time for an adult talk about climate change

Stephen Harper's sock puppet for the Yukon has been doing his bit in Parliament to muddy the discussion of how to tackle climate change.

Stephen Harper’s sock puppet for the Yukon has been doing his bit in Parliament to muddy the discussion of how to tackle climate change.

Given how MP Ryan Leef’s constituency is profoundly affected by a warming world, it’s disappointing to see him recite with gusto the Conservative government’s misleading talking points.

“Mr. Speaker, New Democrats are on the defensive,” Leef told Parliament on Nov. 30. “They are upset that our government is telling Canadians about their plan for a $21-billion carbon tax. I wish it were not true, but regrettably it is. We only need to flip to page four of the 2011 NDP platform. It is right there, in black and white: a proposed tax on carbon that would generate $21 billion off the backs of Canadians from coast to coast to coast.

“Literally everyone would be affected, because the tax would raise the price of everything. It will not matter if people are seniors, veterans or struggling families. Everyone will pay more if they are subjected to this NDP tax regime.

“The truth is sometimes hard to swallow, but we on this side of the House will continue to tell Canadians the painful truth about this NDP carbon tax. We on this side of the House will continue with our low-tax plan for jobs, growth and long-term prosperity.”

New Democrats have responded to such attacks with mocking references to the government’s regulation of tailpipe emissions as a “$36 billion car tax.” In a way, both parties do the public a disservice by playing into the game of treating “tax” as a dirty word.

It’s too bad, because until we’re able to have an adult talk about putting a price on carbon, it’s unlikely that Canada will put a significant dent in its emissions.

Here’s the actual truth about climate change: fighting it will cost money. The only choices involve who pays, how much, and how transparent these costs will be.

One of the strange ironies of Ottawa’s climate change debate is that we find the left-leaning Opposition preferring an approach that harnesses the power of markets, while the reputably market-loving Conservatives are backing the complicated, inefficient, statist approach of sector-by-sector, “command and control” regulation.

The best approach of all would be to adopt a carbon tax. But, contrary to what Leef says, that’s not actually what the New Democrats are proposing.

They’d like to introduce a cap-and-trade system instead. Like a carbon tax, this would put a price on pollution. It would do so by requiring big polluters to buy permits to emit greenhouses gases. These permits are then traded, so that companies that are able to efficiently cut emissions are paid to do so by other companies.

Alberta and Quebec have adopted cap-and-trade systems, and Ontario and Manitoba are on their way to joining them. The federal Conservatives proposed a cap-and-trade system as recently as 2008. That’s right: the proposal that Leef and company are so viciously attacking is, in fact, the same thing Conservatives not long ago promised to adopt.

Studies have shown that the United States’ cap-and-trade system has halved the cost of reducing emissions compared to the traditional regulatory approach, according to Stewart Elgie, a University of Ottawa professor who is chair of the Sustainable Prosperity think tank.

A carbon tax is even cheaper, if British Columbia’s experience is any indication. The province has used revenue from its carbon tax to lower income taxes. In the end, this more than made up for higher prices at the pumps, according to Elgie.

Harper, who is trained as an economist, understands that he is taking the least efficient, most wasteful approach. So why is he doing it? Because he also understands human nature.

He knows that voters will instinctually prefer the choice in which the cost is buried, as in the case with one-off regulations, rather than it being up front, as it would with a tax. And he knows that taxes, being unpopular, are a handy weapon with which to bludgeon the opposition.

It helps that Harper doesn’t actually seem to care about addressing climate change, as evident by the federal government’s past efforts to help derail global climate talks. No serious-minded person believes that Canada will meet its 2020 emissions targets as things stand.

Then there’s Leef. He’s argued in the past that a cap-and-trade system or carbon tax would be needlessly complicated. But the exact opposite is true compared to the wasteful, inefficient scheme the Conservatives are pushing.

The government’s tightening pollution targets have already cost more than the $21 billion that Harper accuses the NDP plan of costing, according to a report in September by the Canadian Press. And the government hasn’t completed regulations for big emitters in several major sectors, including oil and gas.

The costs of any of these approaches are offset by considerable benefits. As industry becomes greener, it becomes more efficient. But there’s no free lunch, no matter which route is taken. And the course preferred by the Conservatives is the priciest and least effective.

Leef has also held that carbon pricing would disproportionately harm northerners, who largely depend on fossil fuels to heat their homes and receive groceries and other goods. There’s something to that, but tax credits that target northerners could cushion the blow.

If there’s a bright side to all of this, we suppose it’s this: Harper is so adept at adopting positions he once shunned, it’s not inconceivable that he could once again embrace putting a price on carbon. But it’s hard to imagine this happening without a big public outcry.

Ideally, things would work the other way around. Leaders would, you know, lead. Instead, as the Yukon’s glaciers and permafrost melt, and the prevalence of landslides, floods and wildfires grows, our MP is more dedicated to spewing misinformation than working towards an effective solution.

It once again goes to show that, rather than being the Yukon’s man in Ottawa, Leef is Harper’s man in the Yukon. (JT)

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Maria Metzen off the start line of the Yukon Dog Mushers Association’s sled dog race on Jan. 9. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Mushers race in preparation for FirstMate Babe Southwick

The annual race is set for Feb. 12 and 13.

The Yukon government is making changes to the medical travel system, including doubling the per diem and making destinations for medical services more flexible. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Subsidy for medical travel doubled with more supports coming

The change was recommended in the Putting People First report endorsed by the government

Chloe Sergerie, who was fined $500 under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> on Jan. 12, says she made the safest choice available to her when she entered the territory. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Woman fined $500 under CEMA says she made ‘safest decision’ available

Filling out a declaration at the airport was contrary to self-isolation, says accused

The Yukon Department of Education building in Whitehorse on Dec. 22, 2020. Advocates are calling on the Department of Education to reverse their redefinition of Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) that led to 138 students losing the program this year. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Advocates call redefinition of IEPs “hugely concerning,” call for reversal

At least 138 students were moved off the learning plans this year

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

The Fish Lake area viewed from the top of Haeckel Hill on Sept. 11, 2018. The Yukon government and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced they are in the beginning stages of a local area planning process for the area. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Local area planning for Fish Lake announced

The Government of Yukon and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced in… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Fire damage, photographed on Jan. 11, to a downtown apartment building which occurred late in the evening on Jan. 8. Zander Firth, 20, from Inuvik, was charged with the arson and is facing several other charges following his Jan. 12 court appearance. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
More charges for arson suspect

The Inuvik man charged in relation to the fire at Ryder Apartments… Continue reading

The grace period for the new Yukon lobbyist registry has come to an end and those who seek to influence politicians will now need to report their efforts to a public database. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Grace period for new lobbyist registry ends

So far nine lobbyists have registered their activities with politicians in the territory

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21, 2020. Some Yukon tourism and culture non-profit organizations may be eligible to receive up to $20,000 to help recover from losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Details released on relief funding for tourism and culture non-profits

Some Yukon tourism and culture non-profit organizations may be eligible to receive… Continue reading

Most Read