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Scrapping cap-and-trade scheme, lower gas prices are Ford’s populist priority

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Having campaigned on a populist platform, Doug Ford is pressing ahead with that stance just days into the job as Ontario’s new premier.

Ford plans to axe the province’s carbon cap-and-trade scheme as part of his plan to lower gasoline costs by ten cents per litre. The move ticks two populist boxes: scrubbing an unpopular Liberal tax grab and promising lower fuel prices.

Cap-and-trade added 4.3 cents to each litre of gasoline.

“We are getting Ontario out of the carbon-tax business,” said Ford in a statement.

“Our focus will be to give people lower gas prices, lower energy bills and a real break in their wallets in order to get our economy going and create jobs. Help is here,” he added in a style reminiscent of his campaign trail sound bites.

In killing the cap-and-trade plan, which has thus seen Ontario business purchase some $2.9 billion in credits, Ford is on solid populist footing, the scheme having been an ill-considered cash grab by his predecessor, the much-reviled Kathleen Wynne. He’ll get brownie points just for that.

More to the point, cap-and-trade is a weak way to curb emissions. It’s wide open to abuse. A direct carbon tax, applied to everything, makes more sense in this context. The bigger problem? Ontarians didn’t trust Wynne to do what’s right given a record of corruption and incompetence – see the results of June 7 for confirmation. We simply assumed that the scheme did nothing to change emissions while her government squandered the money trying to buy votes and lining the pockets of friends and supporters.

Wynne’s disingenuousness was not lost on many Ontarians, and that extended to the cap-and-trade scheme itself. It’s a money grab, pure and simple. Otherwise, why not go for a broadly applied carbon tax, with reductions in income and other taxes to make the program revenue neutral? It’s only a coincidence that the province expected to rake in as much as $2 billion to spend/waste as it sees fit?

Critics have noted the complex cap-and-trade scheme simply makes it look like emissions are getting lower without actually doing much environmental good. At the end of the day, the main beneficiary is the provincial treasury.

So, the scheme has the trappings of government action, but without any results. And we’re all poorer for it, both immediately due to taxes and in the long run because we’ll still be on the hook for massive remediation costs related to climate change.

It’s cancellation is a populist no-brainer for Ford.

“Every cent spent from the cap-and-trade slush fund is money that has been taken out of the pockets of Ontario families and businesses,” he said.

“We believe that this money belongs back in the pockets of people. Cancelling the cap-and-trade carbon tax will result in lower prices at the gas pump, on your home heating bills and on virtually every other product that you buy.”

Few of us are going to complain about lower fuel costs, though it remains to be seen if the freed-up tax money isn’t simply added to company profits, as expected – Ford’s admonitions and promises to monitor the situation notwithstanding. But the decision also plays into a climate-change denial script popular among certain political types.

Much of the online and media chatter centers on the growing skepticism about anthropogenic global warming, not skepticism from credible scientists, but from industry-backed lobbyists and a growing number of us simply tired of all the talk. Of course, the work of the deniers has muddied the waters, which is precisely what they’re after. Ford and some of his supporters fall into this category.

Much like smoking, acid rain and the ozone layer, the goal of those with vested interests in the status quo lied, faked the data and organized fraudulent front groups to sow dissent, all in the name of maintaining profits, health and the public interest be damned. The same is true in the debate over climate change. Well, not debate, as there is near-universal consent among experts and those knowledgeable in the field – there is no other side to the story save for those bought and paid for to be there.

It’s been an effective campaign, because we’ve had little action. Many of us don’t even want to think about it, as that might lead to lifestyle changes, or even extra costs. Of course, we can mitigate greenhouse gases today, or we can pay out much more tomorrow for the devastating impacts of climate change, costs that will make the current billions spent on post-disaster cleanups seem paltry.

The public is increasingly aware of this, yet governments continue to do little more than give lip service to the issue – witness the string of conferences and summits that generate naught but hot air. In the end, it’s the money and the power it buys that dictates what actually happens.

Canada is no different. The government is beholden to large resource companies, increasingly foreign-owned. The average Canadian, while a low priority individually, still warrants some consideration as part of the voting mass. And Canadians have grown tired of the debate, and will not support one dime travelling out of the country on some ill-fated cap-and-trade, carbon offsets or environmental reparations scheme cooked up by an unaccountable international group.

We simply do not believe politicians and bureaucrats capable of creating a system that isn’t corrupt, ineffective and likely to waste money. History has shown us such agreements are rarely to the benefit of average
citizens.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t be making our own efforts to combat climate change. Canada contributes about two per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions despite having less than half of one per cent of the world’s population. Clearly we can do better. In the absence of international agreements, however, going it alone may require some other changes, including increasing protectionism. There’s no point in lowering emissions standards for manufacturers in Canada, or even the U.S., if goods from China and other major polluters can come into the market with impunity. Worse still, such tactics could end up encouraging even more transfer of Western jobs to offshore locations where the environment regulations are as lax as labour and human rights protection.

Estimates tied to the kind of emission reductions deemed necessary to offset the worst of climate change run into the hundreds of billions of dollars. Coupled to the lifestyle changes and potential economic upheaval, the costs seem too onerous. If the worst does happen, we’re going to be spending far more to deal with the damage and mitigation factors … but that’s something that may happen in the future, and we seem prepared to cross that bridge when the time comes.

In the meantime, well, c’mon, who doesn’t like cheaper gasoline?

 

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