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Pierre Poilievre and his Conservatives decided the “so-called experts” on federal carbon pricing are muddying the debate with facts and figures, so last week they called in Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe to do the opposite.

Mr. Moe was one of three premiers, with New Brunswick’s Blaine Higgs and Alberta’s Danielle Smith, drafted by the Conservatives to testify at a parliamentary committee against the carbon tax just days before an April 1 increase.

And though Mr. Moe mostly served up word salads, he ended up accidentally clarifying what the carbon-pricing debate is all about.

He said his government considered other ways to set a price on carbon and decided that it would cost too much.

That points to the real argument behind all the noise. There will inevitably be a cost to reducing emissions, no matter how it is done. Canadians can either pay the cost or not. Mr. Moe is on the “not” side.

The Saskatchewan Premier has the right to argue that it’s not worth the cost. But it’s worth remembering that the axe-the-tax campaign isn’t about finding other ways to cut those greenhouse-gas emissions.

Clarity is good in a democracy. That’s what a group of 100 economists said they were trying to provide when they sent an open letter stating carbon pricing is a low-cost way to reduce emissions that doesn’t contribute much to inflation.

Mr. Poilievre dismissed them. “Common-sense Conservatives will listen to the common sense of the common people, not Justin Trudeau’s so-called ‘experts,’ ” Sebastian Skamski, Mr. Poilievre’s spokesperson, said in a statement.

Pushing to ‘Axe the Tax’ is unfair to our kids

That’s one way to dodge debate. But let’s gloss over the false claims that all those experts are partisans and turn instead to Mr. Poilievre’s favourite expert, Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux. Mr. Poilievre cites Mr. Giroux often.

“The Prime Minister wants you to know, Mr. Speaker, that he has alternative facts,” Mr. Poilievre said in the Commons on March 20. “I get mine from the Parliamentary Budget Officer, who reports directly to Parliament and is independent.”

Yet it turns out Mr. Giroux has said pretty much the same things as the “so-called experts” who signed that letter.

Mr. Giroux’s testimony last week cited the Bank of Canada’s estimate that the fuel charge has only a small impact on inflation. And he said there is a “wide consensus” among economists “that carbon taxes are an effective way of reducing carbon emissions.”

That should be no surprise. A 2019 PBO report stated that other methods of reducing emissions, such as regulations, would likely carry higher costs than carbon pricing.

That’s an important point to remember – though Mr. Poilievre never does.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer published a report a year ago that predicted the carbon-tax-and-rebate program adopted by the Liberal government would have a net cost for the average Canadian household when it is fully phased in, in the year 2030.

But there were two parts to that analysis.

One said 80 per cent of households would get more money from carbon rebates than they pay in carbon levies. The other used a complicated model to predict that that effort to reduce emissions would slow economic growth somewhat, so average incomes would grow less than they otherwise would by 2030 – $1,316 less a year in Newfoundland, and $2,773 in Alberta.

It’s hard to know if the predictions about economic growth in that second part will be accurate. But it is important to note what it represents: the cost of reducing emissions. There will be a cost, likely a higher cost, to reducing emissions by another method.

But Mr. Poilievre hasn’t proposed a serious alternative. Nor did Mr. Moe. When pressed, Mr. Higgs made an argument for abandoning efforts to reduce emissions.

The New Brunswick Premier said cutting Canada’s emissions won’t make much of a difference to climate change, so the task should be left to bigger emitters such as China. The catch is that China and India argue that they shouldn’t have to cut as much as richer countries with higher per-person emissions such as the U.S. and Canada.

Still, the experts and the premiers both offered some clarity to the carbon-tax debate – if anyone is still listening.

The economists told us that carbon pricing reduces emissions at the lowest cost. The premiers argued that reducing emissions isn’t worth it.

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