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Tories demand a 'secret' carbon pricing analysis Liberals say doesn't exist

OTTAWA — The Conservatives are demanding that the Liberals release what they call a "secret report" that proves carbon pricing is harming Canadian families while the government says there simply is no such thing.
Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux waits to appear before the Senate Committee on National Finance, Tuesday, October 17, 2023 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA — The Conservatives are demanding that the Liberals release what they call a "secret report" that proves carbon pricing is harming Canadian families while the government says there simply is no such thing.

At issue is a series of documents on economic impact of carbon pricing provided by Environment and Climate Change Canada to the parliamentary budget office in May.

They were requested by the PBO as it began to redo its own analysis of carbon pricing, after having to admit recently its reports in both 2022 and 2023 were faulty.

Both those reports said while families get more from carbon rebates than they pay directly in carbon pricing, those benefits are erased once wider economic impacts on productivity and wages are factored in. The analysis was only supposed to look at the economic impact of the consumer carbon levy but it also included the big industrial carbon price, known as the Output Based Pricing System, or OBPS for short.

The mistake was quietly noted on the PBO website in April but went unnoticed for nearly a month. Parliamentary budget officer Yves Giroux has apologized for the mistake and for not being more transparent to MPs about it.

However he also insists that it's not going to make a difference and that the new analysis, expected in the fall, will draw the same conclusions.

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault this week said he is "somewhat troubled" by Giroux drawing such a conclusion before the proper numbers have been crunched.

During an appearance at a House of Commons committee on Monday, Giroux said he was quite comfortable making such an assumption because the government has produced an analysis that proves it. They just won't make it public, he said.

Giroux was responding to questions from Liberal MP Ryan Turnbull, the parliamentary secretary for finance, about how he can assume the new report will draw the same conclusions.

"But we know, and I don't doubt Mr. Turnbull, that the government has these numbers, has numbers on the economic impact of the carbon pricing," Giroux said, irritation in his voice. "So the carbon tax and the OBPS. That's your government sir. They have not published anything. Yet."

Later, under questioning from Conservative MP Marty Morantz, Giroux went even further, to say that the government ordered his office not to disclose the numbers either, but that it backs up the findings of the two faulty PBO reports.

"We've seen that, staff in my office (have seen it), but we've been told explicitly not to disclose it and reference it," Giroux said. "It confirms the report that we have published essentially, so that's why I'm comfortable with what we have already published."

In question period Wednesday Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre demanded the government provide the report.

"Now we find out that there is a secret report showing that, with the economic costs considered, the vast majority of Canadians are paying more," he said. "Will the government end the gag order, stop the carbon tax cover up and release the report?"

Guilbeault was not in question period but in a written statement called the assertion that the government is gagging Giroux "outrageous."

"This is a desperate attempt by the Conservative Party to deflect from the fact they have been basing their communications over the past year on a faulty report," he said. "If these were secret documents, why would we have provided them to the independent economic costing officer, so that he can publicize a report on them? That makes no sense."

However a letter from deputy environment minister Jean-François Tremblay to the PBO on May 14 providing the documents in question does explicitly say the data being provided shouldn't be made public.

"The data the department is providing contains unpublished information. As such, I request you to ensure that this information is used for your office’s internal purposes only and is not published or further distributed."

Guilbeault said the information provided were "data sets" of raw data, not analysis. And he said they sometimes contain sensitive private data.

"Environment and Climate Change Canada, like all departments in the government, routinely gives the parliamentary budget officer privileged access to large data sets to support him in the creation of high-quality analysis," he said.

An official from the PBO confirmed the information provided was in the form of spreadsheets of data, not a written analysis.

Tremblay's letter said the data included "the impact of carbon pricing" on national and provincial GDP between 2022 and 2030, and the impact on investment capital and labour incomes for the same period.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 5, 2023.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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