Don Martin: Folly green giant meets Big Brother in Conservative carbon scheme
OTTAWA -- For a few hours there, it looked like Justin Trudeau had something to worry about.
After all, the prime minister wants a Neanderthal to fight in the next election and Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole would’ve been dragging his knuckles around the campaign trail if he didn’t put a climate change plan on the platform.
And, well, fear not prime minister.
The Conservative leader’s flip on carbon taxes was an instant flop.
Not only will suddenly reversing a dozen years of howling at the “job-killing carbon tax” infuriate the party’s western base, but O’Toole’s headscratcher of a plan seems unlikely to widen the party’s appeal in key Ontario battlegrounds.
What O’Toole rolled out was some sort of Frankensteinian cross between a folly green giant and Big Brother.
It leaves Liberal carbon pricing intact and existing provincial plans untouched, but the collected revenue would flow into “low carbon savings accounts” instead of government coffers.
That, proclaimed O’Toole in deploying pretzel-twisted logic, means it’s not a tax but a “pricing mechanism.”
Sorry, no. Government-mandated revenue collected involuntarily is a tax no matter where the money ends up.
But the even bigger puzzler lies in those low-carbon savings accounts.
If there’s a model for this concept anywhere on the planet, O’Toole wasn’t sharing it and I can’t find it.
And there may well be very good reasons why this is exclusively a made-in-O’Toole’s-Canada scheme.
Consider the resources it will take for some sort of arms-length, government-created agency to track every litre of fuel consumption, splice off the carbon tax, deposit it in an individual savings account and only allow that individual to use the money for approved environmentally sustainable products. The mind reels.
And, as more than a few reporters pointed out, what’s the incentive to curb carbon consumption if the tax is all rebated into some sort of new Interac system for government-endorsed spending? There isn’t.
The flip side is to wonder how this plan would reward those leaving no carbon footprints while tiptoeing through their utopian lifestyle. Gosh, there isn’t one.
It’s a polluter-pay, polluter-reward concept which would be a very hard sell to average Canadians even if the Conservatives suddenly discover some masterful communicators in their midst.
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But no amount of forced smiling could mask the fact O’Toole was not comfortable fielding befuddled reporter questions, clearly underlined by the awkward dodging in his answers.
To be fair, O’Toole advanced some ideas worth implementing. Support for small modular reactors, hydrogen fuel and electric cars are all good policy directions.
And his tariff plan might be one way to ensure equilibrium on trade with countries that don’t have carbon pricing into their goods.
But the policy anchor putting a price on carbon for consumers, which this leader swore repeatedly and regularly to axe the minute he became prime minister.
Now he’s given it an assumed name and insists he remains on script with a decade of party carbon-tax condemnation. Nice try. No sale.
The truth is O’Toole desperately needs a carbon-pricing proposal to neutralize Liberal attack ads portraying him as a climate-change denier.
And his leadership on this file needed to be reasserted and damage control enacted after this month’s party convention where members voted against recognizing climate change as being real.
But he would’ve been better off either swallowing hard and embracing the relative simplicity of the existing carbon-pricing structure or finding a new way to make big emitters pay for it before passing along the cost to consumer.
Much like the Green Shift pushed by the Liberals under Stephane Dion in the 2008 campaign, this policy defies comprehension and the voters will be equally unimpressed.
Let's give O’Toole this much: It took guts to reverse thrust his party’s defining carbon-pricing opposition, particularly when he faces considerable internal dissent and an unimpressed membership.
But this gamble could mean the biggest threat to Erin O’Toole’s prime ministerial ambition won’t be the Liberals he will face. It’ll be the angry party behind his back.
That’s the bottom line.