Liberals are either backing away from their emissions target, or backing away from carbon tax

 Andrew Coyne by Andrew Coyne

In its place we will get a lot more of the usual insanely expensive programs that don’t do much for the environment but don’t annoy the voters

Wait, what? What did the federal environment minister just say?

If I heard her right, Catherine McKenna announced there would be no increase in the federally-mandated levy on carbon dioxide (and equivalent) emissions — the carbon tax — beyond the $50 per tonne it is scheduled to reach in 2022. Here’s the quote: “The price will not go up…. the plan is not to increase the price post-2022.”

This strikes me as a remarkable turn of events. The federal Liberals have invested heavily in the idea of carbon pricing as the centrepiece of a national campaign to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 30 per cent from 2005 levels — the commitment to which both the past Conservative and the present Liberal government agreed as this country’s contribution to the Paris climate agreement.

And yet it was always apparent that, on present policies, we would not hit our target: rather than fall from 732 to 513 megatonnes by 2030, as promised in Paris, emissions are currently projected to fall only to 592 MT. It was commonly supposed until now that, to close that 79 MT gap, the carbon tax would have to rise beyond $50 after 2022, even if the Liberals were unwilling to admit it.

But now that the environment minister has ruled this out, what are we to think? Either the government in which she serves is not as committed to its commitments as we have been led to believe. Or it is retreating from carbon pricing as the means of achieving them.

The minister’s declaration came in response to a report from the Parliamentary Budget Office estimating how much the carbon tax would have to rise after 2022 to meet the 30 per cent-in-’30 target: by another $52 a tonne, the PBO calculates, bringing it to $102, or roughly double the currently planned maximum.

The news was treated as if it were some kind of bombshell. The Conservatives were reported to have “pounced” on the report in Question Period; my colleague John Ivison described it as providing them with “a storage depot of live ammunition to fire at the Liberals.” Columnist Don Martin agreed, calling it “dream attack material.”

Really? The report was not proposing the carbon tax be hiked to $102 overnight, but over the next eleven years (introduced this April, it currently sits at $20). Yes, as the Conservatives were quick to point out, that is the equivalent of about 23 cents per litre of gas at the pumps, or another 19 cents on top of this year’s four-cent increase. Over eleven years. On today’s national average price of about $1.20 a litre (your province may vary), that’s a total increase of about 16 per cent, or roughly 1.3 per cent per year. Will anyone even notice?

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