If we care about the future of the planet, the only issue that should matter is the environment.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

October 27th, 2018



The Trudeau Liberals are getting worried, some might say panicky, about their most important signature program – climate change. When polled, Canadians claim to be almost universally aware, even though fewer people are convinced of our role in the problem or that climate change is even a real threat. But awareness in opinion polls doesn’t always translate into what happens at the election polls, as we’ve seen in Ontario and New Brunswick recently, and possibly Alberta next spring.

Easter Island statues

This wasn’t the solution for Easter Island – the problem cannot be ignored.

Given the most recent scientific report, global warming will be the single most important issue people will be voting on in the federal election next year. The battle lines are already drawn. The Conservative party, which has never had a climate plan, will stand alone among today’s parties. And if Andrew Scheer becomes Canada’s next prime minister, federal policy will be a replay of what is happening at Queen’s Park. Scheer would terminate Canada’s most important program to fight carbon emissions – the carbon tax.

Two years ago, as Canada was signing onto the Paris climate change agreement, every sub-national government in the country, but one, embraced the Pan-Canadian Framework, a market-based national climate plan, including carbon pricing. It was a rare moment of national conciliation. The feds wouldn’t unilaterally impose a carbon tax where carbon pricing was already underway, as it was in Canada’s four largest provinces at the time.

The other provinces were given time to come up with their own carbon pricing system but Manitoba, Sask. and New Brunswick flunked the laugh test, and Ontario gave Mr. Trudeau the finger. So these provinces and the territories will get a federally imposed tax this January where the money collected will be rebated through the income tax system directly to residents in those jurisdictions.

The $20 per tonne tax will cost about 4 cents at the gas pumps and about 3 cents for natural gas. The critics rightly say the tax isn’t high enough to get people to switch to lower carbon emitting alternatives, such as electric vehicles (EV) and electric heating. But those who reduce their use of fossil fuels will still be the winners – with more cash in their pockets than they had to payout in carbon taxes.

Nissan Leaf

One of the way we can reduce what we do to the environment.

Market signals work for both demand and supply. Consumers will be given another reason to go green, especially as the tax gradually jumps to $50 in 2022 One can see how a rational car buyer would want to consider the cost of gasoline when choosing between buying an SUV, a Prius or a Nissan Leaf And that market signal should also prompt the auto companies to increase the supply of hybrid fuel as well as pure EVs – the ultimate solution.

The critics are right that the the $20 per tonne carbon tax is too low an incentive for people to break with their business as usual. It’s a start but slightly higher fuel prices are not enough. So other market based instruments might be a good idea. Economic incentives for doing the right thing, like buying EV’s, weather proofing your residence or business, and converting your heating systems to clean renewable electricity would be a good idea. Gosh weren’t those the programs Ontario’s new government just cancelled?

Some European countries and even China have announced they will be banning all gasoline powered cars in the future. Now that is a powerful market signal to auto makers to jump start more technological progress and to car buyers thinking about resale values. Perhaps that strategy will appear in the plans of Scheer and Ford, when they eventually get around to drafting one.

Rivers EV charging stations

If we could turn these EV charging stations into status symbols we just might change some minds.

And of course there is a need for education. After almost two decades after being introduced into Canadian market place it is astounding the number of people who still have no idea that gas-electric hybrid cars exist, and that buying one could save as much 50% of their annual gas bill. After owning my Prius for 200,000 kms I calculated I’d driven the last 100,000 kms for free.

Of course other matters will come up in the course of the election, like the federal debt and deficit, social and immigration policy, taxation, and possibly trade or other international matters. But if we care about the future of the planet, the only issue that should matter is the environment, and what we’re prepared to do about climate change in particular.

Rivers hand to faceRay Rivers writes regularly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was once a candidate for provincial office in Burlington.  He was the founder of the Burlington citizen committee on sustainability at a time when climate warming was a hotly debated subject.   Ray has a post graduate degree in economics that he earned at the University of Ottawa.  Tweet @rayzrivers


Background links:

Pan-Canadian Plan –   Technology –   How Climate Change Will Look –   Opinion Polls

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9 comments to If we care about the future of the planet, the only issue that should matter is the environment.

  • Stephen White

    Imposing a carbon tax and then refunding 90% of it in the form of rebates doesn’t strike me as a particularly efficient strategy, unless of course one considers the Prime Minister’s re-election a noble thing. I would submit, as writer Mike above as indicated, that it would make more sense impacting consumers’ buying habits at the point of purchase and providing better incentives for the acquisition of energy efficient products:

    – am energy focused differential sales tax that would see energy efficient products taxed at a much lower rate than those that aren’t;
    – encouraging trucking companies to convert their fleets from diesel to natural gas or electric;
    – allowing taxpayers to deduct a portion of the costs associated with retrofitting their homes from their income tax;
    – installing more electric charging stations, and allowing consumers to charge up their vehicles free;
    – planting a whole lot more trees.

    And with apologies to all those fixated on intensification, I don’t see how shoe-horning thousands more residents into the GTA helps preserve the environment. Los Angeles has one of the worst smog problems in the world, and having millions of people packed into a densely populated area isn’t particularly helpful. We have dozens of communities in this province (e.g. Cornwall, Chatham, Sault Ste. Marie, Timmins, etc.) that are dying, both economically and demographically. Offering inducements to relocate to those communities would most certainly revitalize local communities while diverting ever increasing numbers of citizens away from the GTA.

  • Charles Jones

    Didn’t read the article because the title is so flawed. The environment isn’t the only issue we need to manage. The real question is, how can we best manage the many challenges we face, including the environment, to the maximum benefit of Mankind (cough, sorry Ray, Peoplekind)? We only have to worry about the planet as it relates to humans. I promise you the planet will scrub itself clean of us and find equilibrium long after we’re gone so the idea the planet is the only concern is just silly.

    That’s why an intelligent person weighs important issues like how much we’re willing to commit to fighting climate change against where else our limited economic resources could be allocated for the greater good. For example, how many indigenous communities could be given potable water supply and sanitary sewage facilities with next year’s climate change economic commitment?

    Speaking in absolutes is intellectually lazy. “Only the environment matters” sounds no different to me than “You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists'”, which is pretty ironic coming from a left winger like Ray.

  • Ray Rivers

    Thanks for your comments – Mike wasn’t the biggest driver in getting us out of the older light bulbs and into LEDs the increasing cost of electricity. People will change their habits when it costs them more – even if they liked the warmth of the old incandescent bulbs.

    • Mike

      No, because if anyone did the math they would find that the $ saved was very small (your lighting load for residential is minuscule when compared to heating or cooling or appliances like a clothes dryer). It was the combination of things changing people’s behaviour, which were:
      – incentive based…people had the choice …not forced on them
      – concern for the environment which most people have anyway
      – rebates when available helped to offset the cost of the newer technology
      – new technology ….having to change bulbs less frequently and heat reduction

      Forcing change i.e. tax only builds resentment especially when people believe we are already over taxed.

  • Mike

    The issue for me is the method here. Adding a tax as mentioned above, does nothing to help the environment. It just distorts / penalizes (i.e. negatively) the economy. Couple that with the lack of trust that the government will administer the tax as committed and do it efficiently …not likely (especially the Liberals who have shown no consideration to financial acumen what so ever).

    A better (positive) approach is incentives and marketing. Take for example, lighting. We went from standard bulbs to CFLs and now LEDs. Governments supported industry’s innovation with marketing and programs to provide rebates. This was targeted at all people and gradually the market shifted. They also had a more comprehensive program for retrofit of businesses older fluorescent tubes to newer more efficient ones (this was a little before LED costs came down). This pulls everyone along versus jamming a cost / tax in their face.

    Of course, those of the Liberal stripe lean towards telling people how they can live, as of course they know best, especially those ones that live off their family fortunes as they don’t live in the real world anyway.

  • Lonely Taxpayer

    We agree 100% that people need to take care of the environment – but charging Canadians a tax and pretending to give it back a year later will not fix any ecosystem.

    All that will happen, is that companies and retailers just pass the cost onto the consumer at amounts FAR higher than any rebate will be.

    Canada Post (for example) already charges a fuel surcharge on packages – an extra fee they pocket. Retail stores charge a nickel for plastic bags (which they keep).

    The end result will be an added burden to consumers with no benefit to the environment.

  • Ray Rivers

    Hans – thanks for your very thoughtful comment. Are you suggesting ending incentives for families having children? Canada allows about a third of a million new immigrants every year – do you think reducing or increasing this number would help.

    • Hans

      If there is agreement that the underlying problem is excessive population and that pollution, climate change, resource depletion, etc., are symptoms, then the main objective would need to include population control. To change behaviour, a different reward system will probably be needed, e.g., rewarding people for not having more than X children, while families with children will need transition support.
      Perhaps we could learn from countries like India and China, where there are many decades of trying to control population growth.

      Canada’s immigration rate should be adjusted regularly to maintain stable population levels. Economies are generally managed for growth, not decline. If populations shrink, a whole new set of problems is likely to result and must be mitigated by careful planning. To target growth seems foolish, since the GTA is the destination for a large percentage of immigrants and it is already overpopulated.

  • Hans

    Agreed: the only issue that should matter is the environment, at this point in time.
    It’s a difficult problem for political leaders who want to stay in office – demand for energy is fairly inelastic in the short term; therefore, an increase in carbon-based energy consumption taxes won’t be reflected in decreased demand quickly enough, while politics has a relatively short cycle.
    Then there are less obvious factors; e.g., electric car battery production is carbon-based energy intensive (Tesla excepted – apparently their factory uses solar power) so that the break-even period for impact on the environment is about 3.5 years.
    A comprehensive plan should include a tax or penalty on heavier or more environmentally damaging vehicles; for example, in the 1950s and 60s there was an extra charge for licensing cars with V8 engines and 4 barrel carbureters. In addition, it should address not only the CO2 “insulation” which keeps the heat in, but also the heat sources themselves. Every person on the planet is a CO2 producing heat element, maintained at 98.6 deg. F and there are twice as many of us as there were only 50 years ago.
    Gazette readers could probably create a comprehensive prescription for reducing humanity’s impact on the environment that would be much more effective than anything that Ottawa could devise.