The Yukon Party’s clever carbon tax gambit

One suspects that Premier Darrell Pasloski is more than content to waltz into an election campaign against two left-leaning, vote-splitting parties who are talking about how to implement a carbon tax.

One suspects that Premier Darrell Pasloski is more than content to waltz into an election campaign against two left-leaning, vote-splitting parties who are talking about how to implement a carbon tax.

Pasloski’s Yukon Party has carved for itself a nice little space in the electoral landscape. It has in the carbon tax debate a simple tool with which to bludgeon the opposition: diapers, the premier tells us, will cost more if a carbon tax is imposed on the Yukon. Babies wear diapers and children are the future, so clearly, the opposition parties hate babies, children and the future.

This favourable chunk of political terrain well-fortified, the premier has chosen to hole up, lest certain uncomfortable realities come sailing over the parapet. One of those is that researchers in the government’s own Climate Change Secretariat have been studying the impact of different rates of carbon taxation.

It was a good access-to-information find by the NDP, but speaking to reporters Thursday, Pasloski steadfastly denied that research was done at the behest of cabinet. That claim beggars belief. But it would actually be more surprising if the government hadn’t studied carbon pricing regimes. Governments study the impacts of potential policies all the time. In 2011, the Northwest Territories government, which is equally opposed to carbon pricing, openly studied models and freely released a public report that contains not a single redacted figure.

Pasloski has to put that policy work as far away from his government as possible, because then he would have to admit to an uncomfortable truth that undermines a key election pitch: there are a whole suite of policy tools available to governments to offset the impact of carbon pricing. Instead, the premier, a fully grown, educated man who runs a modern government, has to pretend an entire realm of public policy research simply doesn’t exist.

The second is that the federal government, like it or not, is signalling to the provinces and territories that it will implement carbon pricing. Pressed on this point Thursday, Pasloski refused to offer anything beside talking-point non-answers.

“Somebody has to stand up for Yukon,” he said. “Putting a tax on carbon will make everything more expensive, and I’m opposed to that.”

Are the territorial and federal governments talking about exemptions to carbon pricing, or special help for the territories to offset the pocketbook impact?

Talking points.

How can the Yukon exempt itself from a federally mandated policy?

More talking points.

The premier sings a simple tune, but he only needs it to sound good to a few thousand voters for the Yukon Party to skip merrily to the polls, whenever that is.

Both opposition parties are at least trying to engage with a complex political problem, but neither is really attempting to own it. We’ve known for a while that the Yukon Liberals favour carbon pricing, but they’re content to let the federal Liberals play the role of enforcer. The New Democrats too are pushing the doctrine of federal inevitability as part of the basis for their own carbon pricing proposal.

Liberal Leader Sandy Silver has also cited the Taxpayer Protection Act, which requires a referendum before a Yukon government can raise taxes or impose new ones. But if Ottawa is going to make us, well….

“We can bury our heads in the sand and we can say somehow sticking our head in the sand is sticking up for Yukoners,” Silver told reporters earlier this week. “Or we can take a look at our reality, which is a government on a national basis campaigned on a national tax and will be implementing one.”

This clever construction allows the other parties the option to make promises about a carbon tax without genuinely standing behind it, since the territory is in no legal or constitutional position to resist a federally imposed one. This might be evidence of a certain pragmatism, but it’s not exactly a display of high political principle.

All parties will have equal time to disgrace themselves in the forthcoming election campaign, but the premier’s cynical oversimplification of the debate over carbon pricing is particularly galling.

The old saying attributed to former Tory leader Kim Campbell — “An election is no time to discuss serious issues” — seems to be inverted in Yukon’s pre-election fever. An election, it appears, is no time to discuss issues seriously. But it serves the Yukon Party’s re-election interests just fine.

Contact Chris Windeyer at editor@yukon-news.com

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