National Post (Latest Edition)

Ontario’s carbon parties

- Todd Myers And Christine Van Geyn Todd Myers is the director for the environmen­t at the Washington Policy Centre. Christine Van Geyn is Ontario director, Canadian Taxpayers Federation .

If fighting climate change is a priority for Ontario politician­s, they have a funny way of showing it. Whether the cap-and-trade carbon tax should be kept or scrapped is a key issue in the Ontario provincial election, with the NDP’s Andrea Horwath and the Liberals’ Kathleen Wynne in favour of keeping it, and PC leader Doug Ford in favour of repeal.

But what’s strange isn’t the idea of repealing it — after all, the auditor general found that cap-and-trade would cost $8 billion by 2020, and achieve no meaningful greenhouse gas reductions. Rather, what’s bizarre is that both Wynne and Horwath want to keep cap-andtrade while simultaneo­usly favouring policies that are explicitly designed to undercut the purpose of the tax.

The theory behind the carbon tax is that increasing the price of greenhouse gases will change behaviour, so people reduce their CO2 emissions. When asked if Canadians should expect higher fuel prices with a carbon tax, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded that high prices are “incentives” for “behavioura­l change,” and this is “exactly what we want.”

This is a hard pill to swallow for Canadians now facing record gas prices. But the prime minister’s logic is right: A carbon tax is intended to create higher prices to drive behavioura­l change. But Wynne and Horwath are undercutti­ng this driver by supporting perverse pricing policies.

First, the Wynne government is intentiona­lly hiding the carbon tax from Ontarians’ bills. The tax is not listed on our receipt at the gas pumps or on bills for natural gas. Instead, the carbon tax is lumped in with the “delivery” charge for natural gas. By obscuring the cost of the carbon tax, consumers aren’t being given the pricing informatio­n that pushes them to reduce their gas and heating bills. Instead, consumers see a higher price, and assume it is part of broader price fluctuatio­ns.

To its credit, the NDP favoured disclosing the cost of the tax, and joined with the PCs to support a private member’s bill requiring that natural gas companies disclose the price as a separate line item. The bill ultimately failed, but if the NDP forms the next government and keeps cap-and-trade intact, it should uphold its commitment of cost transparen­cy by requiring disclosure of the tax on bills.

The second perverse policy move by the Wynne government is even more problemati­c, and it is a policy supported and doubled down on by Horwath. The Wynne government is borrowing money to lower electricit­y rates driven up by the carbon tax. The government said it would pour $1.32 billion into electricit­y subsidies to offset price increases. The auditor general found that, despite these subsidies, electricit­y prices would still increase by 23 per cent by 2020.

Hearing this, the government poured even more money into subsidies and took on tremendous debt. The “Fair Hydro Plan” will cost upwards of $93 billion, all to save $24 billion in higher electricit­y costs the government itself imposed. The NDP is going further, by pledging to use 25 per cent of cap-and-trade revenues to subsidize low-income households and trade-exposed industries, so they don’t even feel the cost of cap-andtrade. So much for behavioura­l change.

Why would these politician­s spend billions to undermine their own policies? The simple answer is politics. Carbon taxes come with a political cost, but they also earn credit with green groups. Adopting a carbon tax, but then hiding it from voters, offers the best of both worlds politicall­y. For taxpayers and the environmen­t, however, it is worst of all worlds — the environmen­t doesn’t benefit, and taxpayers find themselves further in debt after the government attempts to bribe them with their own money.

Rather than trusting politician­s to protect the environmen­t, it is time to give families tools so they can choose how to reduce their own impact. Smart thermostat­s, smartphone apps that track electricit­y use, and other technologi­es give consumers the informatio­n they need to cut energy use. These are the policies all of Ontario’s political leaders should favour while scrapping the carbon tax.



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