A Co-Op gas station at night with a price of $1.09 a litre.
A typical Alberta scene in the dying hours of 2023. Credit: David J. Climenhaga Credit: David J. Climenhaga

Happy New Year! It’s too late, alas, for me to advise you, my fellow Albertans, to race out to your neighbourhood gas station and fill the tank of your giant pickup truck to the brim, maybe throwing an extra couple of jerrycans into that cargo bed you never use for anything else.

If you were on the ball, I’m told, this small New Year’s Eve inconvenience could have saved you a ten-spot!

Alberta’s gas-pump fuel tax returns this morning – $0.09 of it, anyway – reimposed by the supposed tax cutters of the United Conservative Party because they need the money. 

Actually, it’s pretty hard to dispute the argument made by Finance Minister Nate Horner on December 19 when he announced that $0.09 per litre of the $0.13 fuel tax would be back at the gas pumps as soon as 2024 began.

“Alberta’s fuel tax is a predictable source of provincial revenue, helping to offset the volatility of other revenue sources,” Horner pleaded in his statement, accurately enough. 

“As a stable component of Alberta’s revenue mix, the fuel tax helps fund programs and services Albertans rely on,” he continued. 

Arguably, it never should have been removed for that very reason – God knows, with our tax regime in this province, there’s precious little about our revenue stream that can be described as stable and predictable. Obviously, from the perspective of running a modern province properly, this is a serious flaw. 

But the last UCP premier, the now nearly forgotten Jason Kenney, just couldn’t resist the temptation to promise Albertans his government would halt collection of the tax in April 2022, in an effort, presumably, to bolster his chances in the UCP’s then swiftly approaching leadership review vote. Well, there’s no need now to ask how that turned out, is there? 

The UCP government led by Premier Danielle Smith, who replaced Kenney, extended the tax holiday at the start of 2023, in advance of a spring election, and again last June. 

The problem now for Premier Smith, Horner and the UCP isn’t that the policy of keeping the gas tax doesn’t makes sense, it does, but that the optics suck.

Removing the tax was justified as a response to the post-pandemic affordability crisis that continues to be pushed hard as an election issue by the Opposition federal Conservative Party, which nowadays is joined at the hip to the UCP. 

So the return of the tax had even the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF), normally a reliable political ally of the UCP/CPC, grumping about the reimposition of the nine cents per litre on the price at the pumps this morning. “It’s mindboggling that she would hike the fuel tax back up now,” the organization’s Alberta spokesperson carped the same day as Horner’s announcement, directing his complaint at Premier Smith. 

There’s also the UCP’s continuing hysterical campaign against the federal carbon tax. Notwithstanding the province’s unsettled jurisdictional claims, this will look to most folks who have to fuel up their vehicles as much the same thing – only without a rebate. 

The reaction on social media, naturally, was predictable. 

“Danielle Smith’s Gas Tax will cost hard working Alberta families AT LEAST $371.80/year,” said one commenter on the social media site previously known as Twitter. “Danielle Smith PROMISED to make lives ‘More Affordable’ for Albertans … Promises Made Promises Destroyed … Life under the UCP gets worse. Thanks Danielle.”

Having been mercilessly mocked for a New Year’s Eve 2016 tweet bragging about how he’d filled up his pickup just before the carbon tax took effect, and also before prices dipped a little soon thereafter, former Wildrose and UCP MLA Derek Fildebrandt was back at the pumps yesterday doing the same thing. 

Opposition finance critic during the years the NDP was in power, the publisher nowadays of an alt-right online news and commentary site proved at least that he’s more consistent than the former Wildrose Party leader who now occupies the Premier’s Office. 

Either that or he’s just a glutton for punishment. 

He also appears to have a nicer truck than he did in 2016, and a few extra jerrycans. 

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...