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July 22, 2024 July 22, 2024

Shields on carbon tax: ‘the fix is in’

Posted on July 1, 2024 by Vauxhall Advance

By Cal Braid
Southern Alberta Newspapers
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Bow River MP Martin Shields didn’t mince words when he spoke up in the House of Commons on June 17. With a general election scheduled to occur by October of 2025, the war of words between the parties continues unabated, and Shields and the Conservatives are doubling down. In March, the parliamentary budget officer (PBO), Yves Giroux, released his analysis of the impact of the federal fuel tax under the Emissions Reduction Plan, and many were curious to know whether Canadians are in fact losing or gaining money when it comes to the tax-and-rebate system. By early June, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre had been briefed that the PBO’s data was not only flawed, but that Giroux had been slapped with a “gag order” by the Liberals to keep secret the true cost of the tax to Canadians. It all came to a head in an unruly clash in the House and MP Shields didn’t hesitate to weigh in on the subject.

“Mr. Speaker, the fix is in,” Shields said. “Last week Conservatives forced the reveal of the secret report that the Prime Minister and his carbon-tax-obsessed environment minister covered up, which confirmed that the carbon tax costs families almost $2,000 per year, and every year $30 billion is lost in economic productivity. Liberals are so desperate to hide the truth, they publicly smeared and gagged the independent budget officer. When will the minister of economic and environment vandalism resign, or better yet, get fired?”

One of his counterparts, Kyle Seeback, of Dufferin-Caledon, ON said, “If Canadians wonder why it is hard to pay for things, this is why. If the average Canadian went to work, lied and covered something up, they would be fired. Will the prime minister fire the radical environment minister, who tried to cover this all up from Canadians?”

Steven Guilbeault, minister of environment and climate change, was having none of it. “Mr. Speaker, if anyone should resign in this House, it is the people who are misleading Canadians about the benefit of carbon pricing. There is 25 million tonnes less pollution in this country because of carbon pricing. We have a plan to work with Canadians to help them better prepare to face the impacts of climate change.”

He continued, “The Conservatives have nothing: no plans for adaptation, no plan to reduce the amount of pollution, and no plan for the economy. If anyone should resign, it should be them over there.”

Luc Berthold, Conservative MP for Mégantic—L’Érable, QC, continued the assault, saying, “First, he misled Canadians by falsely claiming that the carbon tax would financially benefit them, and then he hid from Canadians a study from his own department that said the opposite. When the PBO found out about it, the minister put a gag on him, preventing him from disclosing or referencing the study. Next, he tried to ruin the PBO’s reputation. When will the minister be fired for his economic extremism?”

Guilbeault shot back, “If anyone in the House ought to resign, it is the member who just spoke. Back in 2021, he campaigned on a promise of putting a price on pollution and introducing a clean fuel standard. What are the Conservatives doing today? They have turned their backs on those promises. 

They are the ones flip-flopping. They have no plan for the economy. They have no plan for helping Canadians deal with the impact of climate change. They have no plan for combatting climate change.”

Hiring and firing aside, one major problem with the carbon tax is that it lacks clarity. Listening to the parties as they go at each other’s throats does nothing to clarify the facts for voters. While the dispute makes clear what each party’s position is, it does little to illuminate the facts. A studious layperson can read the PBO’s report–a mere 28 pages–and still walk away confused. 

Unlike other policy documents, this one is short, but not intuitively comprehensible. Unless a layperson has a background in economics, it’s presented in a way that would be difficult to interpret, thus leaving it open for cherrypicking by politicians, so it dampens the impact of the report. Voters are left with taking a politician’s word for what it really says, and the parties are saying diametrically opposite things. The facts are elusive and not spelled out in plain English (or French).

In addition, if one takes the time to read a series of educated analyses of the report, a consensus emerges, asserting that the methodology used by the PBO has flaws in it and that it fails to account for the costs of alternative action plans, or worse, having no environmental plan at all.

As the parties continue the countdown to the next election, the dialogue almost surely needs to change. The he said/she said back-and-forth over the carbon tax will grow wearisome for voters. And while the Liberals have been forced to adopt a reactive, defensive posture against the relentless pressure from the Conservatives, they might be advised to turn it back around on the opposition. They might ask, “If we’re bungling this so badly, what’s the Conservative plan? And how much will that cost?” Any ‘green plan’ is going to come with a price tag, and moving forward with no feasible plan could be disastrous. The price for either will be steep. In the meantime, the discussions in the House seem to provide more dissension than information.

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