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Clearing the Air on the Carbon Tax - by Brad Boudreau

Posted: Monday, October 14, 2019

On September 27, over 10,000 people gathered on the Legislative grounds in Winnipeg to advocate and march for climate change (most of which were grade school children), and let’s not forget about Greta Thunburg – the 16-year-old who has gained worldwide attention for calling out world leaders at the United Nations for their inaction on taking action. Protests have been nationwide; we have had conversations with our friends, our families, and our colleagues on what the future holds if we keep going down the path we’re on. It has become clear: Canadians are having a serious policy debate on climate change and I am one of them – an avid one at that. We all want to do our part to help, but the discussion has become polarizing. While the debate continues, there is one policy that continues to dominate discussion, one that is now a prominent election issue: the carbon tax.

The introduction of taxes is always a gamble for political parties in an election period, especially when it can directly impact the pockets of Canadians. For a carbon tax, it sure seems that way, doesn’t it? Paying more at the pump costs you more to do groceries, to work, to pick up your kids, and it makes life less affordable. Sounds like a nightmare on the surface, right? I have met many ordinary Canadians, like myself, throughout my travels and studies; what I hear is much the same. Common criticisms shared by Canadians from coast to coast to coast: how does taxing save the climate? This is going to cost my family! There’s no need to reduce our emissions; we are clean! It will hurt jobs! Well, I think you get the picture of what the common theme here is, and I’m sure you have heard some of these yourself.

Then there’s Andrew Scheer and the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC), who parade on false rhetoric and knowingly capitalize on the legitimate concerns Canadians have in regards to carbon pricing. It should come as no surprise then, why the CPC has promised to immediately cancel the carbon tax as their first course of action if they form Parliament on Oct. 21. However, what if I were to tell you that most of these statements of concern are myths? All perpetuated by CPC campaign rhetoric, Canada Proud memes and other misinformation that runs rampant in our media. Facts matter, and sometimes it can be difficult to suss fact from fiction in today’s digital word. So, what is fact and what is fiction? Here is why carbon pricing is not only effective, but necessary in any strategy to combat climate change. Forget the jargon, campaigning, and rhetoric. Like I said, facts matter, so let’s tackle some of these common carbon tax myths, shall we?

Carbon pricing (tax) has many advantages. It is a practical and meaningful way to shrink our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Evidence continues to pour in from around the world that carbon pricing can and does reduce GHG, and it can do so without a significant impact on jobs or economic prosperity; it is fair, and it makes polluters take responsibility for the pollution they create. Still, the misconceptions spell doom and gloom and they continue to dominate the discussion, perpetuated by Conservative Parties, right-wing think tanks and far-right social media pages (I’m looking at you, Canada Proud).

Myth: Carbon pricing is just a tax grab.

Fact: Under Trudeau’s plan, 90% of revenues will be returned to households when they file for income tax and 10% will go towards efficiency projects for schools, hospitals, and small business. Moreover, provinces have been given complete authority on how to disperse the rebate. For example, Manitoba alone recently received a $5.5 million to retrofit schools to green technologies. So what’s the point then? Reducing pollution means saving money, the more you as a household reduce your emissions the less carbon price you pay, but you get the same rebate no matter what. So if your house is totally green and emits zero GHG, you still get the carbon rebate – that’s the incentive.

Myth: Carbon pricing will cost Canadian families more.

Fact: Canada’s policy is one to ensure fairness. The current policy will return 90% of the revenues directly to households when they file their taxes. Under this system, approximately 70% of households will receive more in tax rebates than they pay in carbon costs.

Myth: Pricing pollution is a new idea; there is no proof to show that it is effective.

Fact: Carbon pricing has been around for decades. Since Sweden introduced their carbon tax in 1991, their economy has skyrocketed by 60% and their GHG emissions have reduced by 25%. The U.S. reduced pollution that causes acid rain by 34% in 14 years by putting a price on it. In Canada, Alberta and British Columbia have both had carbon taxes. In fact, British Columbia now pays the lowest income taxes in all of Canada and lowered their emissions since they implemented their tax in 2008 and reduced their fossil fuel consumption by 17.4% per capita.

Myth: There is no need for Canada to reduce its GHG emissions, what about other countries?

Fact: 46 countries now have a price on carbon. Our world is feeling the effects of climate change, and the example we set for others matters. Studies by scientists and research organizations have concluded that Canada is one of the world’s top 10 emitters; the average Canadian emits three times the global average. So yes, there is a need for us to implement a pricing model.

Myth: We can use other, better policies to reduce emissions.

Fact: Subsidies are usually the argued alternative (for smart thermostats or electric vehicles, for example) to carbon pricing, but generally these alternatives end up costing more. They make governments pick winners and make decisions about what technologies or activities to support. But in many cases, subsidies reward households or businesses that would have acted with a much smaller subsidy or even no subsidy at all. This undermines effectiveness and increases costs. Moreover, to fund subsidies, governments must also generate additional revenue through higher taxes, lower spending, or larger deficits.

Myth: The carbon tax will hurt and take away jobs.

Fact: Carbon pricing changes the kind of jobs we do, not the number. To be fair though, the job sector will be slightly impacted as we make the shift, but good public policy should be able to address that issue. Let’s take BC, for example: since their carbon tax was implemented, there was a job increase of 2% between 2007 and 2013 – that’s roughly 5,000 new jobs every year to clean service base jobs like health care.

Should Canadians continue the debate on carbon pricing? Absolutely. After all, that is what makes us a democracy. However, that means debunking the misunderstanding and myths that currently hinder healthy debate with each other. Hopefully this article has provided some valuable information and cleared the air on carbon taxing as we approach Election Day. For the most part, Trudeau’s carbon is a good thing; the NDP, Bloc Quebecois, and the Greens endorse carbon pricing, and, according to their platforms, would not revoke it - they see it as good a policy as do I. All except Andrew Scheer and the Conservative Party of Canada, as they would rather knowingly mislead Canadians on carbon pricing based on these myths. Essentially, they are lying to you. Do you want a party that has a real plan to fight climate change? Or would you rather return to the politics of the Harper years that did nothing for our environment? The choice is yours, of course… but to me, nothing is more important than leaving a healthy world behind for our kids and grandchildren. One thing is for certain: Andrew Scheer and the Conservative Party of Canada clearly think otherwise, and that is something to consider when you mark your ballot on October 21.

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