By Christine Van Geyn
The next leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives needs to take a page from Saskatchewan’s playbook, and be a national leader against carbon taxes. Striking down the Wynne cap-and-trade carbon tax is an obvious start.
Cap-and-trade is overly bureaucratic, sends billions of dollars out of the province to Quebec and California, and lacks transparency as it doesn’t appear on our rising energy bills.
But, Ontario families and businesses who pay for cap-and-trade deserve more than just its repeal. They deserve a commitment that the next premier will fight a deficit-laden federal government from imposing a carbon tax on us.
The Trudeau carbon tax as currently designed would actually cost more than the current problematic cap-and-trade tax.
Experts predict that by 2022, cap-and-trade will cost households $300 per year, while a higher federal carbon tax will cost households $707 per year. For households with children, that cost rises to around $900 per year.
When Patrick Brown announced that he would support a so-called “revenue-neutral” carbon tax, it was without any consultation with grassroots party members. Instead, it was a plan concocted by backroom players who were somehow convinced that running on a pro-tax platform would make the PC party more electable.
Yet, the Brown carbon tax plan was unpopular with the PC base, and a poll last year found that voters were 58 per cent less likely to support a candidate who wants a Brown-style direct carbon tax. This distaste was especially pronounced among PC and undecided voters.
Hardly a winning strategy.
Continuing to promote the Brown fallacy of “revenue neutrality” will have devastating consequences for the PCs and for Ontario. By 2022, a federal carbon tax will cost Ontario $5.1 billion per year, and there is no guarantee the money will be returned to the taxpayers who paid it.
The current Trudeau bill does not require that money be given directly back to the provincial governments that do not have their own carbon tax. Instead, the federal government can provide rebates to prescribed individuals and corporations directly.
This means a PC government may not have access to the federal carbon tax revenue if they repeal cap-and-trade and allow the federally imposed tax.
The old Brown election platform could not afford this. It was counting on the federal government imposing a carbon tax, and then providing those new billions in taxpayer money to the PCs to spend on their campaign promises. If the federal government spends that revenue, the PCs wouldn’t be able to pursue Brown’s promises, and they will have laid down on the carbon tax for nothing.
With Brown gone there is a chance for the PC Party to dump the carbon tax albatross and dramatically reduce their expensive campaign promises.
This is perfectly within the leadership rules set out by the PC executive on February 1. The rules require leadership candidates to support the aims, principles, and objects of the PC Party and the policy resolutions adopted at the recent policy convention. But, the Brown carbon tax was never put to a vote by party membership at the fall policy convention, largely because the membership would never have supported it.
Instead, a resolution was adopted, committing the party to unwinding cap-and-trade carbon tax, and committed that all revenue from any federally imposed carbon tax would be returned to taxpayers. Based on the federal legislation, this door may be closed.
All leadership candidates are therefore free to, and must, campaign on a platform that they will fight a federally imposed carbon tax the way Brad Wall did and the way new Saskatchewan premier Scott Moe is now doing.
Ontario should be a leader in our confederation on making energy more affordable, not a lemming, running towards the same carbon tax cliff as our prime minister.
Christine Van Geyn is the Ontario director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Canada’s leading non-partisan citizens’ advocacy group fighting for lower taxes, less waste, and accountable government.
This column originally appeared in the Financial Post.