Carbon tax: Freeland calls PBO error an ‘honest mistake’

Amid renewed scrutiny over the cost of Canada’s consumer carbon tax, following a miscalculation by Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) Yves Giroux, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland is standing by the Liberal policy, calling the error an “honest mistake.”

But, when asked whether the government is trying to muzzle the PBO by refusing to publish its own analysis, Freeland had little to say.

“Obviously we are disappointed that, in the published calculations by the PBO about the carbon rebate, the large emitters were included,” Freeland said at a press conference Tuesday. “But I really want to say, I am 100 per cent of the view that it was an honest mistake.”

Last week, The Canadian Press reported the PBO quietly published a note on its website in April, admitting it erroneously included the impact of the industrial carbon price in its 2022 and 2023 analyses of the cost of the federal consumer carbon price. Including the industrial carbon price in the calculation may have skewed the results of the report, according to the PBO, and the office announced plans to publish an updated analysis this fall.

This caught the eyes of both Liberals and Conservatives, as both parties have used the PBO’s analysis to make diverging arguments about the costs and benefits of the consumer carbon price, and citing the office’s report as support for their respective arguments for, and against, the policy.

“The PBO does a huge amount of work,” Freeland said. “They have a huge amount of data that they need to handle, and, you know, honest mistakes will be made.”

Freeland’s comments were in response to a question about testimony Giroux gave before the House of Commons Finance Committee on Monday, during which he said both he and his staff have seen separate economic analysis done by the government on the impact of the consumer carbon tax, but they’ve “been told explicitly not to disclose it and reference it.”

Giroux told the parliamentarians at committee the government’s report confirms the PBO’s numbers and analysis, so he’s “comfortable with what (he has) already published.”

When asked why the federal government has not released the report Giroux is pointing to, Freeland didn’t directly answer.

She did state that despite the PBO’s error, the “government is absolutely confident” that the carbon price system benefits eight out of 10 Canadians by distributing a rebate worth more than what it collects.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre raised the issue during question period on Tuesday, calling the Liberals’ refusal to release their own cost analysis a “carbon tax cover up.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded, insisting the program benefits the “vast majority” of Canadians, and saying while his government “respects the work of the parliamentary budget officer,” the PBO “admitted he made a mistake.”

“If that were true, he would simply release the report with the real cost of the carbon tax that he’s been hiding,” Poilievre fired back.

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