Carbon tax still doesn’t change things

Murray Mandryk

Even when it comes to issues as complex as climate change and the carbon tax, there usually is a bottom line.

And that bottom line is driven by common sense.

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So here’s the common sense in the wake of the federal Liberal government announcement last week that will return 90 per cent of all the money it collects from a its carbon price directly to the Canadians.

If you give people money to compensate them for the extra costs of gas and other things caused by a carbon tax, it’s quite likely they will continue to spend it on those exact behaviours that burn more carbon.

For that reason, it seems unlikely that Trudeau’s carbon tax will actually work.

If gas goes up 20 cents a litre, does it mean you will stop driving your kids to hockey or to drive to shopping?

Maybe if you had to bear the costs yourself, it would cause you to car pool when you take your kids to hockey. Maybe it might get you thinking about being a little more efficient when it comes to shopping trips you make when you drive.

In time, it might even have you thinking about getting a more fuel-efficient vehicle although in our climate, often plagued by ice and snowdrifts for six months of the year, that will remain a tough choice.

But what is the incentive to do so if you are getting a cheque back from government to cover the added gas costs? Will the money from Ottawa (an estimated $598 in Saskatchewan) be enough to help buy a new vehicle or making needed home renovations to improve energy efficiency?

“Starting next year, it will no longer be free to pollute anywhere in Canada,” Trudeau said in his announcement.

Ottawa will now impose a minimum price on pollution of $20 a tonne of carbon emissions on Jan. 1. Non-compliant provinces like Saskatchewan (along with Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick) will now have a federal carbon levy on fuels while large industrial emitters will face a cap-and-trade like system imposed on them, starting April 1.

While 90 per cent of the rebates will go back to households, the remaining 10 per cent will go back to small and medium-sized businesses, schools, hospitals and other organizations unable to pass back to consumers.

This is all designed to mitigate the impact on the public and others who will see carbon tax costs passed to them, but the Saskatchewan government doesn’t see it that way.

“We see it as a cynical vote-buying scheme using your money to buy your vote,” Premier Scott Moe told reporters

In fairness to Trudeau and the federal government, this isn’t exactly as Moe suggests.

Carbon pricing does seem to be at least based on a revenue-neutral premise that takes money from those the federal government deems to be polluters and giving it back to people to pay the added costs.

But, again, does that really address greenhouse gas emissions? Will it necessarily even change the behaviour of so-called emitters? After all, if their customers have money in their pockets from the federal government to pay the added carbon taxes that will now be required how does it really effect how business is done?

Certainly, one can be critical of provincial governments like Saskatchewan doing little other than being critical — always, the easy way out for politicians.

Ottawa has a legitimate point that Saskatchewan’s “Prairie Resilience” doesn’t really address coal-fired electrical generation that, arguably, is the province’s biggest single GHG emission issue.

But the Sask. Party government’s argument that it’s just not sound to send people cheques to compensate them for the secondary costs this tax seems to make sense.

The bottom line is this carbon tax won’t likely change behaviour.

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