The tan­gled bat­tle over car­bon emis­sions

PressReader - Tke Channel - The tan­gled bat­tle over car­bon emis­sions
The car­bon-tax pic­ture in Canada has be­come very, very messy.Premier Doug Ford’s de­ci­sion to scrap On­tario’s cap-and-trade sys­tem has dra­mat­i­cally un­der­mined how ef­fec­tively the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s car­bon tax will re­duce green­house gas emis­sions across the en­tire coun­try, re­ports Maura For­rest.Fur­ther mud­dy­ing the emis­sions wa­ters is Premier Rachel Not­ley’s as­ser­tion that Al­berta’s car­bon tax will not in­crease over time to align with the fed­eral stan­dard un­til the fed­eral gov­ern­ment gets the Trans Moun­tain pipe­line ex­pan­sion built. And Al­berta’s op­po­si­tion leader, Ja­son Ken­ney, has vowed to scrap Al­berta’s tax al­to­gether if he’s elected next spring.Still, David Reevely writes, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau’s Lib­er­als have ac­tu­ally put up the most con­ser­va­tive cli­mate-change plan Canada has ever se­ri­ously con­sid­ered.Mean­while, An­drew Coyne ar­gues, the Lib­er­als’ plan is not only the sole plan on of­fer, but it’s the best one.The fed­eral Lib­er­als have put up the most con­ser­va­tive cli­mat­e­change plan Canada has ever se­ri­ously con­sid­ered and On­tario’s con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment hates it.It is, as you know, a tax on car­bon-heavy fu­els, of $20 for ev­ery tonne of car­bon diox­ide they’ll emit when burned. In the in­volved prov­inces, in­clud­ing On­tario, the money will be re­bated in equal shares to tax­pay­ers. The tax will rise over time.A car­bon tax whose pro­ceeds are re­turned this way — 90 per cent to in­di­vid­u­als and 10 per cent to busi­nesses, in this case — is the most con­ser­va­tive, econ­o­mist-ap­proved way of re­duc­ing green­house-gas emis­sions. Un­like most of our taxes, which skim off the top of wealth cre­ation in var­i­ous forms, a car­bon tax pun­ishes a be­hav­iour we don’t want, namely pol­lut­ing. This is the canon­i­cal right-wing ap­proach to cli­mate change.“The Trudeau car­bon tax does noth­ing for the en­vi­ron­ment,” Premier Doug Ford said. Be­cause ... prices don’t af­fect peo­ple’s be­hav­iour? There’s no uni­verse in which that’s true and it’s an es­pe­cially weird no­tion to hear from a con­ser­va­tive. That prices mat­ter is fun­da­men­tal to ev­ery­thing we know about eco­nom­ics.“Our gov­ern­ment is pur­su­ing an in­no­va­tive ap­proach to pro­tect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment and busi­ness for years to come,” Ford went on. “The min­is­ter of en­vi­ron­ment, con­ser­va­tion and parks re­cently launched pub­lic con­sul­ta­tions as part of his de­vel­op­ment of a made-in-On­tario en­vi­ron­ment plan and is on track to present the plan in the com­ing months.”This is true, inas­much as En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Rod Phillips put up an in­ter­net page invit­ing sug­ges­tions for a cli­mate-change plan over the next cou­ple of weeks. It is lit­er­ally just one field on a web form, la­belled “Your ideas.” It doesn’t of­fer pos­si­bil­i­ties the gov­ern­ment is con­sid­er­ing, or ask you to weigh com­pet­ing val­ues, or do any­thing else that might help gauge On­tar­i­ans’ views on this fraught mat­ter. Just, “Your ideas.”The con­ser­va­tives can­celled On­tario’s cap-and-trade pro­gram with­out hav­ing any idea what they might re­place it with. We have one live plan to com­bat cli­mate change in On­tario, the fed­eral one, and they’re beat­ing it down with no al­ter­na­tive to pro­pose, while in­sist­ing they’re the vir­tu­ous ones.“The peo­ple of On­tario know I will do ev­ery­thing in my power and use ev­ery tool at my dis­posal to fight this pun­ish­ing, jobkilling tax. We will take this fight all the way to the Supreme Court if nec­es­sary — but more im­por­tantly, we will take this fight to the peo­ple,” Ford said.A per­son could hon­estly ar­gue that cli­mate change isn’t a prob­lem we should seek to do any­thing about, or that the fed­eral Lib­er­als’ plan isn’t the best thing to do. That’s not what the On­tario Tories are ar­gu­ing. They’re just shout­ing.Pro­fes­sors Jack Mintz of the Univer­sity of Cal­gary and Nancy Olewiler of Si­mon Fraser Univer­sity, both noted econ­o­mists, made the case for car­bon taxes to re­place the fed­eral gas tax in a sem­i­nal paper in 2008, back when it looked as though the fed­eral Con­ser­va­tives were in­ter­ested in do­ing some­thing.“In short, con­vert­ing the ex­ist­ing tax on ve­hi­cle fu­els into a broader, en­vi­ron­men­tally based fuel tax, and us­ing the rev­enues to re­duce other taxes, could con­trib­ute to both a bet­ter en­vi­ron­ment and econ­omy,” they wrote.The cur­rent fed­eral Lib­eral plan is even more fis­cally con­ser­va­tive: rather than plug­ging the car­bon tax’s rev­enues into twid­dly tax cuts here and there, they’ll just give every­one money back. If you use a lot of gaso­line and nat­u­ral gas and buy a lot of stuff that trav­els a long way, you’ll still come out be­hind. If your life­style in­volves less pol­lut­ing, which re­ally is most peo­ple, you’ll come out ahead.Un­like cap-and-trade emis­sions per­mits, a car­bon tax is sim­ple to ad­min­is­ter: once the gov­ern­ment de­cides just what it’s go­ing to tax and by how much, the pro­ceeds come in, they get tal­lied, divvied up, and sent out again. Us­ing the Cana­dian Rev­enue Agency, a bu­reau­cracy we al­ready have.The top-level math to make sure the gov­ern­ment’s not mess­ing around doesn’t re­quire a team of au­di­tors. How much came in? OK, did the same amount go out? If not, we’ll ad­just the re­bates for next year. Repeat an­nu­ally. A fourth­grader could do it with a pocket cal­cu­la­tor.The best part, the thing that makes this no­tion ex­tra-bonus con­ser­va­tive, is that peo­ple who pol­lute a lot can be­come peo­ple who pol­lute less. What­ever works for you, you can do. The gov­ern­ment’s not or­der­ing you to switch out all your light bulbs for LEDs or what­ever. It’s just say­ing that dump­ing green­house gases into the at­mos­phere has a cost and it’ll be borne by the peo­ple who do it. The in­vis­i­ble sub­sidy for waste will be re­duced, grad­u­ally, and even­tu­ally dis­ap­pear.Ver­sions of this have demon­stra­bly worked in ju­ris­dic­tions from Aus­tralia to Europe to Bri­tish Columbia. The knock on them is that they haven’t cut those places’ green­house-gas emis­sions enough yet. In fact, they’re all de­signed to in­crease slowly so peo­ple have time to ad­just. This is a shift, not a shock. That’s eas­ily, and in­ac­cu­rately, sim­pli­fied to “Car­bon taxes don’t work.”This ar­gu­ment can’t go on much longer be­fore we’re locked in one way or the other, and hard truths have a dif­fi­cult time stand­ing up to com­fort­ing BS.Some per­sonal news: Eigh­teen years, three own­ers, four ed­i­torsin-chief and five news­room jobs later, this is my last reg­u­lar col­umn here. On Mon­day, I start as a news edi­tor in the Ot­tawa bu­reau of The Cana­dian Press, cov­er­ing Par­lia­ment Hill. You’ll still see my work here, just be­hind other peo­ple’s by­lines. Thanks to my ed­i­tors over the years (es­pe­cially An­drew Pot­ter, who asked me to start writ­ing a col­umn on pro­vin­cial pol­i­tics sec­onds be­fore the On­tario elec­tion in 2014), and to my many gifted co-work­ers. Ev­ery one of them is driven by love of the craft of jour­nal­ism, this city, and the truth. Thank you for read­ing.

On­tario En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Rod Phillips has put up an in­ter­net page to gather pub­lic sug­ges­tions for a cli­mate-change plan.

Doug Ford

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