It’s only been a few weeks since one of the biggest shoes to drop in Canadian politics finally came down. On March 25th, the Supreme Court upheld the Liberals Carbon Pricing legislation and, in the process, slammed the door shut on Conservatives attempts through the courts to kill it. We knew that decision was going to have a big impact on the Canadian political landscape.
When that ruling came out it effectively started a clock for the federal Conservatives to come up with some kind of policy response or alternative to what they had raged against for years. The courts didn’t do the hard work for the Blue Team, so now they’d have to do something themselves. Well that “put up or shut up” moment has finally come, with news that will be leading a lot of people to different reactions, mostly likely based on how you feel about this issue:
Wow folks, that is something. Remember Erin O’Toole spent the last months running around saying that he would scrap the “Trudeau Carbon Tax”, leaving the impression that he would somehow, he would do it without putting a price on carbon emissions. It was an approach like that which helped him rise to the position where he now sits. Yet this plan is eerily like the Liberal plan, yet someone politically worse in certain ways.
Let’s start with the obvious; the Conservative plan puts a price on carbon that consumers will end up paying. It’s a lower price with a lower cap on the high end, which actually makes it less effective as an emission fighting measure, but I don’t think that anyone was expecting the Conservatives to come out with a plan that was actually stronger on that front. But still, after the Conservatives spent years ragging against a “tax on everything”, they are now set to propose their own “tax on everything”. Let that sink in for a moment and we’ll come back to it.
How this policy is somehow politically a worse seller than the current Liberal plan comes to the other side of this plan. Like the Liberal plan, the money raised by carbon pricing would go back to citizens. But where it seriously gets different is that where the Liberal plan just sends you back a cheque and you can spend it on whatever, the Conservatives actually want to create a whole new bureaucracy and create restrictive “personal low carbon savings accounts” that people could then tap into to pay for certain things. According to CBC’s reporting, the proposal calls for “the accounts to potentially be managed by a private sector consortium in a manner similar to Interac, Canada’s debit card system.”
Wait a minute, you mean the Conservative plan involves creating a whole new bureaucracy, privatizing it and limiting what you can use the funds for, therefore making it far more restrictive, expensive to run and less efficient. Why in the Hell would they suggest doing that? Well, as CBC tells us, in the documents they’ve seen of the plan it states that they’ll do it this way “because Canadians can’t be sure the prime minister “won’t be tempted to use the carbon tax revenue to fund his big government plans.””
Sweet Jesus man, are you kidding me? Basically because the Conservatives can’t get over their obsession with this current Prime Minister and their pathological mistrust or anger towards him, they are going to suggest creating a massive, inefficient, privately run bureaucracy to deliver less funds and make it harder to use those fewer funds? After all of this time, that’s what they came up with?
Not only will this plan enrage many in O’Toole’s voter coalition who want nothing to do with any carbon pricing, regardless of how you name it or structure it, it won’t be more sellable to the general public. Just do the straight up comparison of this and the current government plan:
- Party one sends bigger rebates, straight to Canadians to spend how they wish.
- Party two sends a smaller rebate, but puts it into a special account and limits how they can spend that lesser amount of money.
Seriously, which of these two will most Canadians select? Surely not the second choice and once they find out why that lesser option is being proposed, they aren’t likely to feel any more impressed by it. I honestly wasn’t expecting grand, visionary policy from the Conservatives on this file, that was never in the cards. But I would have expected something that somehow avoided not only completely backtracking on all their rhetoric for the past years, but also managed to somehow become less effective and less attractive to voters. This is a “lose, lose, lose” proposal by the Conservatives.
The irony to me is that given how the Liberal policy is current structured, O’Toole could have been truer to his rhetoric if he had just stuck with tweaking it. Right after the Supreme Court decision, Saskatchewan started to talk about creating their own carbon pricing scheme, so that they could control it and Ottawa wouldn’t get to be the one to cut any cheques. A policy approach that might have worked better for O’Toole would have been to tweak the current policy to make it more attractive for the provinces to do their own thing.
Would that have been a better environmental approach? Likely not, but no one was expecting the Conservatives to do better on that front. So if we already assume you’re not going to go as far as the Liberals there, at least that suggestion might have sold better with the Conservatives base, because then it would be in the hands of the provinces to take a greater role in this field. That also would have been far more consistent with the Conservative worldview and likely would have been looked well upon in provinces that already have their own policies, especially in Quebec. And that’s just one example of how they could have approached this differently.
But instead they are going in this direction, one that will surely not go over well with a Conservative electorate that’s already souring on O’Toole’s leadership. The only people who will be cheering this announcement on will be the Liberals and NDP, as the Conservatives turn themselves inside out to get to this point, and the Maverick Party, which will now have their campaign narrative handed to them on a silver platter. The irony is that not only will with give the Mavericks a great recruiting tool in the handful of ridings where they were planning on running, but the potential unpopularity of this idea might also push them to reconsider their strategy of not challenging Conservative MPs in ridings where Liberals or New Democrats could win. They might look at this and think that they could win some of those seats now, and change their minds. Time will tell.
In the meantime, the O’Toole Conservatives, which brands itself as the small government, red tape cutting, people trusting and energy consumption tax opposing party, is going to propose a big government, restrictive, bureaucratic energy consumption tax with smaller rebates all because Conservatives have an over-the-top distaste and distrust for this government. That’s just wild. Not only does this approach tick all of the boxes of failure, but it’s also amazingly anti-conservative. We’ll see how the public responds to this proposal, but I’ll be stunned if it’s a positive reaction. In the meantime, we’ll also see how this affects O’Toole’s leadership. If he thought he was having a hard time until now, it’s easy to imagine that he’ll look back on those times as the “good old days” after today.