Last week, scientists made a startling announcement: The Antarctic lost three trillion tonnes of ice between 1992 and 2017. The rate at which it’s melting caught many off guard, and it appears to be accelerating.
These same scientists fear that current projections for how much sea levels will rise over the coming decades owing to global warming may be too low. And the economic consequences of that miscalculation would be far-reaching and serious.
While the researchers were disclosing these disturbing new findings, the federal Conservatives were in the throes of a childish political stunt connected to this issue. They carried out a 12-hour filibuster to draw attention to the fact the federal government won’t release any analysis of how much its national carbon tax will cost Canadians. This, despite the fact there have been plenty of studies done that have provided an answer to that very question. Studies everyone has access to.
There is not a debate in the country right now filled with more dishonesty and misinformation than the one around carbon taxes. Everywhere you turn, politicians of a conservative bent are denouncing the climate-change measure as a pointless, economy-wrecking raid on people’s pocket books. United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney has made attacks on Alberta’s carbon tax the centerpiece of his pre-election strategy. Doug Ford just won power in Ontario after making his promise to dismantle the province’s cap-and-trade system a major component of his platform. Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, also a conservative, has vowed to fight the federal carbon tax in court.
Now, Andrew Scheer and the federal Conservatives see this as the big issue upon which they will fight and win the 2019 election.
Under the federal Liberals’ plan, a carbon tax of $20 a tonne will be introduced nationally next January. It increases to $50 a tonne by 2022. Quebec and Ontario have instituted cap-and-trade systems as an alternative. A carbon tax does increase things such as the price of gasoline, electricity and heating costs. Those costs vary by province; it’s cheaper to warm your home in British Columbia than in Nova Scotia.
The increased cost of gasoline at the pump would be a direct cost of a carbon tax. There would be indirect costs, too; companies would pass increased prices on to consumers for the additional dollars they fork out to cover the tax.
The federal Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources estimated the cost of a $50-a-tonne carbon tax based on 2013 energy consumption levels. Their findings ranged from $603 per household in B.C. to $707 in Ontario to $1,120 in Nova Scotia. But those evaluations don’t take into account measures provincial governments can introduce to mitigate the costs, such as direct rebates or the reduction of taxes in other areas. They can pay for those breaks with the revenue raised from the carbon tax.
In other words, it’s up to the provinces to decide how much economic pain the tax inflicts on consumers.
When B.C. introduced its carbon tax in 2008, it was offset by tax cuts elsewhere. Consequently, its effect on people’s wallets was insignificant. More recently, governments in B.C. have used some of the carbon-tax revenue to fund general spending. Studies have also shown carbon taxes have a negligible negative impact on the wider economy.
That is what the leaders of conservative-minded parties and governments don’t want to tell people. They’d prefer to make the carbon tax as evil as possible because it’s good politics for them. It’s easy to demonize, even though there is broad consensus that putting a price on carbon is the best way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The federal Liberal plan isn’t perfect. Some say the $50-a-tonne ceiling is too low to impact behaviour; others believe it will, and that it is the only instrument available that gives the country a fighting chance to meet its commitments under the Paris climate accord.
The federal Conservatives won’t reveal what their plan is to meet Canada’s international climate commitments. All they say is they’re working on it. How convenient.
They attack the federal government’s scheme but won’t make any plan of their own available for the public to scrutinize. The fact is the Conservatives know that there is no such thing as a sound climate policy that doesn’t somehow impact the source of most emissions – you and me.
Do you believe this country has an obligation to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions in a meaningful way or not? That’s the question that the 2019 general election may be fought on. And increasingly, we are seeing which side of the issue the federal Conservatives fall on.