Just a reminder

This is a follow on from yesterday’s post about immigration, and it is another policy proposal that will not sit well with some (perhaps many) of my Conservative friends.

The Globe and Mail, in an editorial, reminds us that “Carbon taxes, today’s conservative bugbear, began life as a conservative idea.

The Good Grey Globe‘s editorial board says that a carbon tax is “an economically logical, pro-market way of lowering greenhouse-gas emissions. A way of using prices – the basic mechanism of free markets – to reduce pollution. A way of putting billions of small environmental decisions in the hands of millions of people, rather than handing them over to a big government bureaucracy. And a way to tax something societies need less of, namely pollution … [which is what I have discussed, before, when suggesting that we might want to redirect our energy needs by using the “sin tax” model] …  while lowering taxes on things we all want more of, like business investment and personal income … [because, really, a Conservative government shouldn’t need more revenue, and, they add] … it wasn’t just egghead economists or cranky right-wing think-tankers who favoured carbon taxes. In 2008, the government of British Columbia – the Liberal Party, a.k.a. B.C.’s conservative party – brought in carbon taxes on fuels such as gasoline … [and, further] … It was and still is a model for the rest of the country, since it was intended to be revenue-neutral – with every cent raised by the carbon tax going back into people’s pockets, mostly through tax reductions. Thanks in part to carbon taxes, lower- and middle-income earners in B.C. pay the country’s lowest income taxes.

Now, the “sin tax” model works best when:

  • Supply from illegal sources can be choked off ~ something that is easier to do with gasoline and natural gas than it is with tobacco or alcohol; and
  • The taxes are not rebated, but a revenue-neutral tax model should be almost automatic for any principled Conservative government, so …

The Globe and Mail reminds us that Preston Manning came out in favour of a carbon tax in 2014 and it was, “Until Patrick Brown’s leadership imploded a little over a year ago, that was the Ontario PC platform.

2012PrestonManningMaybe some people want to assume, just for a moment that Preston Manning, who does 220px-Gordon_Campbellsupport carbon pricing,  former B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell and former Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown were all just Trudeau Liberals in disguise and they were quite wrong to suggest that market forces are a good way to address societal problems. But, for heaven’s sakes, if Preston Manning is not a principled Conservative then who on earth is? Market forces are the way most real conservatives want to regulate things.

Some Questions

  • Question: is the climate changing?
    • Answer: Yes!
  • Question: is climate change a good thing or a bad thing or just a thing?
  • Question: what should Conservatives do?
    • Answer: come up with a convincing plan to cope with the impact of the ongoing climate change and to slow the rate of change.

David McLaughlin, who is the International Institute for Sustainable Development’s director of climate change — Canada. He has been a campaign manager and was chief of staff to Conservative ministers as well as the premier of New Brunswick and, briefly, in 1993, to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, argues, in an article in Policy Options, that “As voters cast a jaundiced eye at re-electing Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, they will also take a second look at Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives. Scheer’s party needs to ensure it is not wanting when it comes to giving voters what they want … [and] … Poll after poll, including one last month by Abacus Data, suggests that climate change is one of the top three issues for Canadians. Ignoring it or, worse, demonizing it, will hinder, not help, Conservatives gain votes. Happily, politics, principle, and policy can align nicely for a 2019 Conservative climate opportunity.

Not at all surprisingly, given his appointment, Mr McLaughlin believes that because “first-time and younger voters, disenchanted Liberals, women and unmotivated progressive conservatives … [many of whose votes will be needed to earn a Conservative majority in 2019] … would respond to a stronger and more principled climate message than the party has dared issue so far. Simply put: carbon tax opposition is not actually a climate policy.” I agree.

David McLaughlin says that “First-time and younger voters particularly believe climate change is real and needs to be addressed (84 percent of voters 18-34 in a recent Angus Reid poll). Women are nine points more likely to say climate change is a problem, according to Abacus Data, helping contribute to the CPC’s current gender gap … [and he suggests, and I agree, that] … Writing off those voters by ignoring or downplaying the threat of climate change will create a brand crisis for the CPC that will rear itself not just in this election but in elections to come. It will place a ceiling on their support. Meanwhile, Liberals disenchanted over their government’s ethics problems, or progressive conservatives worried about Liberal mismanagement and conservative nativism, can be stirred by a new, forward-looking climate policy … [so, he asks:] … How much does this add up to? According to Abacus Data research from November 2017, half of Canadians won’t contemplate voting for a party that doesn’t have a climate change plan and only 6 percent prefer a party or candidate that ignores the issue .. [and, he reminds us that] … In the 2015 federal election, only 7.4 percentage points separated the Liberals from the Conservatives. A 4-point shift to the CPC would have them even with either one winning in the end. With current polls showing Conservatives in front, a 3-4 percent “climate gain” would cement a CPC majority victory.

Now, I have reminded readers, over and over and over again, that the suburbs matter. As John Ibbitson has said, the voters in the suburbs drive cars (and vans and trucks, too) and the price of gas matters. The voters in the dense urban corse, who tend to vote NDP anyway, walk and ride their bicycles and use public transit. But both groups are convinced that climate change matters, too; and they want someone (government) to do something.

Do what? How?

Maybe a plan, for the Conservative Party of Canada, for the next six months, involves:

  1. For the rest of the month of April, stop talking about the carbon tax. Let e.g. Premiers Doug Ford, Jason Kenney (soon to be premier, thinking Canadians hope) and Scott Moe carry that banner and thump the anti-carbon tax tub;
  2. In May announce a blue ribbon panel, perhaps including someone like Gordon Campbell, to develop a Conservative climate/environment action plan;
  3. Then, just after Labour Day, roll out a plan that features a better-designed carbon tax ~ one that aims to reduce the use of carbon-based fuels for some, mainly fixed or static, applications, while not taxing some, e.g. farmers, who must use a fair bit of carbon to get our food to our tables. It will be, of necessity, a complex plan, but it needs to be one which will also include a firm promise to take n% of Canadians off the federal tax rolls entirely and which promises to reduce the federal GST/HST by, say, 1% (or more) as soon as the revenue generated by the carbon tax allows.

If our national goal is to change our behaviours so that we will use carbon-based fuels much more effectively and efficiently then we have to feel the price of carbon use when we use carbon-based fuels for applications for which other (available) energy sources are suitable, even if at a somewhat higher cost. But, unless we are building some great, new national infrastructure project then we do not need more revenue so the revenue from a carbon tax should be offset by reducing the income taxes for, especially, low-income Canadians.

Nothing in all this obviates the pressing urgent requirement to build pipelines to get Canadian oil and natural gas to tidewater. The best way to help Asia to burn less coal is to provide them with some of our liquid natural gas and the best way to improve the environment in the St Laurence River (after forcing Montreal to stop dumping its raw sewage into the river) is to reduce the number of tankers carrying Saudi Arabian oil to refineries in Montreal.

 

3 thoughts on “Just a reminder

  1. WRT Gordon Campbell and carbon tax, it is often forgotten that a business tax was dropped and replaced by carbon tax to make him seem environmental.

    1. Indeed, but that, too, can be seen as a proper, conservative response: use market forces to address one social issue (climate change) but, at the same time, reduce the tax load elsewhere.

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