Well, the other shoe just dropped right on our wallets. The Canadian federal government unveiled its new climate plan and it turns out that when they said before the last election that they had no plan to raise the carbon tax they were lying. Instead of staying at $50/tonne indefinitely, it’s going up $15/tonne/year until it hits $170/tonne in 2030, or 37.6 cents/litre of gasoline. Now possibly then-Environment Minister Catherine McKenna’s June 2019 promise that “The price will not go up… the plan is not to increase the price post-2022” doesn’t really count as a lie since everybody knew they were lying, they knew we knew, and we knew they knew we knew. But notwithstanding all the lying they should get points for consistency. For years they have said that man-made climate change is an urgent crisis and nothing is more important than reducing GHG emissions. And for once they are acting as if they believe climate may indeed be more important than, for example, their re-election. Though not by much.
Really, what did anyone think they were going to do? Or should do? After all, Ms. McKenna’s little nudge wink fib about the prices was uttered in response to the Parliamentary Budget Office saying of course the tax would have to go considerably higher than $50/tonne to have any effect. And it would have been foolish to suppose that after all the noise they made about the necessity of having a dramatic effect, the people behind the tax would not then increase it enough to do so.
Some major Canadian energy companies appear to feel that they can fend off drastic action by meeting the alarmists half-way. If they admit climate change is an existential crisis, improve carbon efficiency, explore alternative energy, invest in carbon-capture technology and otherwise achieve fiddly results on the margin, they think the activists and politicians will let them continue to pump out and sell vast quantities of fossil fuels. But it’s not so, because the activists and politicians think if we don’t get to net zero by 2050 the planet will burn up crackle crackle. And politicians and activists are at least aware that objects in calendar are closer than they appear so to reach this ambitious target we need to move soon and dramatically. (Supposedly we’ll get to at least 30% below 2005 GHG emission levels by 2030, on our way to 100% by 2050.)
Some business leaders also try to rally round the white flag by saying since Canadian energy firms have just about the highest environmental and labour standards in the world, they should be the last to go. But again it can’t work for the same reason that if you agree that the crocodile can eat your legs, you can’t expect it to stop there. Or that if you tell a preacher your sins are the most tasteful and hygienic so he should go reform every other person on Earth first and then come back to see you. Especially as the Canadian government can wag its finger at foreigners, but throw the book at its own citizens. And thus both to lead by example and to change what it can change, the current federal administration wants to wipe out the fossil fuel industry in Canada as quickly as possible.
Now “as quickly as possible” matters because they do still have one eye on their reelection. BNN Bloomberg crowed that “Trudeau hikes carbon tax, positions Canada to hit climate goal”. But the new plan, like the old one, contains the paradoxical provision that all the money taken in through carbon taxes will be given back to the people who paid it, so they can afford to buy as much of the now more expensive fossil fuels as they could the old cheaper ones. This deliberate undermining of the whole point of the tax is surprisingly popular and not just with the plan’s authors. But it is a fatal flaw.
For people who think economics is fun, we concede that with the relative price of fossil fuels increasing there will be some substitution. But because the price elasticity of gas for your car or heating oil for your furnace is very low, there won’t be much. And for people who think politics is fun, we note that this economically and programmatically irrational provision is included to protect the only thing more important than planet Earth, which is the electoral prospects of the incumbents who alone can save the Earth and thus must be reelected at all costs.
When we asked above what anybody expected we did not just mean given the Liberals’ convictions. We also meant given the lack of effective opposition on principle either from the companies being marched to the greenhouse gas chamber or from the political system.
The opposition parties gave off the usual angry roar. But those to the left of the Liberals want more dramatic action sooner, which isn’t much of a vote-getter because the Liberals are moving fairly vigorously and the willingness of Canadians to pay more for fossil fuels is considerably less than their willingness to tell pollsters they think climate change is a problem. And the parties to the right of the Liberals said the usual Well-we-wouldn’t-wipe-out-fossil-fuels-that-way while dodging the issue of whether they would wipe them out some other way and if so what, which isn’t much of a vote-getter either. (The Canadian Nuclear Association welcomed the Liberal plan, aware that theirs is the one dependable form of non-fossil-fuel energy we now possess that is practical anywhere but apparently unaware that the climate activists still don’t like them.)
A number of provincial administrations, notably those of Ontario and Alberta also nominally on the right, made similar angry noises that amounted to objecting to the method while accepting the goal and saying nothing intelligible about alternatives. Which again means they get points deducted for the wrong kind of consistency. And of course the one province whose reaction might matter did not object because the new carbon tax does not apply in Quebec because of that thing about reelection.
The excuse is that Quebec is already fighting “carbon pollution” through a cap and trade system implemented in 2013. But since the restrictions in Quebec currently amount to an effective price per tonne of just $17 versus the feds’ $30 and may reach $23 by 2022 vs the feds $50 and rising fast, it’s clearly just an excuse. But not therefore evidence of insincerity. Rather, since only the Liberals can save the planet, they must be reelected even if it means saving the planet has to wait. Besides, what difference do Quebec’s emissions really make? (Answer: About the same as Canada’s. But see getting reelected above.)
So again we must award points for consistency to the Liberals, who are acting precisely as if they believed their own rhetoric about climate change being an existential crisis only they can prevent. And we suppose to those who think you can concede on principle then fight in practice. And those who keep thinking the people sworn to abolish fossil fuels are kidding and then are surprised when they try to abolish them.
No. Wait. We’re deducting points for the last one. And the one before it. And we’re only giving the federal Liberals points if they promise to rebate them all back to us so it’s a big tangled pointless mess.