The Hamilton Spectator

Forget optics, the carbon tax works


Of all the political leaders that might have inspired Ontario Liberal Leader Bonnie Crombie when developing her party’s climate plan, who could have imaged she’d pick Premier Doug Ford and federal Conservati­ve Leader Pierre Poilievre?

Crombie’s promise she won’t introduce a provincial carbon tax likely won’t win her any votes. For those who already lean PC, her statement seems to confirm Ford’s baseless accusation­s. For anyone left of the Fordites, Crombie’s pre-emptive strike against carbon taxes seems like she’s cut from the same cloth as her alleged opponents.

And promising not to do something — especially something that’s been proven to work quite well — hardly qualifies as good policy.

Across the board, carbon taxes are sound environmen­tal and economic policy, and there are mountains of evidence to support this. Carbon taxes are an effective tool in lowering emissions, a point proven time and again in peer-reviewed research. Evidence from British Columbia, which was the first Canadian province to institute a carbon tax in 2008, has consistent­ly shown the province’s carbon tax has reduced emissions. According to the Canadian Climate Institute, the carbon tax has had a net-positive effect on B.C.’s economy, namely by incentiviz­ing energy efficiency and lower fossil fuel use.

Crombie’s statement that she intends on “saving families money” by not introducin­g a carbon tax also contradict­s available evidence. This year, $2.3 billion in carbon tax rebates was paid out to about 12 million Canadians. According to the government, roughly eight out of 10 households get more money back than they spend on the fuel charge. The majority of Canada’s working and middle classes get more in rebates than they pay in carbon taxes, and the same is true even of the highest earners.

As an alternativ­e to carbon taxes, Crombie said her climate plan would involve developing new infrastruc­ture for electric vehicles, increased spending on public transit, and decarboniz­ing the electricit­y grid. These are all commendabl­e goals but she never explained how she might pay for it. A provincial carbon tax would be very useful in this respect, as it would provide a new source of revenue for developing new green infrastruc­ture, transit and energy systems while simultaneo­usly decreasing emissions.

There is also the benefit to public health of reducing air pollution, something that tends to happen when carbon dioxide emissions are taxed. This is a good example of the broad view of benefits that are often overlooked when considerin­g the economic consequenc­es of climate policies. Recent studies indicate fine particulat­es were reduced in B.C. by between five and 11 per cent since 2008. But that doesn’t just mean British Columbians are breathing cleaner air, it also means benefits to public health. Air pollution kills about 15,000 Canadians each year, but also causes a wide variety of other negative health impacts that affect the provincial bottom line, such as premature births, heart attacks, and asthma. Even autism and Alzheimer’s disease have been linked to air pollution. All of this results in a considerab­le drain on resources in an already overburden­ed health-care system,

With this in mind, consider the range of benefits a carbon tax provides the economy: increased productivi­ty, lower health-care costs, incentives for businesses and households to become more energy efficient, tax rebates for the majority of taxpayers, and new revenue streams for green energy, transit and infrastruc­ture developmen­t.

It is a remarkable irony that Crombie seems to be basing her environmen­tal and economic policies on those first establishe­d by Ford, as it was Ford who withdrew Ontario from a successful cap-and-trade partnershi­p with Quebec and California. That myopic decision cost the province approximat­ely $3 billion.

Appealing to the lowest common denominato­r with moronic chants like “axe the tax” will always be the Conservati­ves’ strongest argument on climate change. Their aversion to carbon taxes is ideologica­lly motivated, not evidence-based.

It is supremely disappoint­ing to see the Ontario Liberals follow their lead.

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