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Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole speaks at a press conference in Ottawa on Feb. 16, 2021.David Kawai/The Canadian Press

Federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole told a B.C. audience questioning his climate-change plan on Tuesday that he has consulted with Gordon Campbell, but the former premier told The Globe and Mail he supports the kind of carbon tax the Tory leader opposes.

In virtual remarks to the Burnaby Board of Trade, Mr. O’Toole said he has reached out to Mr. Campbell amid work to develop a party plan without a carbon tax.

“I’ve even spoken to former premier Campbell to talk to him about when he brought in the B.C. approach to the carbon tax because I am in the process of trying to get the balance right,” Mr. O’Toole told board members.

Mr. Campbell – B.C.’s premier between 2001 and 2011, during which time the province enacted a landmark carbon tax – said Tuesday he has not been following federal politics closely. He vaguely remembered speaking to Mr. O’Toole, possibly around the August party leadership race last year.

“I honestly can’t recall the details of the conversation,” Mr. Campbell said in an interview. “I don’t want to leave the impression that I am talking to Mr. O’Toole every other week because I am not.”

Still, Mr. Campbell said he remains a devout supporter of a revenue-neutral carbon tax in which revenues from the tax are clearly used to reduce taxes.

In 2008, Mr. Campbell’s BC Liberal government enacted a pioneering carbon tax at a rate of $10 per tonne of carbon. It became an issue in the 2009 election, with the NDP campaigning on a pledge to “axe the tax,” but the Liberals – a coalition of federal Liberals and Conservatives – won another term.

During that campaign, Carole James, the NDP leader, said she preferred a cap-and-trade program as a key measure for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr. O’Toole is facing questions about his climate change policy after 54 per cent of delegates at a Conservative Party policy convention this month voted against a resolution that would have included the line “climate change is real. The Conservative Party is willing to act” in the Tories’ official policy document.

The vote was held as Mr. O’Toole declared the party has to change on issues such as climate change. He has promised a credible climate-change plan, but ruled out a carbon tax, even in the wake of a Supreme Court of Canada decision last week that endorsed the federal use of such taxes. On Tuesday, Mr. O’Toole said he is committed to a “smart, serious” policy targeted at emission reduction, but provided no details. “I think we have to build trust on this plank,” he said.

Asked what Mr. O’Toole should do, Mr. Campbell said he hasn’t been premier for 10 years and is not closely following politics. “I think Mr. O’Toole is right to say [climate change] is an issue. It’s an issue we have to deal with.”

Mr. Campbell said the current federal structure of the tax is “complicated,” which may lead to skepticism, and that Ottawa would have been better off to do a revenue-neutral carbon tax “across the board” with every cent used to reduce federal income tax. “I think the simpler the approach the better.”

Under the current federal system, provinces are free to develop their own pricing systems, as long as they meet minimum federal standards. In some provinces, rebates are paid to residents for the tax.

Asked whether it is possible to deal with climate change without a carbon tax, Mr. Campbell said a tax, alone, does not deal with climate change because there are many additional measures that can be deployed to deal with the problem, such as the design of cities.

But he said there is clearly an issue requiring attention. “To say there is not a climate problem is not to recognize the facts,” he said. “To suggest there is not an issue is to close your eyes to the world, and that’s not going to be helpful to anybody.”

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