The big climate news, at least in Canada, is that federal Conservative leader Erin O’Toole finally released his climate plan. And it involves a major flip-flop on his pledge to get rid of carbon taxes, a staggering intrusion into Canadians’ privacy, a confused embrace of central planning, insufficient rigour to meet his goals (for instance “a carbon price that is affordable: starting at $20/tonne and increasing to $50/tonne but no further”), inflated rhetoric about its excellence, and flat-out dishonesty including insisting that it’s “not a tax at all”, just something the government makes you pay on top of the purchase price. Other than that, a major policy and political triumph.
O’Toole is predictably being praised by the usual suspects, the commentariat who think the key to modern conservatism is to ditch the conservatism, lunge for the brass ring and miss. But it’s a major problem for him politically because he very ostentatiously pledged to get rid of the existing carbon tax and not bring in a new one, and is now trying to claim his tax is not a tax but a “levy” because we get all the money back just as we almost do under the hated “Trudeau’s carbon tax”.
Of course he is therefore being praised for his courage by people who wouldn’t vote conservative if he painted himself Liberal red and embraced every item in that party’s program… which he more or less has. Canada’s state broadcaster, the CBC, had a panel on “How Conservatives feel about Erin O’Toole’s climate plan” featuring three pundits and a host who are not conservatives but did concede that it was not a vote winner. And the very liberal Toronto Star flatly called it “‘A massive blow to his integrity and credibility’: Conservatives blindsided by Erin O’Toole’s carbon pricing plan”. And it didn’t help that he unveiled it to the press before telling his caucus. But the pundits are praising him either for doing the right thing despite leading a party full of bad people, or for virtue-signalling brightly even if planning dimly.
Which brings up the additional problem that the plan can’t possibly work.
First and foremost, it’s just not rigorous enough. Nobody thinks a tax of $50/tonne will cause massive changes in behaviour. It’s not even clear that Trudeau’s projected $170/tonne by 2030 will. And a mandate for "30% of light duty vehicles sold to be zero emissions by 2030” is a bad joke given the idea that we are meant to “meet our Paris climate commitment and reduce emissions by 2030”, whatever that means.
Supposedly we will reduce emissions by 30% from 2005 levels by 2030. And then start getting into green cars? At least three in 10 of us? Talk about sauntering into action.
As for the rebate program, the idea is that every time we buy fuel we will get credits in a “Personal Low Carbon Savings Account” and Canadians can then “apply the money in their account towards things that help them live a greener life. That could mean buying a transit pass or a bicycle, or saving up and putting the money towards a new efficient furnace, energy efficient windows or even an electric vehicle.” In his statement on the plan, O’Toole said “Our plan trusts Canadian families to be part of the climate change plan.” But it doesn’t, because it tells them what they can spend their Carbon Points on, though not how this ornate scheme is to be handled administratively.
Politically it panders in all directions, even declaring greasily that “Canadian families and businesses have been trailblazers in the use of affinity or rewards programs and have great expertise in both managing and using them. This program will operate similarly, and may be managed by a consortium of companies as the INTERAC system is.” But fundamentally it requires the government to track the purchases of citizens, rewarding this and chastising that as if a Puritan Politburo were running the country. As the Star editorial board rightly noted, “If a left-wing party had come up with the climate plan that Erin O’Toole put forward last week, Conservatives would laugh it out of the room. Why should the government set up a complicated scheme involving something called ‘personal low-carbon savings accounts’ for every Canadian, they might ask? And, they might continue, instead of simply rebating money to individuals and letting them decide what to do with it, why should the government force them to spend it on an officially approved list of things to help them ‘live a green life’? If that sounds nanny-statish, the kind of big-government nagging that Conservatives traditionally love to hate, it’s because it is.”
Also, a significant technical as well as political flaw, the program rewards people for spending more money on fuel not less. One of CBC’s pundits, Andrew Coyne said “You can already see the Liberals polishing their attack lines on this: ‘The more you burn, the more you earn.’” At least the Trudeau “rebate” comes to you regardless of what you paid in.
The Tory plan, in principle, suffers the same flaw of raising the price of gas then giving you enough cash to buy it anyway. But at least O’Toole’s version might accidentally work by making you choose between buying stuff you don’t want or just waste the points. How many bicycles can a person ride? But then, you could sell the second bike online and spend the money on… gas.
Further to the subject of stuff you don’t want, the plan combines insufficient pricing with burdensome regulation including “Introducing a zero emission vehicle mandate based on British Columbia’s, requiring 30% of light duty vehicles sold to be zero emissions by 2030” and investing vast sums picking what it wrongly imagines to be winners in electric vehicle manufacturing in Canada, including investing a billion dollars “in battery production, parts manufacturing, micro-mobility solutions and electric trucks” and another “billion dollars in deploying hydrogen technology including hydrogen vehicles”.
There is a lot more in the plan, of course, from carbon border tariffs to a national carbon offset market to regenerative farming to a National Clean Energy Strategy that commendably includes nuclear (and specifically Small Modular Reactors) along with unicorns. But in the end it is a mess that destroys their credibility instead of enhancing it. As CTV’s Don Martin described it, “What O’Toole rolled out was some sort of Frankensteinian cross between a folly green giant and Big Brother.”
When it comes to credibility, even the pledge of no carbon tax above $50/tonne is an outright lie. And not only because the document also says “We will assess progress after two years and be prepared to set industrial carbon prices on a path to $170/tonne by 2030, but only if the combination of adopting a price based on that of our major trading partners and working with the U.S. on North American standards has not assured us that we are on a path to our Paris commitment.” The bigger lie is that any of these tepidly convoluted measures can possibly put us on the path to Paris, or that it would make any difference to global temperature in the alarmists’ own models if it could.
Fundamentally, as so many others have on climate and as the Conservatives have a habit of doing on anything, they have tried to have their cake and eat it, to be onside with climate alarmism without doing things that will hurt. And the result is a plan that makes no sense, can’t possibly reduce GHGs, destroys their credibility and is politically disastrous.