Ontario Election 2018

Cap-and-Trade is Not a Carbon Tax

Doug Ford is a classic shameless right-wing populist, and his indifference to basic facts should alarm all of us.

By Ryan McGreal
Published April 16, 2018

Under former leader Patrick Brown, the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party took global warming seriously. Brown's "People's Guarantee" pledged to replace Ontario's current cap-and-trade system with a carbon tax, which would generate $2 billion in revenue. To make it revenue-neutral, Brown also promised $2 billion in other tax cuts to offset the carbon tax.

I always thought it a bit silly to go through the trouble and market disruption of replacing an established, working greenhouse gas emissions control system with a different one. However, it was so gratifying to see a conservative actually prepared to do something about global warming that I wasn't willing to make a big deal out of it.

Of course, a lot can happen in a few months. Early this year, Brown was forced out of leadership after CTV News ran a story detailing multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against him.

The PC Party held a compressed leadership campaign to pick a new leader to take the party into this June's provincial election. The victor is Doug Ford, a classic shameless right-wing populist, a wealthy elite pretending to be anti-elitist who deals in simplistic, repetitive slogans and remains indifferent to the truth.

Carbon Tax

Take Ford's talking point that he will "get rid of the carbon tax". This is literal nonsense. Ontario does not have a carbon tax to get rid of.

A carbon tax is exactly what it sounds like, a tax on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

GHG emissions are a market externality - a negative side-effect of a market transaction the cost of which does not apply to either the buyer or the seller. What a carbon tax does is try to internalize that cost by assigning a price to the activity that produces the emissions.

Putting a price on carbon incentivizes people and businesses to choose lower-emissions alternatives and to innovate to reduce emissions. It is a conservative, market-based solution to a serious environmental problem.

Cap-and-Trade

Ford pledges to get rid of the carbon tax, but we don't currently have a carbon tax.

What we have is a cap-and-trade system, which is not a tax and is not anything like a tax. In a cap-and-trade system, the regulatory agency sets an overall limit on the total amount of industrial carbon emissions, and companies that go over their target must buy offset credits from companies that stay under their target.

It's a marketplace that uses pricing to "drive efficiencies" in Ford's bizspeak-jargon by incentivizing companies to reduce their emissions so they can sell their spare carbon credits to companies that go over.

Each year, the total allowable emissions are ratcheted down in a predictable way, which steadily reduces the overall industry-wide emissions.

The exact same mechanism was hugely successful at eliminating the air pollutants that cause acid rain.

Carbon Tax vs. Cap-and-Trade

Cap-and-trade works differently from a carbon tax, but they are both examples of the kind of market-based policy tool that conservatives who care about the environment should be championing.

It is not a "tax" by any meaningful sense of the term, and Ford either doesn't understand the difference or doesn't care. In any case, he doesn't support either tool - his climate change plan is to do nothing.

Ironically, the Federal Government has implemented a national climate change strategy and warned that any provinces which refuse to implement their own GHG reduction strategies will have a carbon tax imposed on them.

So ironically, the most likely way Ontario will get a carbon tax is if if Ford becomes Premier and kills the cap-and-trade system.

Dangerous Populist

Doug Ford was an early and controversial entrant in the PC leadership contest. Ford is a former one-term Etobicoke Councillor and brother to the late Toronto mayor Rob Ford, a man beset with demons whose chaotic term was characterized by endless scandal: gross violations of democratic norms, conflicts of interest, racist and homophobic slurs, reading and texting while driving, public intoxication, drug abuse, association with organized criminals and more.

Doug was Rob's most belligerent champion and enabler, denying the accusations against Rob and lashing out at the journalists and opposition politicians trying to hold him to some kind of account.

Rob ran for re-election as mayor in 2014, but had to drop out that September after he was diagnosed with pleomorphic liposarcoma, a rare and aggressive cancer. (He died in 2016.) Doug took over the reins of the Ford Nation mayoral re-election campaign but lost to John Tory.

Doug has never sat as an MPP, though his father was an influential PC powerbroker and an MPP from 1995 to 1999.

None of Doug's history - a history that includes serious allegations that he was a "go-to dealer of hash" in the 1980s - stopped the PC Party's candidate vetting committee from allowing him onto the ballot. Nor did it stop a plurality of PC members to vote for him as the leader. He edged out Christine Elliott, who had more votes, due to the vagaries of the PC voting system.

Doug Ford as the leader of the PC Party is a big problem for the PC Party and for Ontario.

His campaign has already been marked by open hostility toward media questions, steadfast refusal to allow the news media to follow his campaign, and the craziest press conference I've ever seen from a major provincial party leader.

Doug Ford is dangerous. Not to the "elites" - he is exactly what the elites want. His promised tax cuts will disproportionately benefit the most wealthy Ontarians while leaving low-income residents in the cold.

No, he is dangerous to the fabric of a liberal democracy based on the idea that facts still matter. If he runs the Province anything like he has run his campaign so far, it will be an unmitigated disaster.

If recent events south of the border have taught us anything, it's that the responsibility of leadership does not necessarily result in shameless populists moderating their behaviour once they win power. If anything, it makes them even more unrestrained.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By JohnVail (registered) | Posted April 17, 2018 at 02:11:15

In my opinion Doug Ford's message is resonating with Hamiltonians and with Ontarians fed up with status quo politics and politicians.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 17, 2018 at 09:20:59 in reply to Comment 122797

John, I know you to be a decent, principled conservative. Setting all partisanship aside, can you honestly say that you think Doug Ford is a qualified, responsible, respectable candidate for the highest office in the Province?

I get that he won the leadership campaign (even though Christine Elliott won the popular vote), but are you really okay with Ford's rampant dishonesty, his simplistic sloganeering, his bullying and abuse of journalists and politicians he doesn't like, and his shameful, unapologetic history as an enabler and enforcer during the chaotic mayoralty of his brother?

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