The federal carbon tax was on trial this week, its fate to be determined by Saskatchewan’s Court of Appeal.
Lawyers representing three provinces – Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Ontario – argued the tax is an unconstitutional intrusion on their jurisdictional authority. Counsel for the federal government countered that greenhouse gas emissions do not recognize provincial boundaries, and contribute to Canada’s overall discharge levels – which Ottawa has an obligation to manage.
It seems certain that, regardless of how the judges rule, the case is heading to the Supreme Court of Canada.
The tax has also been the subject of debate in the court of public opinion for months. A phalanx of conservative-minded politicians – including federal Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer – has marched in unison against the levy. And as they speak out, they are not letting the facts get in the way.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford has said the carbon tax would cause a recession, with virtually zero credible analysis to back up his claim. A claim, I might add, that ignores the fact that the province that has had a carbon tax for a decade – British Columbia – leads the country in economic growth and has for much of that period.
Jason Kenney, leader of the United Conservative Party and front-runner to become Alberta Premier after this spring’s election, has made disparaging the carbon tax a central tenet of his platform. Along the way, he has misstated the impact the province’s $30-a-tonne fee has had on everything from school buses to cremations.
Mr. Scheer, meantime, has said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau plans to raise the tax to $300 a tonne from the current $20. He plucked this number from a government report that was leaked last year. In it, officials estimated that the carbon tax would have to reach as high as $300 a tonne by 2050 for Canada to reach targets it agreed to under the Paris climate accord. Nothing, however, said this is what the Liberals intended to implement.
The Conservative Leader is not bothered by criticisms that while he slams the carbon tax, he has absolutely no environmental plan of his own. He panders to a base that believes it is not the responsibility of a country as small as Canada to save the planet: Let the United States and China do that.
If Mr. Trudeau is concerned that his tax will be the death of his government come this fall’s election, he is not showing it.
“I trust Canadians,” Mr. Trudeau told me in a recent interview. “We start from the very simple statement: Climate change is real and requires us to act.
“As soon as you say that, you lose a few conservative politicians, but you don’t lose an awful lot of Canadians. A few, including people in Fort McMurray who suffered losses in the wild fire there, or those affected by the B.C. fires, or people in Saskatchewan dealing with floods and droughts, they see the costs of extreme weather events and know we need to act on fighting climate change.”
The Prime Minister is undoubtedly right. But the carbon tax is the object of an ideological war. Conservative political leaders in this country simply do not believe climate change is their problem to solve. They are content to kick that can down the road for other generations. Their simplistic and grossly misleading attacks on the tax have enormous appeal to folks not inclined to spend time trying to discern the truth. In that knowledge vacuum, anything goes.
Canadians will never see the rebate the Liberals are promising! It’s going to cost $100 more to cremate grandma! Churches won’t be able to afford their heating bills! All nonsense being peddled by politicians who know better, but simply don’t care.
Mr. Trudeau currently has bigger problems than his carbon tax. The Jody Wilson-Raybould affair seems destined to burn political capital he can scarcely afford to lose before a knock-down-drag-out election campaign.
But eventually, he is going to have to regroup and focus his attention on an argument that will be central to his electoral fortunes and political future. Right now, the myths conservatives are spreading about the carbon tax could well be winning the day.