OTTAWA -- Conservative leadership hopeful Peter MacKay says a government under his rule would scrap the carbon tax yet would still “try” to meet the Paris climate targets.

During an interview on CTV’s Question Period, MacKay said Canada can be a global leader in the fight on climate change without having to implement a domestic levy.

“Canadians can be innovators and be big contributors to the global effort because we’re not the problem,” said MacKay. “We have an obligation to do our part, but I think we can be bigger in our vision and bolder in our effort to try to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally.”

As for meeting the Paris Agreement – the international pact to curb global temperature rise thatCanada signed in 2015 – MacKay said his government would “try” to get there.

“It’s aspirational,” he said, doubling down on the idea that putting a price on carbon isn’t the way to do so. “A carbon tax does not lessen [emissions]; it gives license to pollute.”

On military spending

MacKay said he’d also prioritize military spending if he were prime minister, increasing contributions to two per cent of GDP to meet NATO targets.

“It is something Canada needs to do and the way in which it’s calculated at NATO of course is an important part of how we get there. What I would argue is that we need to do more in North America that should be considered as part of our NATO commitment.” 

Canada has signed on to the commitment but has received criticism from U.S. President Donald Trump about failing to meet the target to date.

MacKay skirted around questions about where his government would find the billions of additional funds needed to reach the threshold.

“There are ways to calculate that don’t necessarily mean a direct injection of $11 billion.”

On medically assisted dying

In a letter tweeted out earlier this month and directed at Justice Minister David Lametti, MacKay urged lawmakers to include a provision in any new legislation on physician assisted-dying that doctors be able to refuse the delivery of care on the basis of their freedom of conscience.

The current legislation mandates that doctors who have a conscientious objection to a medical service refer their patient to another doctor who will carry out a procedure.

During the Question Period interview, MacKay said “conscience rights are extremely important” and he wouldn’t pass legislation that would force the referral process.

“We’re not talking about limiting access, to be clear. This is not about in any way limiting what is now the law in Canada but it is protecting another element of society in Canada and that is people who have a strong belief that they don’t want to end somebody’s life.” 

On learning French 

MacKay has come under fire for his French-language abilities since announcing his Tory leadership bid, with some saying any prime minister of Canada must be proficient in both French and English.

To address these concerns, MacKay switched over to French during the interview.

He then turned back to English to underline, “it’s like a muscle. I haven’t been speaking French to a large degree over the last four years working at a law firm here in Toronto there’s very little occasion but I believe I can work at it, I can continue to improve my French.”