National Newswatch

RED DEER, Alta. — Wildrose party members have given Official Opposition Leader Brian Jean a mandate to fight Alberta's looming carbon tax.

Party rank and file, voting at the annual general meeting in Red Deer on Saturday, overwhelmingly endorsed a change to the policy manual in order to promise the Wildrose will repeal the $3-billion-a-year tax should it win power.

"The members have ratified exactly our position on a very bad and regressive tax," Jean said later in an interview.

He said any such carbon pricing needs to work in lockstep with other energy-producing jurisdictions to be both fair and effective.

"If not, we're just penalizing ourselves," he said.

Jean called the motion one more weapon in his arsenal as his caucus prepares to debate the promised legislation during the fall legislature sitting.

The legislation would end coal-fired electricity, cap oilsands emissions and remake Alberta's energy grid with increased emphasis on renewables like wind, solar, and hydro power.

"We're going to see the climate change agenda move forward very aggressively," said Jean.

"Once you dissuade investors from coming into Alberta, once you have energy companies leave Alberta … it's very difficult to get them back.

"The climate change costs are going to hit everybody."

The NDP is bringing in a carbon levy on Jan. 1 on gasoline prices and home heating bills tied to a $20 a tonne levy on greenhouse gas emissions in 2017, rising to $30 a tonne by 2018.

Low and middle income earners will get partial or full rebates.

The money raised will be reinvested in green initiatives and programs, including rapid transit.

Looming behind the Alberta debate is the federal government's recent announcement to impose carbon pricing on provinces through a tax, or a cap-and-trade system, if the provinces do not impose one themselves.

Wildrose members voted on number of changes to their policy book on the final day of the meeting.

They urged a repeal to Alberta's farm safety bill, which extends workers' compensation coverage and workplace safety rules to paid farm workers. Members voted instead to engage in consultations before introducing such rules.

They also voted to abandon the NDP's graduated income tax system and return it to a flat tax system used by the former Progressive Conservatives.

They voted that politicians and political parties should not be reimbursed by taxpayers for campaign expenses. Earlier this year, the NDP majority on an all-party committee voted to have candidates get some of that money back. The legislature as a whole would have to approve it for it to become law.

And by a narrow margin they voted to have the government provide free parking for the first two hours at health facilities, so that families are not penalized with hefty parking fees just to visit loved ones in the hospital.

They also endorsed the concept that photo radar should be scrutinized to ensure it is strictly used to improve safety and is not used as a cash cow.

They also overwhelmingly voted down a motion to include parents in all issues related to a child's education, including sexual identity or identification.

Speaking to defeat the motion, Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt said the Wildrose policy already makes clear the importance of parental rights and choice in education, but said passing such a motion "can be viewed by our opponents as trying to out gay kids when they're not ready to come out."

The fall sitting of the legislature begins Monday and is expected to run until Dec. 8.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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