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Like they did in 2008, in the 2011 general election campaign, Jack Layton and the New Democrats put an election platform before Canadians that included commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by, among other things, doing the following:
We will put a price on carbon through a cap-and-trade system, which will establish hard emissions limits for Canada’s biggest polluters to ensure companies pay their environmental bills and to create an incentive for emissions reductions;
In its costing statement for its election campaign commitments, the NDP said the federal government would receive the following revenues as a result of its cap-and-trade system:
Mr. Speaker, gas prices across the country are surging, yet the leader of the opposition has been travelling around the country to promote a tax on carbon. Hard-working Canadians across the country will suffer if the NDP bring forward a job-killing carbon tax that will increase the price on everything. Families will see the price of gas, groceries and electricity increase and become even more of a burden.
We support a domestic cap-and-trade system that will allow firms to generate credits by reducing smog-causing pollutants.
In the 2008 election campaign, the Conservatives put this into their election platform:
Developing a Cap and Trade System to Cut Pollution and Greenhouse Gas Emissions
A re-elected Conservative Government led by Stephen Harper will implement our Turning the Corner action plan to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions in absolute terms by 20 per cent over 2006 levels by 2020. We will work with the provinces and territories and our NAFTA trading partners in the United States and Mexico, at both the national and state levels, to develop and implement a North America-wide cap and trade system for greenhouse gases and air pollution, with implementation to occur between 2012 and 2015.
If the NDP’s cap-and-trade plan in 2011 was, to quote Saxton, “a job-killing carbon tax”, wasn’t his own party’s cap-and-trade plan in 2008 a “job-killing carbon tax” too?
Well, according to Harper’s environment minister in 2009, Jim Prentice, the Conservative cap-and-trade plan or ”offset prog...as going to be a world-beater.
The offset system will be a key part of that overall commitment. It is intended to generate real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by providing Canadian firms and individuals with the opportunity to reduce or remove emissions from activities and sectors that will not be covered by our planned greenhouse gas regulations.
It does so by establishing a price for carbon in Canada – something that has never been done before in this country. And as business leaders, I don’t need to tell you what happens when you put a price on something that used to be free. Suddenly, your CFO becomes very interested in carbon!
The offset system is a key component of the market-based approach to combating climate change that I outlined at the World Business Summit on Climate Change in Copenhagen just a few weeks ago.
But by 2011, the Conservatives had excised any mention of any kind of carbon pricing scheme and promised (and continue to promise) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by regulation. Regulations have a cost, too, but though I and other reporters on have asked several times what they costs will be, have not provided any indications that consumers or businesses will pay a cost for their regulations.
Industry groups and academics, though, are nearly unanimous: If you’re objective is cutting greenhouse gas emissions by x per cent, then a carbon tax is the cheapest, most efficient way to accomplish that goal. The least efficient and most costly is regulation, the Conservative’s chosen method.
Indeed, a research network called Sustainable Prosperity, based out of the University of Ottawa, studied Canadian Business Preference on Carbon Pricing. This group’s research matched my anecdotal evidence watching any number of industry groups appear before MPs at different House of Commons committees over the years. Those industry groups are nearly unanimous in saying: Don’t regulate. Price carbon.
Now, industry groups do disagree on how best to price carbon though cap-and-trade — the approach favoured by the NDP in 2011 and by the Conservatives up until 2011 – is the preferred approach by most industry groups. The Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association (that would be Ford, Chrysler and GM), the Canadian Chemical Producers Association, the Railway Association of Canada, the Aluminum Association of Canada all favour cap-and-trade. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers — that’d be your oil sands heavies — prefer a modified carbon tax. And then there’s those big industrial emitters of greenhouse gases that want and support a price on carbon but don’t care if it’s a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system. The Mining Association of Canada, the Canadian Steel Producers Association, the Canadian Gas Association, the Canadian Petroleum Products Institute (representing most refiners in Canada), the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, the Forest Products Association of Canada, and the Cement Association of Canada just want the government to bring in a price on carbon and they don’t much care if it’s a carbon tax or cap-and-trade.
They’ll all be disappointed by the approach of current Environment Minister Peter Kent who is doing it all by inefficient regulation.
And, finally, here’s NDP leader Thomas Mulcair speaking to reporters after Question Period today summing up the politics and the policy on this issue:
The NDP’s top priority is the economy. The Conservatives’ top priority is making things up about the NDP. We’re going to talk to Canadian journalists because we have faith in your ability to do two simple things: go and get the Conservative program from 2008, read that they were proposing cap and trade when the Liberals were proposing a carbon tax, the whole public debate and realize that the NDP came down four square in favor of cap and trade. We were against the carbon tax for two reasons. One, it’s a regressive tax generally speaking. It can be used by the way as an adjunct by the provinces, two of them do it. Two, if the goal is to produce a reduction in greenhouse gases, the only way to guarantee that result is with a cap and trade system.
The bottom line, it seems to me: The Conservative Party as a whole and the Harper cabinet during at least two occasions endorsed and approved the notion of “cap-and-trade” as the approach to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The NDP was advocating “cap-and-trade” at the same time the Conservatives were and continues to do so. In this, the NDP and Conservatives were united against the Liberal idea of a straight-up carbon tax. (Laval University economist Stephen Gordon argues there’s not a whole lot of difference between a carbon tax and cap-and-trade)
Now though — despite the fact that the Conservative advocated the very same policy as the NDP for most of the last half-decade — the Conservatives are attacking the NDP for holding the same policy position the Conservatives used to hold. As Maclean’s writer Aaron Wherry wonders at his blog: “Maybe the Conservatives think you’re stupid.”
Originally published on David Akin’s On the Hill by David Akins on Tue, 18 Sep 2012 03:28:05 +0000