So now the battle is joined.
As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced plans to impose carbon taxes on provinces whose governments refuse to create a tax of their own, premiers and opposition politicians vowed defiance.
“It’s wrong for taxpayers, it’s wrong for the economy and it’s wrong for the environment,” federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer declared outside the House of Commons. “Conservatives, like Canadians, see through this cynical election gimmick, and we will hold Justin Trudeau to account for it.”
But opposition to the carbon tax will come as much from some provincial premiers as from federal Conservatives. Ontario Premier Doug Ford, especially, has vowed to fight the carbon tax tooth and nail.
This combination of federal Conservatives and opposing premiers will be formidable. But that does not mean the opposition will prevail.
Global warming is a clear and present danger to Canadians as well as to everyone else on this planet. The Liberals are determined to reduce Canada’s contribution to the problem by taxing carbon emissions. The Prime Minister was both defiant and determined as he announced the new plan.
He castigated critics “who are willing to ignore what’s right in front of us," he told students at Humber College in Toronto, "people who are willing to pass on to you, and to your kids and grandkids, a more severe and expensive problem.
"Well I, for one, refuse to leave this problem to be dealt with by some other person at some other time. We have to deliver.”
Who will prevail? It will take a federal election to know.
A Global News Ipsos poll released last weekend has the Liberals and Conservatives essentially tied, although other polls show the Liberals in the lead. Economic concerns are top of mind for many voters who are asked what issues matter to them most.
The Liberals can make a strong case that they have managed the economy well. They concluded free-trade agreements (albeit ones launched by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government) with the European Union and the 10 other countries of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Even more important, they preserved the essence of the North American free-trade agreement in negotiations with the hostile Republican administration of President Donald Trump.
The economy is growing and unemployment is low. The government will present a good-news story of sound economic management to voters.
But then there are the deficits – tens of billions of dollars accumulated, with no end in sight. Business leaders complain of high taxes, even as the Americans become more tax competitive. Canada is at risk of collateral damage to its economy as the Trump administration confronts China in a trade war.
And now there is the carbon tax, condemned by premiers in Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and New Brunswick. Alberta could join the chorus, if opposition leader Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party wins next spring’s provincial election.
There are so many questions. Is the tax high enough to significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions? If it isn’t, then how high will it have to go?
How much will the carbon tax harm business competitiveness? How many jobs could be lost? Will voters notice the income-tax rebates meant to cushion the impact? Or will they only notice that the price of gas and heating fuel just went up again?
How will the issue play out regionally? Will Quebec voters, who already have a cap-and-trade program in place, reward the Liberals with added seats? Will car commuters in suburban ridings outside Toronto punish them?
And why are Canadians being asked to sacrifice, when the United States, China and India are the real culprits, many will ask.
But there are questions for federal Conservatives and the opposing premiers as well: How can you attack this carbon tax while also agreeing that global warming is a crisis? Where is your plan? And why should we believe your plan would work?
The Liberals have scientists and economists in their corner. The Conservatives and opposing premiers are appealing to a tax-weary and skeptical public. Who will prevail?
This debate will occupy us, perhaps consume us, in the months to come.