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Ontario Premier Doug Ford revved up his rhetoric about carbon taxes Wednesday, claiming without evidence that his government would protect the public from rising prices.
Ford delivered the partisan message at a staged event in a suburban community west of the Greater Toronto Area, launching into a full-frontal assault on the federal government’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, without acknowledging the science underpinning global efforts to stabilize the planet’s atmosphere and prevent dangerous climate change.
Instead, Ford portrayed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government as a job-killing machine intent on pushing prices up and his provincial government as protector of working Ontarians in remarks at a trucking facility in Cambridge, adding that a price on pollution was incompatible with keeping well-paying trucking and manufacturing jobs in the province.
He also sought to pitch the environment and the economy as two mutually exclusive entities in a fight in which his Progressive Conservative government, along with like-minded New Brunswick, have lent their support to Saskatchewan in its legal challenge to the federal government's constitutional right to impose the price on carbon, which is known to cause adverse environmental effects.
We're fighting the carbon tax with every tool at our disposal to support @OnTruck workers, like those at @ChallengerMF. A carbon tax will hurt manufacturing jobs, small business jobs and trucking jobs in Ontario. And it will drive up the cost of gas, home heating and groceries. pic.twitter.com/SXllwiFoLT— Doug Ford (@fordnation) March 13, 2019
“The number one enemy of Ontario jobs is the federal government’s carbon tax,” Ford told reporters and members of the trucking industry. “My friends, make no mistake, the carbon tax is the worst tax ever bar none. And starting April 1, the federal carbon tax is going to hit your family’s budget like a ton of bricks.”
In the 20 minutes of speeches by Ford, Environment Rod Phillips and Kitchener-Waterloo MPP Amy Fee, the term “climate change” was mentioned only once when Ford reminded the crowd that “carbon tax is not the only way to fight climate change.”
While this is accurate, Ford mentioned no clear alternative tool the government would be employing. Neither did he mention of the cost of doing nothing about climate change.
Most economists and environmentalists agree that a price on pollution in some form is needed to ensure a smooth transition to a low-carbon society and prevent global warming levels to increase to disastrous levels over the next 12 years.
In 2007, a report sponsored by the British government by economist Nicolas Stern warned that unabated climate change would cause “damages on a scale larger than the two world wars of the last century.” But he added that countries could avoid devastating impacts by making immediate investments to fix the problem.
But Ontario’s premier and his government strongly oppose this policy, promising on Wednesday yet again, to fight the federal carbon tax “with every tool and power at its disposal” after a long preamble about the government’s contribution to creating more jobs in the province.
“The carbon tax will make no difference to the environment,” Ford said, “it’s the word carbon in front of the word tax.”
Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Romer would likely disagree. He says carbon taxes are the solution to climate change.
While Ford also described federal climate change policies as a “tax grab” that would make everything more expensive, the truth is that efforts to price carbon pollution would be offset by federal carbon rebates, compensating average households and rewarding those who take steps to reduce their own environmental footprint.
The Trudeau government in Ottawa says it is sending all the money it collects back to the province's taxpayers as part of this year tax return. These rebates are estimated to be about $307 for a family of four in 2019 and will increase annually until 2022.
These rebates were not mentioned in Ford’s comments Wednesday.
Ford also claimed Wednesday that the federal tax would make Ontario business less competitive in global markets, akin to operating with “one hand tied behind your back.”
This is likely false, as small and medium-sized businesses have a special fund under the federal plan, although the details are still to be determined. And, Ecofiscal Commission research estimates that Canada’s GDP would be up to 3.8 per cent higher by 2020 if we relied on carbon pricing starting in 2015 instead of inflexible regulations to meet emissions targets.
“By now it’s clear. You can be for jobs or you can be for the carbon tax. But you can’t be for both,” Ford said. “The risk of a carbon tax recession is real.”
Research suggests that carbon pricing does not adversely affect overall employment, but does change the types of jobs in the economy by moving them to low-carbon industries.
The notion of a carbon tax recession has been disputed countless times by economists across Canada and around the world and labelled as “hyperbole.” It is even disputed by Ontarians in a poll conducted by Clean Energy Canada.
Still, neither Ford nor Phillips mentioned the rising costs of climate change impacts.
Green industry sources say many of the same technical and operational skills required in existing industrial practice can be applied to newer, greener alternatives - which exist in the form of solar and wind energy facilities near chemical plants or in retrofitting existing facilities to focus on energy efficiency, for example.
And while Ford committed to supporting the trucking industry Wednesday and touted their innovative methods that has reduced fuel efficiency, neither the premier nor his climate plan make apparent how the Ontario Tories will support greener alternatives to the carbon tax.
Ironically, based on its recent environmental proposals the Ford agreement agrees with some kind of price on pollution. After a 60-day consultation on its overall “Made-in-Ontario” plan in December, which received some 14,000 comments, the government proposed a string of related legislation about emission performance standards and renewable content in fuels, which are open for public consultation till the end of March.
‘The new front of climate denial’
Green Leader Mike Schreiner dismissed the event as a repeat of the premier’s climate denial position and called on him "to stop wasting your tax dollars sabotaging climate solutions" with an "appeal to conspiracy theories."
"The Ford government cannot find money to support children with autism, but it can find money for a politically motivated campaign against solutions to the climate crisis," he said in a statement, referring to drastic changes to autism support funding that Lisa MacLeod, the minister for children, community and social services, announced last month.
"We need to call this out for what it is: the new front of climate denial that defies everything experts, scientists, economists and business leaders are telling us."
Experts accused the Ford government of ignoring the best advice available and polarising Canadians on a critical issue.
“On issues like pricing pollution where some political leaders are aiming to polarize Canadians, it’s critical that evidence and expertise trump political posturing and sound bites,” Merran Smith, executive director of Clean Energy Canada told National Observer in a statement. “Most Canadians believe evidence and expertise are essential—not optional—for good policy.”
Environmental Defence’s Sarah Buchanan urged the Ford government “to move on from endless photo ops and legal battles” and take strong action.
In the meantime, the Trudeau Liberals are running radio ads in Ontario saying they have “a strong plan” focused on fighting climate change.
The ad takes a jab at the federal Conservatives and their provincial cousins, with Trudeau saying, "Now, some politicians want to go back to the Harper years when pollution was free. We have to do better than that. Our kids are counting on us."
The prime minister was in Toronto for a campaign-style climate rally last week that was interrupted by protestors upset about his push to get more pipelines built.
Ottawa-area Liberal MPP Nathalie Des Rosiers accused Ford of creating more damage via the uncertainty of drastic policy change.
“Ontarians have whiplash from the chaos that has defined this government," she said in a statement. Experts in the field agree that a price on pollution is critical to reducing emissions. Economists in Ontario agree that Doug Ford’s fear mongering about a ‘carbon tax recession’ is completely misguided, and yet this government willfully ignores the best evidence available."
Editor's note: This story was updated on March 13, 2019 at 6:01 p.m. to include additional research and statements.