As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government prepares to increase the federal carbon tax by an additional ten dollars per tonne of emissions on Friday, the top Conservative leadership candidates all agree on one thing: the wrong decision.
But that’s where their consensus ends. Questions about what Canada should do with carbon pricing, financial compensation for consumers and the broader fight against climate change are still being debated among Conservative leadership candidates. In many cases, candidate blueprints are still being drafted.
And as cost-of-living concerns collide with Canadians’ anxiety about climate change, these plans could help decide who stands the best chance of winning over both the Conservatives and the electorate.
Poilievre holds the ax
Pierre Poilievre shouts from the rooftops his answer to the carbon tax question. On Thursday night, he’s hosting an event in Ottawa that he calls the “Focus the Carbon Tax” rally.
And he took this polarizing issue one step further than his opponents. Instead of just attacking the Liberals, Poilievre started calling the policy the “Trudeau-Charest-Brown” carbon tax.
While he was premier of Quebec, leadership candidate Jean Charest implemented a carbon price cap and trade system that effectively put a price on carbon pollution. Patrick Brown, another of Poilievre’s opponents, called for a carbon price while leading the Ontario Progressive Conservatives.
Both Brown and Charest have said they oppose the upcoming federal hike.
The federal Liberals first introduced a national price on carbon in 2018. The federal policy allows provinces and territories to design their own carbon pricing systems, but imposes the carbon tax in jurisdictions that do not. not introduce carbon pricing.
On April 1, 2022, the tax will increase to $50 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions. It is expected to reach $170 per tonne by 2030.
Canadians under the federal carbon pricing regime receive benefit payments to offset the higher prices. Beginning in July 2022, Canadians will automatically receive the Climate Action Incentive payment every three months.
Poilievre doesn’t just want to stop the latest hike – he wants to scrap the tax altogether. At a press conference at a Saskatchewan tractor manufacturer early Marchhe said there are “countless” ways to tackle climate change without pricing carbon.
Thousands economists, including Nobel laureatesargued that a carbon tax is the most effective way to quickly reduce emissions.
Instead of a tax, Poilievre said he would put in place clear emissions reduction targets and let the provinces decide how to achieve them.
Poilievre also spoke about the virtues of carbon capture and storage technologies and small modular nuclear reactors. It also proposes a ban on oil imports from “dictatorships” that do not meet Canada’s environmental or ethical standards.
Charest will unveil its environmental platform in May
Charest has not planned any rallies or social media ads targeting the carbon tax. However, he tried to make the Conservatives understand his opposition to the next rate hike.
In a Toronto Sun opinion pieceCharest argued that “we are in a cost of living crisis in this country” and “a carbon tax hike right now will only hurt struggling families and businesses.”
Charest is not completely abandoning carbon pricing. In various media interviews, he said his plans for government would include a price on carbon. Although Charest suggested that carbon pricing should target the industry rather than the retail level and should not penalize rural Canadians, he did not go into detail.
Charest also spoke about the merits of emission-reducing energy sources and technologies, such as biofuels, carbon sequestration and small modular nuclear reactors.
Charest’s campaign says he will unveil his broader plan for the environment in early May.
Brown says he won’t repeat past carbon tax mistake
Although he supported carbon pricing as Ontario’s Progressive Conservative leader, Brown also spoke out against the April 1 hike.
He wrote to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland in early March asking her to reconsider, citing rising energy costs and economic dislocation.
During his campaign kickoff speech, Brown told his supporters that Conservatives care about reducing greenhouse gas emissions and that the Conservative Party must be part of the solution to climate change.
But Brown also said he had learned “from experience” that it was “not the right approach” to impose a climate plan without consulting party members or the caucus.
He has pledged to hold party-wide consultations on the environment if he wins the leadership.
Lewis opposes the tax
Leslyn Lewis joins Poilievre in arguing that the federal carbon tax should be scrapped.
Lewis, who holds a doctorate in international law, earned her master’s degree in environmental studies and has written on the merits of clean energy in sub-Saharan Africa.
In 2020, she tweeted that carbon pricing is “a fake term that makes us feel like we’re doing something for the environment.” She argued that the carbon tax is a wealth tax that does not change behavior.
Carbon pricing is a bogus term that makes us feel like we’re doing something for the environment. The carbon tax is a wealth tax that does not change behavior. Don’t forget that I have a master’s degree in environmental studies, so your jargon doesn’t suit me. Real solutions interest me.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Romer told the CBC that changes in behavior will occur over time as the carbon tax rate increases steadily because “people will see that there is a big profit to be made by finding ways to supply power where they can without incurring the tax.”
Lewis’ campaign said more details about his environmental platform would emerge later in the leadership contest.
The Conservatives will choose their next leader on September 10. Other elected officials have also announced they are running for the top job, including MPs Scott Aitchison and Marc Dalton and Independent Ontario MPP Roman Baber.