass on less than 25 per cent of the extra costs.

    “These findings should be deeply worrisome to public policy makers,” said the report, which also repeats CFIB’s concerns the carbon tax will arrive the same year that businesses’ Canada Pension Plan premiums start to rise.

    “It means small firms will be forced to find the resources to pay the tax from the business itself, which means it may come at the expense of wages, jobs or future business growth.”

    CFIB is calling on Ottawa to limit the impact on smaller businesses, including reassurance the same proportion of revenue collected from these firms is returned to them.

    Ottawa has said 10 per cent of the revenue from the carbon tax will be dedicated to a program to help organizations, such as schools, that are unable to pass on the costs via higher prices. 

    Part of this portion — worth about $1.5 billion — will also be used to help small- and medium-sized businesses adapt to carbon pricing over the next five years, the government has said.

    “We are still working with small businesses on how revenue from carbon pollution pricing will be returned to support Canadian businesses to reduce their emissions and their costs, and become more energy efficient and competitive,” Sabrina Kim, a spokeswoman for Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, wrote in an email.

    — Follow @AndyBlatchford on Twitter

    Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press






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    National

    Soldiers deploying to flood-prone areas as water levels rise in New Brunswick

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  • FREDERICTON — About 120 Canadian soldiers will soon be deployed in western New Brunswick to help residents threatened by rising floodwaters.

    The soldiers from Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in southern New Brunswick have been tasked with helping fill sandbags and assisting with evacuating homes, if necessary.

    Lt.-Col. Sean French, commander of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, says the soldiers are also prepared to conduct “wellness checks” in various communities, using heavy vehicles that can move through deep water.

    Water levels in the Saint John River Basin are expected to rise significantly over the next few days, reaching or passing flood stage in several areas.

    With heavy rain expected to continue through the day, particularly in northern New Brunswick, residents of 15 communities have been warned to remain on high alert.

    Greg MacCallum, director of New Brunswick’s Emergency Measures Organization, says the rising waters are sure to lead to road closures in several areas, particularly in the Fredericton area and communities farther south.

     

    The Canadian Press



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    Rain, wind equals no 4-20 blow out for Parliament Hill, but West Coast shines

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  • OTTAWA — It was a blow out, man, the kind that’s a total drag.

    Protesters dotted one half of Parliament Hill’s front lawn on a blustery, rainy Saturday at the climax the first 4-20 “Weed Day” demonstration since Canada legalized recreational marijuana.

    The turnout disappointed organizers who expected thousands more, but a festive atmosphere prevailed as the Peace Tower clock struck 4:20 p.m., sparking simultaneous smart phone photography and the lighting of joints, bongs and pipes.

    “The weather didn’t co-operate. It kind of shut us down,” Shawn Mac, a program director for 4-20 Ottawa, said moments earlier. “Coming and going, we’ve probably seen about 3,000, but right now, probably about a thousand.”

    A bout of blowing rain earlier in the afternoon meant the shutdown of a public address system, and a made for a sparse gathering of perhaps several dozen people, most huddled under plastic ponchos or tarps.

    Sara Bakir, 29, of Ottawa was one of early arrivals, dressed in a dark hoodie under a black umbrella.

    “It’s still nice to be out with a few like-minded people,” she said laughing, and casting her eyes at the empty and soaked brownish yellow lawn. 

    Organizers learned a tough lesson even before the rain started falling — new freedoms bring great bureaucracy.

    Mac said his group is encountering more red tape Saturday than on past April 20 protests.

    Organizers can’t use the steps to the now-closed Centre Block, which means spectators will need a front row position on the lawn to see or hear — something Mac calls a “huge letdown.” 

    “Hearing is already a problem so not being able to see is a crushing blow,” he said.

    Organizers have also been told to limit musical performers to just two, Mac said, adding that isn’t in the rules of how to hold a public event on the Hill. 

    New limits on auto access also meant organizers had to haul equipment and material by hand up to the lawn from Wellington Street, he added.

    “It’s frustrating because legalization was supposed to … make things easier and not more complicated,” he said.

    Lingering post-legalization concerns are sustaining a sense of protest among 4-20 event organizers across the country.

    They include concerns over the government’s decision to tax medicinal marijuana, slow progress on legislation to expedite pardons for people previously convicted of simple pot possession, and the fact that provincial and municipal governments are grappling with retail sales and land-use laws for growing pot.

    The federal government also has yet to legalize edible marijuana products and has six more months to set rules to do so. 

    “Everything about legalization has made things harder, which is the opposite of what is was supposed to be,” said Mac.

    Others were more upbeat and saw Saturday’s event as an inspiration to the world.

    “Again, the world is watching, and I’m very proud of Canada today and Canadians,” said Kelly Coulter, a cannabis policy adviser based in British Columbia.

    She said Canada is helping change global attitudes and policies as the first G7 nation to legalize pot, and she expected people from Germany and Britain to take part in Saturday’s festivities on the Hill.

    It was a far cry from Ottawa’s subdued festivities on the West Coast, as hoards of people crowded Vancouver’s Sunset Beach to mark the city’s 25th annual 4-20 event warmed by rays of glorious spring sunshine amid a low lying marijuana haze.

    A much smaller crowd gathered at the front lawn of British Columbia’s legislature in Victoria, but the mood was equally celebratory and defiant.

    “Today, in many ways, is bittersweet for us,” said long-time marijuana activist Ted Smith, who led the countdown chant to 4:20 p.m. in Victoria. “We’re happy it’s legalized, sure, but there’s a lot of things to protest.”

    Smith, in between puffs from a large joint, said the current marijuana rules are biased against entrepreneurs who want to sell their products in much the same way as craft brewers and winemakers.

    And a downpour didn’t dampen the festivities at Woodbine Park in Toronto’s east end, where revellers trampled through the muddy grass to the steady thrum of house music.

    Cannabis artisans sold their wares at tarp-covered stands, many expressing hope that they could one day emerge from the “grey market” to set up shop at brick-and-mortar storefronts.

    Justin Loizos, owner of the Just Compassion marijuana dispensary in Toronto, said the mood Saturday was more celebratory than in past 4-20 gatherings, which felt more like protests.

    The current regime may not be the “legalization people asked for,” Loizos said, but the cannabis community should take heart in just how far Canada has come.

    “I see a lot of people complaining, whatever — don’t,” he said. “We’re just going to celebrate here and enjoy the day.”

    — with files from Adina Bresge and Dirk Meissner.

    Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press




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