In late 2018, Maclean’s splashed five of the country’s most influential conservative politicians on the magazine’s cover, profiling their opposition to the federal government’s carbon tax.
Headlined “The Resistance,” the cover showed a photo of a group that included premiers Brian Pallister (Manitoba), Scott Moe (Saskatchewan) and Doug Ford (Ontario), Alberta’s now-premier Jason Kenney, and then-federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer. The piece was premised around the idea that this anti-carbon-tax cadre of right-wingers had become Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s worst nightmare.
Fast forward more than two years. The Supreme Court of Canada will be releasing its decision on the fate of the tax on Thursday, and should the court decide that Ottawa’s approach has exceeded its constitutional jurisdiction, it would be a massive setback to Mr. Trudeau’s goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. A victory, meantime, would deal a severe blow to “The Resistance” – especially the four who remain forces in Canadian politics.
The one no longer in the picture, so to speak, is Mr. Scheer, who was dumped as leader after losing the last election. One of the central factors in that defeat was his resolve not to take a credible climate plan into the campaign, a move doubtlessly appreciated by his fellow cover boys.
Mr. Scheer’s decision to allow influential western conservatives like Mr. Kenney and Mr. Moe to hold sway over the federal party’s climate policy was a crucial mistake. You would expect this to be duly noted by Mr. Scheer’s successor, Erin O’Toole, but whether he has done so is unclear. In many respects, you could sub in Mr. O’Toole for Mr. Scheer in that Maclean’s photo shoot and the story line wouldn’t have to be altered that much.
At the Conservative Party’s policy convention this past weekend, Mr. O’Toole asserted that man-made climate change is real, and the party needs to take the threat it represents seriously. At the same time, however, he believes any associated policy to confront it shouldn’t include a carbon tax. Mr. Scheer said the same thing.
The new Conservative leader thinks Canada can make inroads in reducing greenhouse gases through regulation and relatively unproven technologies such as small nuclear reactors and carbon capture and storage, among others. Mr. Scheer said the same thing. Many serious climate academics are highly dubious of this approach.
So far, there is little evidence to suggest Mr. O’Toole isn’t just as much a captive of The Resistance as his predecessor – and isn’t just as vulnerable to the influence that these climate-change dawdlers exert over the federal party.
After Mr. O’Toole’s speech in which he declared that the debate over climate change was over, delegates gathered the next day to vote on a resolution to add language to the party’s policy doctrine that recognized climate change was “real” and Conservatives were “willing to act” on it. But that motion was defeated, in what amounted to an embarrassing rejection of Mr. O’Toole’s enthusiasms on the subject. How the party could have ever allowed a vote that held such potential for public humiliation should be investigated.
Of course, Mr. O’Toole and the conservative leadership in this country may be celebrating come Thursday. But many predict it will be Mr. Trudeau breaking out the bubbly. If that is the case, then conservative climate policy in this country will look even more shambolic than it already does.
Mr. O’Toole has a major decision to make. If he is serious about climate change and serious about meeting the targets set out in the Paris climate accord, then there isn’t an option that doesn’t include economic pain for someone. If he’s determined to kill the carbon tax and go the regulatory route, he has a long slog ahead of him. And he is likely to get significant pushback from provinces such as Alberta and Saskatchewan.
This is the great test for Erin O’Toole. If he wants to be taken seriously by climate policy makers and the general public, he’s going to have to disappoint members of The Resistance. He’s going to have to say to Mr. Kenney, “Thanks for helping me win the leadership, but now I have to do something that’s going to upset you.” And he’ll have to have similar conversations with Mr. Moe, Mr. Pallister and Mr. Ford.
Until Mr. O’Toole is prepared to stand up to these four – to make clear to them that when it comes to this issue, they are hurting him far more than helping – then the new Conservative leader is destined to travel the same path as his predecessor.
One that inevitably leads to the same place: the exit.
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