Hope­fuls would kill car­bon tax

All three party can­di­dates op­pose plan de­signed to help pay for elec­tion plat­form

Toronto Star - - CANADA - ROBERT BENZIE AND ROB FER­GU­SON QUEEN’S PARK BUREAU

All three Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive lead­er­ship can­di­dates have aban­doned the car­bon tax that gen­er­ates the rev­enues to pay for prom­ises in the party’s Peo­ple’s Guar­an­tee plat­form.

That ef­fec­tively means a $4-bil­liona-year re­duc­tion in rev­enues for men­tal-health spend­ing, in­come-tax cuts, child-care breaks and other key planks in ex-leader Pa­trick Brown’s care­fully crafted 78-page elec­tion pro­gram.

Al­though lead­er­ship hope­ful Caro­line Mul­roney told the Star on Sun­day she backed the Peo­ple’s Guar­an­tee be­cause “the plat­form came out of the grass­roots pol­icy process that all the mem­bers voted on,” she has since changed her tune.

“As the leader of our party I will not sup­port a car­bon tax,” Mul­roney said in a state­ment Thurs­day.

Her flip-flop came af­ter ri­vals Chris­tine El­liott and Doug Ford said they op­posed Brown’s plan to sign on to Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau’s na­tional car­bon-pric­ing scheme to re­duce green­house gas emis­sions.

“I’m a con­ser­va­tive and I’m not in favour of a new tax, es­pe­cially Justin Trudeau’s car­bon tax,” she said, adding she has “now had the op­por­tu­nity to speak with hun­dreds of mem­bers of our party” and “con­sulted with mem­bers of our cau­cus and our nom­i­nated can­di­dates.”

“It’s clear to me that mem­bers of the On­tario PC Party feel that im­pos­ing a car­bon tax on the hard­work­ing peo­ple of On­tario is not some­thing they sup­port.”

El­liott, a for­mer MPP and the run­ner-up to Brown in the 2015 lead­er­ship, made her feel­ings known Tues­day on Twit­ter.

“I per­son­ally op­pose a car­bon tax, and I know many of you feel the same way. This lead­er­ship race is a way for you to have your say,” she said.

On Thurs­day, she re­leased a sur­vey of PC mem­bers, show­ing 92 per cent of 1,500 re­spon­dents op­posed the levy while 8 per cent sup­port it.

Ford, a for­mer Toronto coun­cil­lor and run­ner-up to John Tory in the city’s 2014 may­oral elec­tion, was the first can­di­date to op­pose the tax.

“The @On­tar­i­oPC­Party needs a de­ci­sive leader that will take firm po­si­tions,” he said on Twit­ter on Thurs­day.

“I am the only can­di­date who has been un­equiv­o­cal in op­po­si­tion to the car­bon tax and . . . have been clear since day one. I will axe the car­bon tax. Just watch me.”

The de­ci­sion es­sen­tially sounds the death knell for the Peo­ple’s Guar­an­tee, just 75 days af­ter the Star re­vealed its con­tents on Nov. 25 — and comes 119 days from the elec­tion.

It is also a vin­di­ca­tion for dis­si­dent ac­tivist Jim Kara­halios’ grass­roots “Axe the Car­bon Tax” move­ment.

En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Chris Bal­lard said the move by the three PC can­di­dates “blows a $16-bil­lion hole in the Tory plat­form” over four years.

That’s be­cause, un­der Brown, the Con­ser­va­tives planned to scrap the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment’s cap-and-trade pro­gram to curb green­house gas emis­sions and sign on to Ot­tawa’s car­bon-pric­ing regime.

Un­der fed­eral law, all prov­inces that do not have car­bon pol­lu­tion pric­ing sys­tems must join Trudeau’s scheme. On­tario — like Que­bec, Bri­tish Columbia, and Al­berta — al­ready has its own mea­sures in place.

So if El­liott, Ford or Mul­roney suc­ceeds Kath­leen Wynne as premier, it is un­clear how car­bon will be priced in On­tario with­out cap-and-trade.

With the Tories forced to elect a new leader on March 10 — af­ter Brown re­signed in scan­dal on Jan. 25 — they will have to cob­ble to­gether a new plat­form for the June 7 elec­tion.

RENÉ JOHN­STON/RICK MADONIK/CHRIS YOUNG/TORONTO STAR/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Lead­er­ship can­di­dates Doug Ford, Caro­line Mul­roney and Chris­tine El­liott know party mem­bers op­pose new taxes.

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