Well, the carbon tax is back in the news again, isn’t it? Almost three years ago I wrote about the utility of a carbon tax and I compared it to the familiar “sin taxes” that governments levy on e.g. alcohol and tobacco and, in some places, on activities like prostitution and gambling. A few months later in the lead up to the 2019 general election I made some specific proposals for how I thought a Conservative carbon tax should work. I said, specifically, that “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.” Basically I said that using carbon based fuels for anything other than mobil applications (cars, trucks, trains, ships and aircraft) is a “sin” and such use should be taxed so heavily that better alternatives, mostly nuclear for Canada, should be much, Much, MUCH more economically attractive.
I still believe that a carbon tax can be, in fact, already is, a very Conservative idea. In my opinion, most Conservatives should be committed to the notion that the market ~ which almost always includes taxes and duties and so on ~ is the best way to make changes happen. Using market forces (costs), therefore, to push us into changing our behaviours, ought not to be a great leap.
I also believe, based on the data, that something between a large minority and a substantial majority of Canadians believe that climate change is real, that their government must do something about it and that “putting a price on carbon” is one acceptable way to help (force) us to change how we use carbon.
But, is Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax useful?
I think not, I think the National Post‘s headline writers are correct, and it is just a tax grab that is not, in any meaningful way, tied to fighting climate change. I doubt that Justin Trudeau or his ministers or his senior officials have any real idea about how Canada can contribute, effectively, to combatting global climate change. But, unlike many Conservatives, the Liberals know that most Canadians want to do something about global climate change and they, the Trudeau Liberals, believe that a substantial minority of Canadians will just accept the higher carbon taxes as just an unpleasant fact of life.
That’s why e.g. Catherine McKenna, who is a very astute politician, who promised (13 June 2019) that “The price will not go up. The plan is not to increase the price post-2022. We are doing exactly what we said we’d do.” And said, again, (26 August 2019) that “There is no secret agenda.” Is so happy to be out front proclaiming the benefits of a 240% rise in the tax. She knows that most Canadians will go along with the Globe and Mail which says, in an editorial, that “Instead of relying on government micromanagement of the economy and business, the Liberals’ carbon plan is built around a clear and simple market lever … [and] … Ottawa is making the right move, rather than the easy move. Critics will have to offer an alternative, and explain why it is better than what’s now on the table.“
The first thing to remember is that climate change is a global problem and Canada cannot ameliorate its effects all on its own. In fact, we might want to increase our development of some carbon based fuels here, at home, in order to help other countries burn less coal. That’s all part of that “think globally, act locally” idea.
“Putting a price on carbon,” might be the best way to regulate its use. Some carbon based fuels, like gasoline, are extraordinarily efficient. A small amount of refined gasoline can move a large truck many, many kilometres; a bit of diesel can do the same for a ship or train. The lettuce and tomatoes most of us buy in our local supermarkets have to be delivered there by truck or train or ship. It is, of course, possible to have “green,” electrically powered trucks and trains, but where does the electricity come from?
It is probably true that China is leading the wold in putting electric cars of the road, but well over half of China’s electricity is generated by coal-fired plants. Is that what we mean by green?
The other question I keep asking myself is: are Conservatives really serious about winning back the suburbs and, finally, forming a government again? I phrase the question that way because:
- The route, the only route to a Conservative majority government leads through the suburbs around Greater Vancouver and the Greater Toronto Area; and
- The voters in those suburbs want a platform that addresses climate change. The evidence of 2015 and 2019 is that suburban voters will support parties that seem committed to combating global climate change.
Most Canadians support “putting a price on carbon,” and while most will not like the idea of Justin Trudeau breaking another promise, they, most of them, again, will accept the rationale that it needs to be done for the “greater good.” The numbers who will support “stop the carbo tax” movement are either already Conservative voters or are a minority in the ridings that the Conservative Party needs to win in order to give Canada a better, more capable, more ethical, more trustworthy government.
But a Conservative environmental plan should be about more than just climate change. It should start with clean air and water ~ that means, just for example, replacing coal-fired plants with nuclear power and it means not damming up any more rivers and it also means that we stop dumping our sh!t into our rivers.
Then it involves explaining why a carbon tax is one good way to help us change our behaviours. A carbon tax, properly, applied, is somewhat discretionary: we can choose to use less carbon … not overnight, but we can, for example, tell out provincial premiers that we want all coal-fired plants closed and that we want nuclear power to displace e.g. petroleum for electricity generation. A well planed Conservative carbon tax is fair and honest. Unlike Justin Trudeau’s tax, it shouldn’t try to hide the fact that there is only one taxpayer: you and me. When people like Justin Trudeau say “make the polluter pay” they are, at least, trying to hide the truth. The truth is that we, you and I, are the polluters whenever we turn on the heat, put fuel in our car, even if it is an electric car, but groceries or turn on our computers. If the tax is levied on power companies or farmers they will just raise the price they charge us for goods (groceries, for example) and services (the Internet, for example) they provide. The tax must be levied on the end user, you and me, and it must be visible every time we gas up the car o buy groceries.
An effective carbon tax, one that makes us want to change how we use carbon, will raise a lot of money. A Conservative government should, then, aim to get millions of low-income Canadians, the precariat, off the tax rolls entirely and to lower the tax rates for most working class and lower-middle class Canadians. Green infrastructure will be as needed built to meet public demand which will likely be spurred on by the carbon tax; the government doesn’t need to build it. That’s why we have a private sector.
I know that many Conservatives oppose any new tax, especially a carbon tax and some Conservatives are dubious about climate change. My sense is that the Conservative Party of Canada cannot win the next election without a firm commitment to both. But Conservative policies must not be pale imitations of what Justin Trudeau proposes. They mist be clear, honest policies with a purpose: a cleaner, greener Canada that is doing its part to combat global climate change.