Conservatives Try to Make Carbon Pricing the 2019 Ballot Question
If the federal Conservative Party has its way, carbon pricing will be the ballot question in next year’s federal election, columnist John Ivison writes in the National Post.
“Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives have been emboldened by Doug Ford’s victory in Ontario—interpreting the provincial vote as an explicit rejection of the carbon tax, which it may or may not be,” Ivison writes. Ford’s determination to unwind his province’s successful carbon cap-and-trade system means the federal government will have to enforce its floor price on carbon. And that’s where the federal Conservatives see an opening.
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“Legally, the Liberals are on solid ground, according to most expert opinion,” Ivison writes. “Politically, though, the prospect of imposing a tax on jurisdictions where the provincial government is openly hostile towards it is a much more dubious proposition.”
That was the context last Thursday night when the Conservatives staged an all-night filibuster, claiming Finance Minister Bill Morneau was unwilling to release data on what the carbon price will cost the average Canadian family. “The Conservatives will take their chances and attempt to make the carbon tax the single issue of the campaign,” Ivison speculates, “based on their belief that when the debate is over taxes they win nine times out of 10 (a notion that does not appear to have been disabused by their defeat in 2015, in part because they let themselves be outbid by the Liberals on tax cuts).”
However, Ivison warns, “that complacency also underestimates the public’s ability to sense when it’s being sold a pig in a poke.” Conservative leader Scheer has promised to meet Canada’s 2030 targets under the Paris Agreement without a carbon tax, but has provided no details on how he plans to do both.
“With a carbon tax and cap-and-trade off the table, that solution is likely to be a suite of regulations that environmental economists say will almost inevitably be more expensive than the alternative,” Ivison notes, citing University of Ottawa social scientist Nicholas Rivers, Canada Research Chair in Climate and Energy Policy. “The difference is that regulating across a range of complex sectors would be less cost-effective than using a simple price mechanism.”
In one study, Rivers and co-author Randall Wigle “found that regulations and subsidies in the transport sector were less noticeable to the public but were far more costly—creating hidden costs that are borne by consumers in the price for fuel and new vehicles,” Ivison writes.