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ANDREW MACDOUGALL : Tories missing chance to play hero — for the environment and taxpayers

May 14th, 2018 | by Richard Paul
ANDREW MACDOUGALL : Tories missing chance to play hero — for the environment and taxpayers
Business and Finance
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MacDougall: Tories missing chance to play hero — for the environment and taxpayers

Jason Kenney arrives at the closing press conference following his first convention as leader of the United Conservative Party in Red Deer, Alta., Sunday, May 6, 2018. JEFF MCINTOSH / THE CANADIAN PRESS
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Hey, have you heard the latest from the Conservatives about Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax?

I’m kidding. Of course you have. By this point, anyone could parrot the Tory talking points. (To save you a Google: They’re against it.)

Not a day goes by without a jeremiad against Trudeau’s l-o-v-e of carbon taxation. This week, to give the usual the feel of the exotic, the conservative cause loosed its most effective communicator, Jason Kenney, on the federal committee studying the 215 pages of the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act omnibused into the Liberals’ budget legislation. Guess what? He wasn’t in favour.

But here’s a question Kenney wasn’t asked: Why reverse a hard policy decision your opponent has already taken, when you can instead reap its benefits and blunt its impact on wallets? An alternative Tory approach would be to leave well enough alone on the carbon tax, attack Trudeau’s reckless implementation of it, then ride to the rescue by cutting taxes.

Yeah, well, no one should be holding their breath, even if it is good for reducing CO2 emissions.

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“Punishing people for simply living normal lives, driving to work, filling up their gas tank and heating their homes, running their small businesses and non-profits is not justifiable,” Kenney told MPs.

Kenney’s laundry list isn’t wrong; a carbon tax does all of these things. But it’s a forensic examination of the trees, not a comprehensive look at the forest. A carbon tax does these things because it’s meant to prod people out of behaviours that are bad, for the greater good. And yes, all of the driving from our heated home to our do-gooder non-profits is part of the problem.

If you believe anthropogenic climate change is a thing, and the Tories say they do, then you have to get the anthropoids (that’s us) to learn new tricks. This is where tax is a handy weapon; most of us don’t like paying it and we tend to notice when paying one at the point of sale.

Here, however, the federal Liberal approach to carbon “pricing” (to use their preferred weasel word) is heavy on stick and wholly absent carrot. Trudeau has chosen not to match a carbon tax with a cut in either corporate or personal income taxes. An enterprising conservative would see an opening here, but … (row upon row upon row upon row of tumbleweeds blow through).

At this point, it’s too late for the Conservatives to have a come-to-Jesus moment on the role of the market in easing climate change. They have infinitupled down against a carbon tax, and the party’s climate Judas – Michael Chong – was dispatched in last year’s leadership race. Read the CPC’s lips: no (neutral) taxes

And what will come in its place? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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“We will be unveiling a very detailed and comprehensive plan because we believe that Canada has to be part of the solution,” Andrew Scheer offered during a recent interview. He promised his still-on-the-drawing board-yet-totally-very-detailed plan will see Canada meet its commitments.

At the risk of being labelled a climate change (plan) denier, short of some newfangled policy approach as yet unidentified, or the Earth safely rubbing up against a giant interplanetary iceberg, I’m not sure how Scheer gets ’er done. The best guess is a rerun muddle of Harper-era regulations and subsidies.

But don’t these impose costs on consumers as well? Ah yes, you see, they do, but indirectly, so voter ire is blunted. It’s not that Conservatives mind you paying more, only that you should blame them for ponying up. Their indirectness also reduces the incentive to change behaviour (i.e. their effectiveness). Why not instead be the hero two ways, by pairing a carbon tax (yay, environment) with tax cuts (yay, wallet)?

The reluctance to explore a different, more direct approach on the environment suggests to voters Conservatives aren’t that interested in being a “part of the solution.” “I’ve got five kids, I want them to have a cleaner environment,” Scheer protested in his interview, sounding like a conservationist who enjoys a weekend walk through a wetland, not someone who thinks the planet is under any kind of existential threat.

Not that such a throttle-down approach has hurt the Tories in the past; Trudeau certainly wasn’t elected because of his plan to tax carbon, nor is Rachel Notley likely to be re-elected for imposing hers in Alberta. Indeed, the momentum behind Kenney’s United Conservative Party in Alberta and Doug Ford’s PCs in Ontario is the best explanation for the current federal Conservative caution on carbon.

Ultimately, however, scrapping the carbon tax doesn’t advance the cause of the environment, it just sets everything back to zero, and we’re a little late in the game to be starting over.


Andrew MacDougall is a London-based communications consultant and ex-director of communications to former prime minister Stephen Harper.

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