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National Opinion Centre

How have they gotten away with it? How have Doug Ford, Jason Kenney, and a cabal of other provincial politicians been able to separate the concept of a carbon tax from the threat of climate change?

Remember climate change? The increase in temperature caused by human activity that is threatening our planet. According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we are at a tipping point.  Unless we take radical action, millions of lives and our world’s economic well-being will be in jeopardy.

That is what a carbon tax is all about.

It’s a fee imposed on high Green House Gas (GHG) emitters that creates an incentive to adopt cleaner fuel sources and new technologies while encouraging consumers to curb their use of high GHG emitting products and services.  Although it may cost us all a bit more, governments have the option of returning the revenue to consumers through tax reductions or programming.

It has been endorsed by many leading experts, including William Nordhaus and Paul Romer, recent recipients of the Nobel Prize in economics.

You wouldn’t know any of this listening to Ford and his cronies.

According to the new Ontario premier, it is a “job killing tax that hikes the price of everything” designed to “fuel out of control government spending.” He and his allies have promised to do whatever is necessary to prevent the federal government from imposing the measure on the provinces.

Isn’t it time we fought back?

I know, it’s a tax.  And arguing in favour of taxes is about as popular as a mariachi band at a funeral but we need to be using stronger language than the prime minister’s observations that this is about fulfilling a mandate and making polluters pay.

Ford has more catchy lines and it’s time to step up our game.

First, let’s not be afraid to talk about the dangers of climate change a bit more aggressively, particularly our prime minister. He doesn’t need to be all doom and gloomy (no one wants a pessimistic prime minister) but he could use a little more passion to call on Canadians to unite to meet this pressing global challenge.

Second, try explaining the carbon tax with a little more detail. I admit that it is complicated and kind of boring but many Canadians simply don’t get how it works.  We need to find a straightforward way to explain it and not be afraid to repeat it over and over again. Believe it or not, ordinary people can understand these things.

Third, call out Ford and his Head-in-the-Sand Gang by demanding how they will fight climate change.

This is their real Achilles Heel. None of them has a real plan; although Ontario keeps saying that one is on the way (they recently set up a portal to consult Ontarians).  Perhaps the closest thing to a policy was Ford’s recent musings during an interview that his government would support companies that are good environmental stewards.  As for companies that are not, “well, we are going to pay them a visit.”

Although the threat of a visit from Doug Ford might be enough to deter some GHG emitters, I am not sure that represents a comprehensive approach.

Fourth, the federal government needs to square the circle between its fight against climate change and its obsession with building a pipeline and expanding our oil industry.  The two appear contradictory – because they are.  And although I am not suggesting that the feds swallow themselves whole on this issue, at least admitting that their approach may at times represent two steps forward and one back would take some of the sting out of those using the “hypocrite” label.

Every Canadian of a certain age has heard the old joke about the international gathering of elephant experts where each delegate gives a presentation that reinforces national stereotypes – the French speak of the elephant’s love life; the Germans present a psychological analysis of the elephant, etc.

What do the Canadians present?  You guessed it – the elephant: a federal or provincial responsibility?

Climate change is serious business and we can’t afford to see it turned into some stereotypical federal-provincial dispute over taxes. The stakes are too important.

John Milloy is a former MPP and Ontario Liberal cabinet minister currently serving as the Director of the Centre for Public Ethics and assistant professor of public ethics at Martin Luther University College, and the inaugural practitioner in residence in Wilfrid Laurier University’s Political Science department. He is also a lecturer in the University of Waterloo’s Master of Public Service Program. John can be reached at jmilloy@luther.wlu.ca or follow him on Twitter @John_Milloy
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