The carbon tax, between sling and conservative educational exercise

La taxe carbone, entre fronde conservatrice et exercice éducatif

Photo: Ian Willms Getty Images Agence France-Presse
The attacks of the most virulent against the carbon tax federal from elected officials to the provinces producing oil, including Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.


The prime ministers of four provinces, all conservatives are in open warfare against the Trudeau government on the issue of the carbon tax, the centrepiece of the climate of the liberals. This sling, which has a degree of resonance among canadian citizens, however, could be countered in part by a pedagogical exercise, at the dawn of the election year. An exercise all the more important that the pricing of pollution represents only a first step which should be followed by gestures that are much more ambitious.

June 2008. Liberal leader Stéphane Dion has his green shift “, an ambitious environmental program developed to reduce pollution and encourage innovation. It will focus on the imposition of a carbon tax starting at $ 10 per tonne and rising to $ 40 after four years. You know the rest. The Harper conservatives have attacked the measure proposed by the liberals, who went on to suffer a crushing defeat in October 2008, in part because of the decision of betting on a shift-to-green.

The rhetoric of conservative repeats itself for months, this time against the “carbon tax” of the liberals of Justin Trudeau. This week, it was the turn of the government of new brunswick’s Blaine Higgs engage in the fight against the pricing of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). A former top executive of the oil company Irving, a supporter of the revival of the pipeline project Energy East and defender of the exploitation of shale gas in the province, Mr Higgs even plans to launch a lawsuit to win the case against Ottawa.

Ce text is part of our “Outlook” section.

The premier of New Brunswick is not alone in his struggle, since Saskatchewan has already launched its own legal action against the carbon tax found to be ” unconstitutional “, supported in his efforts by the province of Ontario for Doug Ford. The conservatives in alberta, who hope to replace the government néodémocrate already very pro-oil Rachel Notley in the spring of next year, appuientégalement the process. Manitoba, also led by a conservative government supporter of the oil sector, also announced in October its refusal of the pricing imposed by the federal government.

Canadians divided

Like the provincial governments, the carbon tax divides Canadians, according to a survey published in mid-November by the firm Mainstreet Research. The data indicate that about 49% of the population supports this measure, but that barely one-third of Albertans and the citizens of the Meadows are favourable. The same survey, however, shows that a majority (76 %) of Canadians are aware of the reality of the climate crisis caused by human activity, but also of the importance for the government to fight global warming, including in the name of moral duty toward future generations.

49 %

Nearly one Canadian in two supports the project of taxing carbon of the liberals, according to a survey of the firm Mainstreet Research.

This portrait seemingly contradictory does not surprise Michel Poitevin, a professor in the Department of economics of the University of Montreal. “We must not delude ourselves : to reduce our production of carbon will hurt. However, even if the people are all for the environment, few want to pay more to protect the environment. If we asked the people if they want the price of gas goes up to three dollars per litre, due to carbon pricing, I don’t think it would be very popular. Yet, this is what it should be. There is no magical thinking as possible, ” he explains.

If we asked the people if they want the price of gas goes up to three dollars per litre, due to carbon pricing, I don’t think it would be very popular. Yet, this is what it should be.

— Michel Poitevin

“It is now necessary to pay for the right to pollute and it is necessary that people understand that pollution has a price. It will take some time. There are a lot of education to do about it “, adds Mr. Poitevin. Education all the more important as the carbon tax and federal, that will be $ 20 per ton in 2019, which should subsequently increase up to $ 50 in 2022.

The economist François Delorme, who collaborated on the intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC), adds that this pricing will have to be even more important to encourage citizens to change their habits, and therefore generate significant reductions in GHG emissions. He stresses that it will have to be at least $ 130 in 2030.

Pedagogical exercise

How do I accept such a tax, given the resistance of some provinces ? “Any form of taxation is going to react and generate a form of resistance. It is thus necessary to demonstrate what is the purpose of the taxation. There is an educational component that is very important, otherwise the dispute can become very strong “, according to Mr. Delorme. It would be important, according to him, to explain the principle of the ” double dividend “. “You tax the product that generates the pollution, so there is a benefit to the environment, but it keeps giving back the money to citizens, for example through a reduction of taxes. “

Mr. Delorme also stresses the importance of investing a portion of the tax in the development of infrastructure and measures that promote the energy transition. “But it is extremely important to add accountability and an accountability strict and exemplary in the case of these sums, so that the population can follow the “circuit” of the tax, its perception to the funds spent. This is the problem of the green Fund in Quebec : its opacity, and some investments as “doubtful” criticized by the office of the Auditor general “, but also the Board of management of the green Fund.

This educational exercise is also important in the context where the carbon tax should normally be followed by further measures that would likely be very unpopular, according to Michel Poitevin. He cites as an example the idea of establishing tolls on bridges in major cities such as Montreal, but also the imposition of stricter rules to combat urban sprawl, or even the establishment of a ” bonus-malus “, which allows to penalize the purchase of inefficient cars, for example SUVS.

Without the implementation of additional measures, Canada will not achieve its objectives of reduction of GHGS, by themselves insufficient to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement, summarizes Annie Chaloux, a professor at the School of applied politics at the University of Sherbrooke.

Despite the shortcomings of the federal plan, the challenge could bring the liberals back more, ” she warns. “One may wonder if Justin Trudeau will attempt to spare the goat and cabbage by choosing to reduce the ambitions of the carbon tax. If he does that, it will only delay the emission reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. “

According to Ms. Chaloux, Ottawa must resist the attacks of the provincial governments. “This protest is more of a slingshot policy on the part of politicians conservatives as a popular will to oppose to the mechanics of the carbon tax. Citizens are becoming more aware and gaining a better understanding of climate issues. They want policies that are more ambitious, and it is the job of the government to develop these policies. “

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