It’s taken a while but finally Erin O’Toole has a climate change policy to present to the voters. The most intriguing bit is his acceptance of the need for a carbon tax. He doesn’t call their effort a tax. He prefers to call it “a pricing mechanism for consumers.” (The Supreme Court would call it a “regulatory charge.”) But conservative supporters know what it is. As does Premier Jason Kenney. It’s a tax. Whatever Mr. OToole calls it, to Kenney et al. it will smell as sour.
Indeed it sends a message about the Alberta premier. It indicates that Mr. O’Toole doesn’t think he needs him anymore. Not that that is a surprise. Kenney isn’t exactly the golden boy of the party these days. Current polls indicate that if an election were held today in Alberta, the NDP would win a majority. Polls also indicate that Kenney is the country’s second or third most unpopular premier. And then there’s the revolt in Kenney’s caucus against his handling of the pandemic. Really, who needs this guy?
Conservative supporters in the province may also believe that the “pricing mechanism for consumers” has a bad smell, but who else are they going to vote for? The Liberals? The NDP? Wexit Alberta? I think O’Toole will take his chances on that score.
His tax is an odd duck. Instead of just rebating the tax as the Liberal approach does, the O’Toole tax would direct what you pay into a savings account which you could then draw on to make government-approved environmentally-friendly purchases. You could, for instance buy yourself a new bicycle.
It’s rather surprising the party that insists people should decide themselves on how to spend their money would now be dictating how they can spend it. Furthermore, a party that advocates small government is proposing what could be a bureaucratic nightmare.
The best explanation is that they had to make it look as less like tax, particularly Trudeau’s tax, as possible so they came up with this effort. A weak effort at that, with the carbon price set at $20 compared to the current $40 and capped at $50 per ton with no commitment to the science-based target of net zero by 2050.
But I won’t quibble at this point. O’Toole admitted, “We recognize that the most efficient way to reduce our emissions is to use pricing mechanisms.” That is one hell of a concession after all the propaganda the conservatives have thrown at carbon taxes.
It indicates he now realizes that Canadian voters want serious action on climate change. Who knows, Jason Kenney, in his politically weakened situation, faced with his ignominious defeat at the Supreme Court, may even throw in the towel. Well, OK, that’s wishful thinking, but at least O’Toole’s shift has expanded the debate. The entire political class is now clearly debating the how, not the why. And that’s progress.