The Trudeau government is right to impose carbon pricing

It’s possible — easy, even — to pick apart the Trudeau government’s new plan to tax carbon emissions in provinces that refuse to do the job themselves.

Many environmentalists will point out that it isn’t ambitious enough to go very far toward fighting the effects of climate change, and they will be right.

Others will argue that the government’s plan to refund the cost of the tax to people in the four affected provinces next spring is a politically motivated move in an election year. They may be right, as well.

But quibbles aside, the Liberal government is firmly on the right side of what is shaping up to be one of the main issues in next fall’s election, perhaps the defining issue.

The Trudeau plan isn’t a comprehensive solution to tackling climate change; in fact, no one ever pretended it was. And no doubt political calculations are involved in softening the impact on voters by making sure the average family actually comes out ahead when it receives a rebate next spring through the income tax system. We doubt many will be shocked at the idea that politicians take the political angles into account.

But if it takes some political finagling to make it work, that will be a small price to pay to see a price put on carbon right across Canada.

The evidence, and simple logic, are overwhelming that putting a price on something incents people and businesses to produce less of it. Imposing a price on carbon emissions, even a relatively low one to start with, is the smartest and most efficient way to reduce emissions. Economists from both right and left agree on that.

It would have been far preferable for the provinces to devise their own plans and avoid turning this issue into a federal-provincial confrontation. And when the Trudeau Liberals first brought up the idea it looked as though almost all provinces, with the exception of Saskatchewan, would go along.

That changed when the Ford Conservatives were elected in Ontario and dumped the province’s cap-and-trade program. Manitoba and New Brunswick have turned against carbon pricing, too, and Alberta will join the conservative pack if its NDP government goes down to defeat next year, as is likely.

But awkward as it may be, the federal government is right to persist even if it means a fight. Climate change is too important an issue to let opposition from conservative-led governments stall action entirely. The latest of many reminders on that front came just a couple of weeks ago, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned in a comprehensive new assessment that the world has only about a dozen more years to stop global warming from becoming a catastrophe.

In the face of this, what do the conservative opponents of carbon pricing and the Trudeau government’s rebate program propose? In a word, nothing.

When the Ford government axed Ontario’s cap-and-trade regime, it failed to come up with anything to replace it. Instead, Premier Doug Ford started crusading across the country against the “job-killing carbon tax.” He has a slogan, not a climate plan.

Federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has nothing more to offer. He promises his party will come up with a climate plan before the next election. In the meantime, he’s content to join the conservative common front railing against taxes and Trudeau. It’s the opposite of leadership on this crucial issue.

Even with the federal carbon tax, starting at $20 a tonne next year and rising to $50 by 2022, Canada risks falling short of its targets on climate change, by the government’s own admission. Carbon pricing in the way the government has chosen to do it is a timid first step.

But if the government gives up even that in the face of opposition, it has no hope at all of making progress. It has chosen to stand and fight on this issue, and it is right to do so.

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