Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Alberta United Conservative Leader Jason Kenney have teamed up to fight Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax. Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, under pressure from his own Conservative base, flip-flopped and dropped his own carbon-tax plan.
The election of Mr. Ford put the federal Liberals and their carbon-tax plan on the defensive.
But that might be turned on its head if Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals start sending out “carbon dividend” cheques to Canadians – especially if they borrow the pocketbook politics of Mr. Ford and Mr. Kenney.
Mr. Ford appealed to wallet-conscious voters in Ontario with a “buck-a-beer” election-campaign promise.
Mr. Kenney was an MP in Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party when it fought PM Paul Martin’s subsidized daycare policy by promising to send child-benefit cheques directly to parents instead. When Mr. Martin’s spokesman, Scott Reid, dismissed the Conservative plan as doling out money parents could spend on “beer and popcorn,” it was Mr. Kenney, according to Conservative operative Tom Flanagan, who quickly organized Tory photo ops featuring toddlers, beer and popcorn. The message: The Tories would put money directly into Canadians’ pockets to spend as they saw fit.
Now Mr. Trudeau’s government has an opportunity to turn those tactics on conservative politicians in provincial capitals that are challenging their carbon tax – by using carbon-tax revenue to dole out cash directly to families.
Within weeks, Mr. Trudeau’s government is expected to announce how it will use the revenue from its carbon tax, which will apply in provinces that don’t have their own. Ottawa could spend some of the money on programs to reduce emissions. But the smart political move is to send it all back to households or individuals.
An analysis commissioned by Canadians for Clean Prosperity, a pro-carbon-tax organization, concluded that would amount to about $350 for every Ontario household next year, rising to $836 in 2022. In Saskatchewan, it would be $1,075 in 2019, rising to $2,394 in 2022.
If Ottawa started sending out cheques next spring, that would push federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, who is campaigning against the carbon tax, into a campaign to cut off the cash. Since the point of a carbon tax is to create an incentive to reduce fuel-burning and emissions, it doesn’t matter, in a sense, how the revenue is used, as long as it’s not used for rebates on things such as heating oil and gas. They can be used to cut other taxes. But the Liberals will want it to be noticed – so they are likely to send the revenue out as benefits to individuals or households.
That probably won’t change the mind of conservatives in the political base of Mr. Kenney or Mr. Ford. Most Tory stalwarts have hated the carbon tax since Stephen Harper campaigned against then-Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion’s “Green Shift” in 2008.
But politically, what matters is the middle ground. Polls show most Canadians want policies to address climate change, but many are skeptical about the cost of a carbon tax.
Until this year, Mr. Trudeau thought he had won the middle ground. Mr. Pallister had proposed his own carbon tax. Former Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown promised he’d establish one, too. Mr. Brown’s own party base hated it, but his advisers deemed it necessary to reassure centrist swing voters who wanted some action on climate change.
Then Mr. Brown was dumped amid sexual-misconduct allegations. In came Mr. Ford, who won the party and then the premier’s chair fighting the carbon tax. That shifted the balance of carbon politics in Canada.
With Mr. Ford and Mr. Kenney loudly campaigning against a carbon tax, Mr. Pallister was squeezed. Manitoba Tories didn’t love his own. Federal Conservatives in Manitoba were fighting carbon taxes. Two weeks ago, Mr. Pallister backed out of his carbon-tax plan.
That may soothe Mr. Pallister’s base, but it doesn’t mean he’s chosen a clear winner. The Premier had seen internal polls that showed Manitobans were divided on a carbon tax, but that a majority would support one if the revenue was recycled back into their pockets.
The Premier, like Mr. Ford, doesn’t face an election next year. But Mr. Trudeau does – against an opponent, Mr. Scheer, who is running on pocketbook issues and against a carbon tax. And Mr. Trudeau has a chance to turn that against him by rushing carbon cheques out to voters.