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Conservative leadership candidate Brad Trost, right, responds to questions from the audience at a Conservative leadership debate in Greely, Ont., on Sunday, November 13, 2016. (FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Conservative leadership candidate Brad Trost, right, responds to questions from the audience at a Conservative leadership debate in Greely, Ont., on Sunday, November 13, 2016. (FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Conservative leadership candidates offer contrasting approaches to climate change Add to ...

Immigration and “Canadian values” have so far dominated the Conservative leadership race, but with U.S. president-elect Donald Trump set to take over the White House, another issue is emerging: climate change.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government says it is sticking with its aggressive climate plan even as Mr. Trump vows to abandon U.S. commitments to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions under the Paris Accord and roll back President Barack Obama’s signature policies on climate.

Conservative politicians both federally and provincially are using Mr. Trump’s victory to bolster their attacks on Mr. Trudeau’s plan for a national price on carbon emissions. But among the 12 Conservatives vying to replace Stephen Harper as leader, the climate issue is exposing some faults lines.

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Two candidates in particular are staking out ground on either end of the spectrum. Social conservative MP Brad Trost does not believe in human-induced global warming, and sees no reason to pursue climate politics.

MP Michael Chong proclaims climate change to be one of the greatest environmental challenges of our generation and pledges to adopt a revenue-neutral carbon tax – a risky stand in a party that has long scorned such a measure as a job-killer and a tax on everything.

The most common position among Conservative candidates is that Canada must protect the environment, but a carbon tax is the wrong way to do it.

Mr. Trost, a trained “skeptical geophysicist,” is the only candidate who publicly says he does not believe human activity is the cause of climate change.

“I believe there is climate change, but I believe man-made climate change is not happening in any significant way,” Mr. Trost said in an interview. “Particularly not in any way that is dangerous to society or to the world.”

Mr. Trost says he would fund research in case of the “very small possibility I could be wrong.” He would also focus on cleaning up raw sewage and abandoned oil wells, and ensuring aboriginal reserves have safe drinking water.

The other candidates who replied to questions from The Globe and Mail were Andrew Saxton, Kellie Leitch, Maxime Bernier, Steven Blaney, Deepak Ohbrai, Andrew Scheer, Erin O’Toole and Daniel Lindsay. All of them, while maintaining the environment is important, argued against a carbon tax or any concrete measures to curb emissions.

Mr. Bernier said one way to address environmental issues is by selling clean Canadian resources, such as liquefied natural gas, to China to reduce its reliance on coal-fired power plants. Mr Obhrai said climate change needs to be dealt with through alternative solutions such as recycling nuclear waste.

Mr. Scheer agreed Canada needs a credible plan, but a tax would be “economic suicide.”

Mr. Blaney said a carbon tax “is the worst way to go about this problem” and that he will announce his plan next week.

Mr. Chong is a clear outlier for his aggressive stand. He is proposing a revenue-neutral carbon tax – a policy that Conservative MPs and senators have scorned since former Liberal leader Stéphane Dion promised a carbon-price plan in the 2006 election campaign.

“I believe the threat of climate change is real and that we have to act. I think it is one of the greatest environmental challenges of our time,” he said in an interview.

“There’s a right way to do this and a wrong way. … We either get this right and both reduce emissions and allow for a growing economy. Or we get this wrong and do serious economic damage.”

Mr. Chong said the Republican win in the United States creates a more compelling case for his plan, which marries steep cuts to personal and corporate income taxes with the introduction of a carbon tax gradually increasing to $130 a tonne by 2030. He would provide breaks to energy-intensive businesses that face international competition, as do the provincial carbon-pricing plans in Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.

Mark Cameron, a one-time policy director for prime minister Stephen Harper, now runs Canadians for Clean Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group that promotes the adoption of revenue-neutral carbon taxes as the most economically efficient way to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

He said the scientific evidence for climate change is increasingly apparent and getting stronger, and argues all countries will have to use energy more efficiently and transition to lower-carbon sources. If it delays action now, Canada will be forced to make more expensive adjustments later, he said.

And a revenue-neutral carbon tax is preferable to the regulatory approach pursued – off and on – by Mr. Harper, he said.

“It lets the market determine where the cheapest reductions are. If you have sector-by-sector regulations, that will impose more costs,” Mr. Cameron said.

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