Gov't to relieve Alta. gas pains

By Geoff Lee

March 14, 2017 12:00 AM

Lloydminster, Alta. gas stations will benefit from a carbon tax grant up to $5 million to even up competition with Saskatchewan.
The grant program, announced at the Husky Travel Centre in Lloydminster last week, covers the difference between the total carbon levy and fuel tax in Alberta and the fuel tax in Saskatchewan.
“It will provide a grant of 2.49 cents per litre of gasoline, 3.35 cents on diesel and 3.48 cents on propane purchased to achieve this goal,” said Jessica Littlewood, MLA Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville.
The competitive adjustment grant program will begin April 1 and will cover eligible sales retroactive to Jan. 1.
The program levels a business imbalance that favoured Saskatchewan fuel retailers after Alberta activated a 4.5 cents per litre carbon tax on gas on Jan.  1.
Historically, both provinces have aligned fuel taxes in Lloydminster to treat the community as a whole.
“This initiative continues efforts over the years by both Saskatchewan and Alberta to ensure that the City of Lloydminster is treated as a single whole community,” said Littlewood.
“The government recognizes that there are unique challenges faced in Lloydminster being that it’s a border city.”
Information for retailers to apply for the grant will be posted online by the end of March.
The competitive adjustment follows lobbying by the Lloydminster Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committee (PAC) that reacted to local issues since September.
PAC has been researching the carbon levy and the inequities it would create in our bi-provincial city.
“Our political action team has been working for many months to bring this issue to the front,’” said Chamber executive director, Serena Sjodin in a statement on March 9.
Late last year, PAC held meetings, wrote letters to government ministers and brought the issue before the media.
Sjodin credits the lobbying efforts of MLA Dr. Richard Starke and Lloydminster Mayor Gerald Aalbers for helping to get the government to act.
“The city council and the residents of this city have been lobbying for some time since the announcement of the carbon levy,” said Aalbers at the Husky centre.
He said retailers on both sides of the city had concerns and certainly no one wants a disadvantage.
“Certainly, there was a great deal of concern going into Jan. 1 and I believe the government has heard the message loud and clear.”
Joe Ceci, president of the treasury board and minister of finance said in the past, Saskatchewan offset its charges for fuel sold on its side of the border noting the grant effectively continues that practice.
The grant program will cost an estimated $3-5 million in 2017-18 and will be funded from carbon levy revenue.
Darren King, president of Kings Energy Group, was anxious to learn if the grant applied to cardlock transactions, saying it would be an interest story if it didn’t.
A Friday e-mail reply from the office of the premier confirmed the grant applies to end consumers of the fuel, including at cardlock stations. It does not apply to fuel transported to another location.
“My comments otherwise would be, it’s nice that they’ve contemplated it now, it would have been helpful if they’d done it beforehand, but it’s certainly the right thing to do,” said King.
“It’s what Saskatchewan had done for many years prior.”
Aalbers said the city is extremely excited by the grant.
“We were asking for some kind of financial adjustment and that’s what we’ve got,” he said noting news of the grant program came out of the blue for him with no prior notification.
“We’ll certainly take what we’ve got, I won’t be sitting down to renegotiate it,” he said with a laugh.
Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke called on the Legislature to create a carbon exemption for the whole city in December, but that’s not happening.
“The Lloydminster Chamber of Commerce wants to thank the Alberta government for recognizing this Lloydminster bi-provincial business inequity and offering a reasonable solution,” said Sjodin.
Littlewood noted about 60 per cent of Albertan households get a carbon rebate.
“We are providing a number of programs through Energy Efficiency Alberta that will help Albertans and Alberta businesses protect their pocketbook while lowering their carbon emissions,” she said.
Littlewood said the fuel grant is a way to make sure that businesses on the Alberta side of the border don’t lose businesses to the other side because people will drive to save a few cents on their gas.
“The government really wants to look at the community as a whole and we see that historically, the two provinces have partnered to make sure things are equitable – an equal playing field for all businesses in this area,” she said.
Aalbers said the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) is talking to the government about opportunities where the carbon levy could be applied to use within the community such as having energy retrofits to community buildings.
“I know there’s various programs,” he said.
“There’s an effort being worked on through the city through AUMA to try to look at options that we can present to government that we believe would allow us to put those dollars right back into the city that taxpayers could see directly in various cost saving measures,” he said.

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