Understanding the Carbon Tax Grab

PC debate - CBC.jpg

It is comical to see the Canadian press throwing around the term climate change denial like it's 2007. The chorus of derision that has attended to the Ontario Tory leadership campaign is especially noteworthy, since all four of the contenders for Patrick Brown's job have come out squarely against a provincial carbon tax. No issue demonstrates more dramatically how the Canadian political commentariat has misinterpreted the trajectory of the global decarbonization debate or underestimated the intelligence of Ontario voters.

On the surface, the Canadian carbon-tax imbroglio seems fairly straightforward. Pundits of every ideological stripe agree that Tory politicians who do not put forward a "coherent climate change policy" cannot get elected. The Globe and Mail's editorial position is typical: we must tackle "the world's most important challenge," i.e. catastrophic human-induced climate change, and a flat, "relatively laissez-faire" and revenue-neutral carbon tax is the best way of doing so. This common-sense rationale is routinely paired with the constitutional claim that it is within the power of the federal government to establish national emissions-reduction targets under Canada's Paris obligations, which implies that obstructionist provincial politicians are simply grandstanding. (Ontarians have also been told that rejecting a carbon tax would produce a $4-billion hole in the Tories' "People's Guarantee" platform, which undermines the claim of revenue neutrality.)

But we might ask what is bubbling beneath the surface of Canadian politics, where voters are increasingly receptive to scrapping carbon taxes and green-energy subsidies, and even willing—in the words of Ontario PC leadership hopeful Tanya Granic Allen—to “take those wind turbines and rip them out of the ground." Here are some recent developments that might help to provide context.

According to the Washington Post, the Paris accord is in trouble. CO2 emissions continue to rise worldwide. Many Paris signatories (including the biggest G20 emitters) are not only failing to meet their Paris commitments but are building new coal plants. Politicians everywhere are increasingly "risk-averse" when it comes to underwriting the green economy. Europe, easily the world's most environmentally "progressive" region, has exhibited a "shocking failure to act on climate." Even German chancellor Angela Merkel has had to backtrack recently. The International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that global energy demand will rise roughly 30 percent between now and 2040, driving up oil demand in the same period to 105-million barrels per day. According to economist Bjorn Lomborg, who cites the most recent IEA data, solar panels and wind turbines today contribute 0.8% to the global energy mix (you read that correctly). Yet the projected cost of subsidizing these two "uncompetitive" energy sources under the terms of the Paris accord will end up in the range of $3-trillion. According to Trusha Reddy, coordinator of the International Coal Network, China—the country in which so much hope for the renewable-energy future has been placed—is flooding the world with new coal-fired power plants. And it's not alone. According to a 2017 report from the Institute for Energy Research, roughly 1600 coal plants are now under construction in 62 countries and more are planned. Blogging in Scientific American on the fuel poverty that today afflicts roughly a billion people in the developing world, Tisha Schuller asserts that "it's time to leave behind the antiquated notions of vilifying fossil fuels and instead having a thoughtful, meaningful conversation about real needs and realistic solutions." Sky-high energy costs and fuel poverty have also tempered British and Australian enthusiasm for breakneck decarbonization. The "legacy costs" of Britain's failed green policies, which will continue to accrue until 2030, have recently been estimated to be in the range of £100-billion.

And what is happening closer to home, here in Ontario? We read similar reports of energy poverty and green-shift boondoggles. According to journalist Mark Milke, writing for the Financial Post, "Ontarians between 2006 and 2014 spent $37 billion on above-market-price subsidies to wind, solar and other alternatives." Yet, according to York University professor of environmental studies Mark Winfield, "none of the province’s major parties proposed a comprehensive strategy for meeting the province’s (or Ottawa’s) GHG emission targets." According to the OECD, Canada is "currently on track by 2030 to increase [emissions by] 14 per cent to 29 per cent above 1990 levels." North American SUV sales are booming. Canadian crude prices are way down, and so are the government revenues they generate. Meanwhile, President Trump, whose climate policies everyone loves to hate, is "eating Canada's lunch" on energy. He is also eating everyone else's, according to the New York Times, which notes that the recent U.S. oil boom has not only allowed Americans to escape the clutches of fickle petroleum exporters but to "contribute to world energy security by bringing new supplies to the world."

Note that none of these indictments depends in any way on the tenets of what the IPCC "consensus" calls climate-change denial. To gauge voter cynicism, it is unnecessary to cite the myriad forecasting failures of the climate establishment, or the increasingly persuasive counter-claims of skeptical climate scientists, or the growing scholarly literature on the iron-fisted hegemony of IPCC ideology and influence. This issue here is garden-variety electoral politics. And politics is the realm in which the raging carbon-tax debate in Ontario (and Canada more broadly) should be covered and analyzed.

The point should be clear. What the Ontario PC leadership hopefuls know but apparently our chattering classes do not, is that voters are looking for a way to register their dissatisfaction with the horrendously expensive and wasteful politics of decarbonization, green subsidization and energy mismanagement. Ironically, it may not even matter to cynical Ontario voters if their next Tory premier is forced to impose a carbon tax on the province under pressure from federal minister of environment and climate change Catherine McKenna. For now, they're just looking for a place to raise their voices and park their votes, when no one in the national media is bothering to listen.