OTTAWA—Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says his party’s version of the carbon price on fuel would not automatically replace the existing levy that sparked resistance from Ontario Premier Doug Ford and other Conservatives across the country.
In a virtual sit-down with the Star’s editorial board on Tuesday, O’Toole said the Conservative carbon price is meant as an “alternative” to the existing system and that provinces where the current scheme applies — like Ontario — would get to decide whether to adopt the new one.
He did not say when the Conservative system would be ready, only that an O’Toole government would seek to engage provinces on the subject “very quickly.”
“This is something that Ontario might embrace, but I don’t speak for the province,” O’Toole said Tuesday. “We would offer them a plan to transition to this approach that would not be a federal carbon tax.”
The Conservative platform says the party would “scrap” the existing consumer carbon price, which the Liberals implemented through a 2018 law that spawned staunch opposition from federal Conservatives and like-minded provinces. Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan joined forces to challenge the policy all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in March that the federal carbon price was constitutional.
Now, the policy his party is proposing is a different version of the existing Liberal carbon pricing system.
Instead of increasing the fuel levy from $40 per tonne of emissions this year to $170 per tonne in 2030, as the Liberals propose, O’Toole’s levy would max-out at $50 per tonne.
The Conservatives would also replace the current system’s rebates — which are sent as flat payments to households — with a rewards-style “Personal Low Carbon Savings Account” that allows people to use all the money they pay through the levy on “green” purchases like bicycles or an energy-efficient furnace.
That means, instead of receiving $300 this year no matter how much fuel they burn, a single adult in Ontario would get to use all of the money they pay through the levy on government-approved purchases.
The other component of the federal carbon price, the special system for heavy-polluting industries, would remain the same under the Conservative plan, though their platform says the party would only allow this industrial carbon price to rise to $170 per tonne — as the Liberals pledge — if that falls in line with policies among key trading partners like the United States and European Union.
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Earlier Tuesday in Richmond, B.C., Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau continued to criticize the Conservatives’ climate plan, which would revert to Canada’s weaker emissions target for 2030. Trudeau also seized upon O’Toole’s praise for the defunct Northern Gateway oil pipeline that would have traversed northern B.C., and pointed out the Conservatives pledge to reverse the Liberal government’s ban on oil tanker exports from the northern coast of the province.
“That’s the wrong choice for British Columbians, that’s the wrong choice for Canadians,” Trudeau said. “Mr. O’Toole is laying out a vision of this country that would take us back.”
Trudeau also tried to lure NDP supporters concerned about climate change, positioning his Liberals as the sole party progressives can trust to prevent the Conservatives from weakening federal climate policies.
“We are the ones that can stop the Conservatives from getting elected and taking us back on climate,” Trudeau said.
The Liberals’ climate platform calls for a cap on emissions from the oil and gas sector — which have increased almost 20 per cent from 2005 to 2019, with oilsands emissions more than doubling over that time — that would start in 2025 and decrease to net-zero along with the rest of the economy by 2050.
The party also pledges to ban thermal coal exports by 2030, and mandate that all new cars sold in Canada by 2035 are zero-emission vehicles.
The Conservatives say they would mandate 30 per cent of new cars sold in 2030 are zero-emission.
The NDP, meanwhile, have pointed out that Canada’s national emissions have increased since the Liberals took power in 2015, and accuse Trudeau of failing to fulfil his promise to eliminate government supports to the fossil fuel sector.
The Liberals have said they would phase out subsidies that encourage oil and gas exploration and production by 2025.
Alex Ballingall is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @aballinga
Stephanie Levitz is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @StephanieLevitz
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