Nice to see that my old friend Mark Cameron has a deputy ministerial job with Jason Kenney. Hi Mark. Now I wonder if I can get you fired for your views on carbon taxes.
Well, not fired exactly. More like transferred to a job where your abundant talents can be useful and you can’t do harm on the climate file. Possibly in a different province.
I try to wish nobody ill. But Mark is in the rally-round-the-white-flag camp on climate. He’s been pushing hard for carbon taxes as (a) the most economically rational way to respond to the supposed climate crisis and meet our Paris treaty obligations and (b) therefore the most conservative way to do so. And his position is neither obtuse nor malevolent.
Like many other people making the same argument, Mark is smart and well-meaning. Regrettably neither good intentions nor high IQ furnish ironclad protection against error.
In this case, as has been pointed out repeatedly, for Paris-plus-carbon taxes to be good policy instruments for Canada they must meet five criteria. First, the taxes must replace regulations not add to them. Second, they must be high enough to force sufficient changes in behaviour to meet the target. Third, they must be imposed internationally. Fourth, their benefits must exceed their costs. And fifth, they must address a real problem.
It’s not Mark’s fault the Trudeau tax boots the first and second criteria. And I’m sure he would be happy to reduce regulations around climate though to this point he has not been very vocal on that topic. But what about point two?
To be high enough to reduce emissions significantly, carbon taxes need to be high enough to force us to cut back drastically on fossil fuels which, until the unicorn power comes online in a sparkling rainbow of the good, clean jobs of the future of which the prophets have long spoken, means cutting back drastically on energy and being a lot poorer. Is that really what they want?
Does Mark, or any other self-appointed guardian of conservative orthodoxy on climate like Preston Manning, really want to push carbon taxes to $300 or $400 a tonne? If so, they must avoid the Trudeau fatuity of taxing carbon so we can afford less gas, then giving us the money back so we can afford more gas.
Because of the third criterion it’s also fatuous to want a domestic carbon tax with no plan to impose one on, oh, I don’t know, China. But if we don’t, nothing we do in Canada is worth a plate of dingo’s kidneys. And if anyone has a plan to make about 150 nations around the world promise to cut emissions dramatically, and punish them if they don’t, I’d love to hear it.
Then there are criteria four and five. Science does not require anyone to subscribe to the “catastrophe” view on climate, nor does it forbid us challenging it on the facts (as we do regularly at climatediscussionnexus.com). And once you stop parroting the crisis jargon any notion that minuscule Canadian policy initiatives will yield benefits that exceed the costs falls apart.
It’s possible that Cameron, Manning and others really believe in a man-made global warming catastrophe. And like Doug Ford and Andrew Scheer, Kenney claims to; in denouncing the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal ruling that the federal carbon tax is constitutional Kenney said “the new government of Alberta takes our environmental responsibilities very seriously and during the election we put forward a serious plan for reducing GHG emissions.” But I smell appeasement here.
It looks politically clever to avoid an argument over science while promising relief from the slightest hint of pain at the pump. For some reason conservative politicians are desperately afraid of being labeled “deniers” by people who hate them anyway. But as the saying goes “You don’t make friends of your enemies by making enemies of your friends.” And what starts as a cynical tactic has a way of becoming policy.
Kenney doesn’t need appeasers whispering in his ear. He needs people saying out loud what needs to be said. The science is anything but settled and on the evidence, the gentle warming since 1860, whatever its cause, has been mostly harmless, even beneficial. And if the planet does turn out to be warming in worrying ways, for natural or man-made reasons, it’s probably far more cost-effective to adapt than stand athwart the rising seas crying “Halt”. Is there any challenge posed by economic growth that hasn’t yielded better to the ingenious application of growing resources and better technique than to forced stagnation and impoverishment? If not, this problem isn’t likely to either. If it even is a problem.
What is a problem is that after Kenney has said the crisis is real he’s going to be asked to do something about it. Namely an economy-crushing, internationally binding, unhelpful carbon tax. And now he’s hired Mark Cameron.
Mark is a fine chap and a clever one. But he’s in the wrong job.