Now that the Canadian economy is returning to health and the federal government’s finances are expected to shift from deficit to surplus, the Canadian Trucking Alliance suggests it’s time for federal finance minister Joe Oliver to decide what to do with the federal excise tax on diesel fuel when he tables his first budget in 2015.
“The federal government will no doubt continue its prudent management of government spending, but with the recession behind us and with the books balanced, it will no longer be in a fiscal straitjacket,” says CTA president David Bradley. “It should therefore seek to introduce certain long-standing strategic measures that are consistent with the themes established for the pre-budget consultations.”
CTA recently outlined these points in a submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance. In its comments, CTA pointed out it has been six years since Prime Minister Stephen Harper pledged during the 2008 election campaign to reduce the excise tax on diesel fuel by 50 per cent from four cents per litre to two cents per litre.
However, the tax – originally meant as a temporary measure to help pay down the deficit when it was introduced in 1985 – remains today without serving any policy purpose. It generates about $1 billion per year in revenue, with the trucking industry paying the lion’s share, but it is not in any way dedicated to infrastructure investment, or environmental purposes or anything else, CTA notes. Instead, the funds continue to flow into general revenues.
“At the same time as we anticipate a return to fiscal balance, diesel fuel prices have been running close to record highs,” says Bradley. “Although CTA would never dismiss a tax reduction – and while there is ample good reason to eliminate the regressive excise tax on diesel fuel and harmonize it with the GST/HST – as long as it continues to exist, it should be earmarked for specific policy purposes that are consistent with government and industry goals in areas like highway infrastructure, fuel efficiency and GHG reduction.
“Canada is perhaps the only major industrialized country on the planet not to have a national highway policy,” added Bradley. “The federal government has a long history of providing assistance for highway construction in Canada, but this has been ad hoc and unpredictable.”
In recognition that the status quo is not unacceptable, there have been several attempts over the years to develop a permanent and integrated national highway policy, but to little avail. Revenue from the excise tax could be dedicated to a National Highway Trust Fund, which in turn could be used to leverage provincial cooperation and compliance with national safety, weights and dimensions, environmental and other trucking standards.
Retrofitting existing trucks or installing on new vehicles proven add-on technologies and devices – such as aerodynamic fairings, auxiliary power units, boat-tails and rolling resistant tires – would help improve fuel economy while setting the industry up to comply with a new round of GHG reduction rules in 2018. Revenues from the excise tax on diesel fuel could also be used to help establish a distribution network, boost the manufacturing sector and lower capital costs of purchasing LNG engines. In general, the capital cost allowance (CCA) rate for truck tractors in Canada is far less generous than in the U.S.
According to the Conference Board of Canada, the for-hire trucking industry is facing a long-term, chronic shortage of qualified drivers of up to 33,000 by 2020.
“There is going to be a greater need for quality driver training than ever before,” says Bradley. “This is yet another area where perhaps revenue from the federal excise tax on diesel fuel could be allocated to help create new jobs while increasing safety standards across Canada.”
Consultations on the next federal budget will continue throughout the fall. The budget is usually introduced in February or early March.