New Brunswick's alternative to the federal carbon price would be to eventually ship liquid natural gas to Europe as an alternative to coal, Premier Blaine Higgs told a House of Commons committee Thursday. 

Higgs, appearing virtually before the House operations committee, said there is a business case for the plan, despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's misgivings about the viability of shipping LNG out of Atlantic Canada.

There is, however, just one problem.

"We don't have a gas supply currently," Higgs said. "And that is the issue."

Higgs is one of three premiers who were invited to voice their opposition to the carbon price at the Conservative-chaired committee after they were turned away by the Liberal-controlled finance committee.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe appeared Wednesday, and Higgs and Alberta Premier Danielle Smith spoke back to back Thursday. They are among seven premiers who recently called on Trudeau to cancel the carbon price increase planned for April 1, arguing it costs people too much. 

Smith called the carbon price "immoral," "reckless" and "inhumane," accusing the Liberals of freezing out Canadians by making natural gas unaffordable. After April 1, the carbon price will end up being more than twice the base cost of natural gas itself, she claimed. 

The Liberals, for their part, say those arguments ignore the government's carbon rebates, which are designed to offset the cost of the carbon price for most families. 

The Conservatives and Liberals disagree about the impact of those rebates, though they both both cite the same recent report by the parliamentary budget officer. 

That report found that the rebates do indeed exceed the direct carbon price costs being borne by most families — but not once the carbon price's impact on jobs and wages is taken into account. 

The Liberals dismiss the latter, arguing there would be an even greater economic cost to ignoring the climate crisis.

Trudeau this week wrote to those premiers inviting them to suggest alternatives to the federal carbon price that would achieve the same results. Higgs told the committee Thursday he had one.

Canadian natural gas shipped to replace dirtier coal in power plants overseas will be more impactful to global emissions than the carbon price will be, he said. Coal produces more emissions when burned than natural gas.

"So my plea here is across party lines to say let's think bigger," Higgs said. 

"Let's look at Canada as a solution to world environmental impact and changes and reductions, as opposed to us being exactly focused on our internal affordability and the costs every day of living."

Higgs has long championed the development of shale gas in New Brunswick. The carbon price is barely going to make a dent in world emissions as long as China continues to build coal plants, he argues. 

He said Canada's emissions are a drop in the bucket of global emissions and that shipping cleaner fuels overseas to replace coal would be a more effective strategy.

"In Canada we're thinking in a bubble," said Higgs. "I propose to make a difference worldwide."

A Spanish company last year walked away from a proposal to build a natural gas export terminal in Saint John, citing the high costs of shipping gas, which would have to be sent by pipelines from Western Canada. 

Former Liberal Premier Brian Gallant legislated a moratorium on hydraulic fracking in New Brunswick in 2014. That decision came after violent anti-fracking protests rocked New Brunswick in 2013.

Fracking is a process that pumps large volumes of water and chemicals underground to break apart layers of rock and release pockets of gas trapped inside.

Smith was also pushed by Liberal MPs about her province's decision to increase the provincial gas tax from nine cents to 13 cents a litre, restoring the previous excise tax amount that the province slashed when gas prices were high. 

Smith said the provincial gas tax is less than the carbon price — on April 1 the price will add another 3.3 cents per litre of gasoline for a total impact of 17.6 cents per litre. 

The province's tax builds roads, she added. The carbon price does not.

Ontario Liberal MP Irek Kusmierczyk noted Smith recently attended an "axe the tax" rally with Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre. Kusmierczyk asked her whether she intends to axe her own gas tax too.

That tax, Kusmierczyk pointed out, does not include a rebate.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 28, 2024.