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If Canadians want to find an example of a Liberal politician who cares about affordability, they should look to St. John’s, not Ottawa.

Time and time again, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey has stood on the side of taxpayers.

The latest example is his government’s decision to extend its 8.05 cent per litre gas tax cut for another year.

The gas tax cut has been in place for 21 months and has saved the average two-car Newfoundland and Labrador family more than $800. Another 12 months of lower gas prices will see family savings soar to more than $1,000.

Furey first announced the temporary tax cut in June 2022 and has now extended it twice.

The Furey government has also spoken out strongly about the detrimental impact of the carbon tax on Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

In criticizing the Trudeau government’s carbon tax late last year, Furey noted “there is no subway” for his constituents to take as an alternative to the ever-increasing costs of driving a car to get to work or to bring kids to school.

That comment was a jibe at the infamous remarks federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland made when encouraging Canadians who can’t afford to pay the carbon tax to bike or take transit.

Furey noted if rural Canadians don’t have other transit options – and many don’t – then “the fundamental premise on which the [carbon tax] is based is flawed.”

Furey was also a leader in calling on Trudeau to take the carbon tax off all home heating, noting repeatedly that heating one’s home in Canada in the winter is not optional.

Under pressure, Trudeau finally did so through a temporary suspension of the carbon tax on home heating oil, which is a popular method of home heating in Atlantic Canada, but not in other regions of the country.

To Furey’s credit, he continued to call on the federal government to offer relief to Canadians who don’t use furnace oil for home heating.

Juxtapose that against the policies of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Without campaigning on it, Trudeau sprung a carbon tax on Canadians in 2019. He’s increased it every year since. And he plans to keep jacking it up every year until 2030.

Trudeau has tried to sell his policies by claiming most Canadians are getting more money back from carbon tax rebates than they pay in carbon taxes. Many of Trudeau’s allies have suggested that somehow the carbon tax actually is an affordability measure.

But the Parliamentary Budget Officer has laid out the truth: the average Canadian family is losing money from the carbon tax, big time.

The average Newfoundland and Labrador family lost $347 from the carbon tax last year, even after the rebates. That’s set to climb to $1,316 a year by 2030.

For years, Trudeau told us families would be better off with the carbon tax. But after pressure from Furey and other Atlantic Canadian politicians, he temporarily removed the carbon tax on home heating oil for the next three years.

If that’s not a mea culpa that the carbon tax makes life less affordable, then Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny must be real.

The broader contrast between Furey and Trudeau is their approach to cost of living. Furey looks at what’s taking cash out of families’ wallets – gas and carbon taxes – and tries to lessen that burden by fighting for lower taxes. Trudeau’s solution to make life more affordable appears to be more taxes, more spending and more debt.

The bottom line is that Trudeau, who is sinking in the polls and faces frustrated taxpayers from coast to coast, should learn a thing or two from Furey. Canadians want life to be more affordable, and that means lowering the tax burden, not increasing it.

Jay Goldberg is the Interim Atlantic Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation


The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

It’s funny how the Overton window shifts.

Just two years ago, when now-MP Michael Coteau proposed fare-free transit as a signature policy in the 2020 Ontario Liberal leadership race, it was met in some places with incredulity.

But the simplicity of the proposal had obvious traction. Why is there a cash barrier to entering a subway or bus when (most) highways are free to drive? In an era where the twin crises of affordability and climate change are top of mind, eliminating transit fares, in the context of expanding service, would represent real pocketbook relief and would help get more commuters out of their cars, particularly in the suburbs.

In this provincial election campaign, all four major parties have put forward some version of fare reduction.

The Doug Ford Conservatives implemented free fares on municipal transit when connecting to GO transit. The Steven Del Duca Liberals pledge to temporarily slash all transit fares to “a buck a ride”, until 2024. The Andrea Horwath NDP are vaguer, but pledge things like a two-hour flat rate rather than distance charges. Mike Schrenier’s Greens propose off-peak fare discounts and would cut other transit fares in half.

All four proposals are intriguing and would, to varying degrees, move us toward a system where we would put the “public” back into public transit.

As Rick Salutin wrote recently, “A smart, incremental approach…would mean making additional needed services free… as we have with public education and health care. Why not public transit next? Why should we pay as riders when we’ve already paid as citizens?”

That word “incremental” is key. One of the innovations of Coteau’s 2020 proposal was to transition to fare-free transit over a decade, expressly in order to use free service as a relief for overcrowded lines. As Coteau wrote, “I’m also excited by the possibilities a decade-long implementation period presents. As we incrementally move to fare-free transit, we can look to nudge commuter behaviour, whether through implementing fare-free transit in off-peak times or on underused routes to redirect ridership from crowded routes using big data.”

Using free transit to incentivize beneficial changes in ridership patterns—such as initially offering free off-peak service—presents opportunities to more readily relieve crowding on transit than new relief line construction can provide. The notion of free off-peak service is even more intriguing today, as we all experience a post-COVID transition to hybrid or in-person office life.

However, the greatest impediment to fare-free transit, somewhat ironically, is the gas-tax transfer system.

Right now, municipal transit systems rely overwhelmingly on the provincial gas-tax transfer for the bulk of our funding. Yet, the transfer is calculated based on fare-paying riders. This means, in practice, that municipal transit systems are unable to eliminate fares, despite fare revenue often being a negligible percentage of operating costs.

The good news is the province already showed it could base its gas-tax transfer calculations temporarily off of ridership tracking even when the fare was eliminated as a COVID-19 relief measure.  Why not make that permanent? The need to base the gas-tax transfer on ridership can be met through any number of tracking tools used to count riders without them having to pay.

Changing this provincial policy can and should be done at a stroke of a pen, and would allow municipal transit systems to eliminate fares right away.

It is good that all four parties are discussing policy changes that would move us closer to fare-free transit. I believe as a general principle that transit should be a public service, free at the point of use.

Changing how the gas-tax transfer is calculated would allow municipalities to implement free local transit, to innovate and save commuters money, all while incentivizing transit ridership. It’s a simple change all provincial parties should commit to implementing.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.