When even the leader of Ontario’s tax-adverse Progressive Conservatives endorses putting a price on carbon, it’s a sign that debate about the threat of climate change is truly over.
Tory leader Patrick Brown could not have been clearer in his keynote address to about 1,700 party faithful at their weekend convention. “Climate change is a fact,” he said. “It is a threat. It is man-made. We have to do something about it, and that something includes putting a price on carbon.”
As reported by the Toronto Star’s Rob Ferguson, his declaration generated a tepid response from the gathering, and even one loud shout of “No!” But Brown made no apology for nudging the party forward on this vital issue. “I spoke from the heart,” he later told reporters.
Brown deserves praise for doing so. He risks alienating some hard-right grassroots party members, but putting a meaningful price on carbon is a responsible policy that would well serve Ontarians, Canadians, and the planet.
In a response that seemed unnecessarily churlish, Environment and Climate Change Minister Glen Murray labeled Brown a “climate change denier” who had only now discovered the issue.
Whatever Brown’s timing, all three party leaders at Queen’s Park have now publicly and strongly backed carbon-pricing. That’s a significant step forward, regardless of what still divides them.
Brown was sharply critical of Premier Kathleen Wynne’s cap-and-trade plan, which would raise the price of gasoline by 4.3 cents a litre and boost the cost of heating a home with natural gas by about $5 a month. He labeled this a blatant “cash grab” and warned that money would be channeled into “another Liberal slush fund.”
Brown was hazy about how a Conservative government might proceed but praised a revenue-neutral approach, in which the cost of carbon-pricing would be offset by corresponding tax cuts.
That’s how British Columbia’s $30-per-tonne carbon tax works. Every dollar generated by the charge is returned to the public through reductions in other taxes. This has the benefit of being straightforward, cheap to administer, and not disrupting markets as much as cap-and-trade. It’s fairly popular, too. Indeed, it’s the Star’s preferred approach.
It would be truly ironic if the party of former leader Mike “Tax-fighter’ Harris reversed course and pledged outright support for a carbon tax. Even the Liberals haven’t gone that far, opting instead for the more politically palatable cap-and-trade system.
Yet that’s where Brown appears to be heading. It will be difficult to bring the party along, but he deserves praise for at least trying to steer it, and Ontario, in the right direction.