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opinion

Some time in the coming weeks, federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is expected to unveil his party’s environmental plan.

It may be the most politically fraught piece of policy Mr. Scheer will unveil in advance of this fall’s federal election. That’s because it will include the party’s blueprint to combat the effects of climate change – for those who believe in such a thing.

Which is a big part of Mr. Scheer’s problem. A vast swath of the Conservative base resides inside a spectrum that goes from flat-out deniers at one end to those who acknowledge that something is afoot with the environment for which humans are responsible. In between there are legions who take the position that whatever is going on will not lead to the modern-day apocalypse some are predicting.

There are also powerful forces within Canada’s business community that are urging the Conservative Leader to take a cautious and pragmatic approach to any climate proposals he unveils. Don’t underestimate the influence these leaders will ultimately have on whatever action Mr. Scheer decides to campaign on.

Gwyn Morgan, the former chief executive of Encana Corp. whose views within conservative circles in Canada are widely shared and respected, recently offered Mr. Scheer some advice on what he should keep in mind when drafting his climate strategy. In a piece for the Financial Post, Mr. Morgan offered up a parade of ideas to consider while exposing his own skepticism about some of the rhetoric and science that has enveloped the climate debate. This is done quite easily by putting terms such as “climate emergency” in quotations or, likewise, playing down a report suggesting Canada is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world.

But the essence of the piece comes down to one idea: that whatever Canada does on the climate front will have little to no impact on saving the planet. Ergo: There’s no point blowing our brains out over the matter. More and more, this is the central complaint conservative-minded friends of mine share – until China and India and the United States step up to the plate in a meaningful way, there is no sense making consumers and businesses in this country pay the price. It won’t make a spit of difference anyway.

Of course, this argument represents the fundamental divide between many in the conservative camp and those of a more progressive bent, including many who support the federal Liberals. This group believes that we have a moral obligation to do our part, regardless of what others are up to.

That’s precisely the attitude, for instance, that many countries in the European Union have adopted; they aren’t waiting for others to get in line. Their collective effort will have some value, even if it’s not enough (at the moment) to stop the advance in the temperature change we are witnessing. They equate climate change to a global crisis, one that requires us all to make sacrifices. Conservatives aren’t so convinced. They are more inclined to say, hey, if the sea levels are going to rise a few feet let’s focus on mitigation, rather than taxing people to death in an attempt to alter their carbon-producing habits.

That seems like an incredibly naive idea, given that the bill to alleviate the most dire consequences of climate change is likely to be something in the order of hundreds of billions, if not trillions, of dollars. And who, precisely, is going to pay that invoice if not taxpayers?

Not all so-called conservatives subscribe to the notion that the climate debate is mostly laden with far-fetched exaggerations and liberal fear-mongering. Jerry Taylor used to be a noted climate denier employed at the Cato Institute, regularly arguing against the science underlying the issue. Eventually, however, he became persuaded that he was wrong – that there was a big problem, one that couldn’t be ignored by conservative-minded folks such as himself.

So he started the Washington-based Niskanen Center, which is focused on developing policies for conservatives that reflect modern-day realities. That includes measures to transition, over time, off of a carbon-based economy to one that is more environmentally sustainable.

This is Mr. Scheer’s dilemma. While he is being warned by Mr. Morgan and a phalanx of conservative premiers not to overreact to the current climate-change “hysteria,” there remain conservatives out there who feel differently – ones who are more open-minded about what Canada should be doing to meet its responsibilities as a good global citizen.

Without a doubt, the Conservative Leader walks a fine line on this issue. But it’s one he’s going to need to navigate with confidence, as the next election could be fought on it.