Rivers: A carbon tax is the only tool governments have to reduce the amount of carbon in the environment.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

September 4th, 2019



Canada’s19th prime minister, the Right Honourable Kim Campbell, has always told it as she sees it. Who else, during the ’93 election, would have promised her electors continued high unemployment and deficits when they would have preferred prosperity and fiscal discipline. Or who else would be reported as saying, in a nutshell, that an election is no time to discuss important issues.


Kim Campbell was rooting for Hurricane Dorion to make a direct hit on Mar a Largo, Trump’s Florida golf course and estate.

She was understandably disgusted after US President Trump extended his war on planet earth by rolling back some 80 plus Obama era regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). So she tweeted that she was rooting for Hurricane Dorion to make a direct hit on Mar a Largo, Trump’s Florida golf course and estate. Of course, she immediately retracted and apologized, as persons of some significance are expected to do.

But she had only said what so many people who care about the future of this planet were thinking. Bring on retributive justice for one of the two global political leaders most bent on depriving future generations of the planet we know and love. And every person who cares about what is happening to our climate should feel her anger.

The latest roll back concerns fugitive methane emissions. Methane, identified commercially as natural gas, is a greenhouse pollutant which is more than 25 times as potent as CO2. And here even the industry is ahead of Trump, as BP, for one, has criticized this roll back as damaging to the reputation of an industry trying to show how ‘clean’ it can be. The amount of leakage in the production and use of natural gas is frightening. But leaving industry to govern itself has worked out about as well as asking the fox to manage the hen house.

Trump has championed coal, erroneously calling it clean since it still accounts for two thirds of America’s electrical utility GHG emissions. But he is losing that campaign regardless, as the industry is rapidly converting to gas and renewables, which are now far cheaper in addition to being cleaner. This is pretty much the same strategy the Ontario Liberals pioneered as they phased out coal and replaced it with renewables. And natural gas is there as a back up for peaking or when the wind doesn’t blow and sun doesn’t shine.

trucks on highway

If you drive the 400 series highway – any highway for that matter – you know the trucks rule the road.

Transportation accounts for almost a third of GHG emissions in America. And the USA is the second largest carbon emitter in the world, after China, so it is a critical issue. Trump’s roll back of Obama’s regulations for auto emissions is seriously wrong, and even the auto industry is opposed. Many auto companies are signing agreements with California and other states to continue making efficiency improvements.

Between 1999 and 2007 Canadian private vehicle emissions rose by 35%, almost twice the rate of population growth. Obama’s auto efficiency rules would have also applied to Canada and would have helped slow down emissions from the fossil fueled autos still selling like hot cakes – but even those new rules would not put a stop to GHG pollution.

It’s too little too late. The UN has suggested that there are only twelve years until a tipping point, a point of no return from dramatic change, is reached. So fine tuning the fuel economy for the gas engine is little more than the proverbial re-arranging of deck chairs on the Titanic.

Carbon tax - Canada France over 5 years.

France’s plight illustrates a conundrum: how do political leaders introduce policies that will do long-term good for the environment without inflicting extra costs on voters that may damage their chances of re-election? They raised the price of gas and the public rioted.

And a carbon tax at $20 or even $50 is not enough, on its own, to get people out of their gas guzzlers either. But the carbon tax and the federal electric vehicle (EV) rebate are the only tools in the transportation tool box, short of shutting down the roads and/or killing the economy. From comments to my column last week it was pretty clear that nobody wants road tolls, let alone shutting down the roads. So it’s got to be the carbon tax.

The Conservatives are the only major political party that is promising to cancel the carbon tax but is not offering an alternative policy for auto GHG emissions. They claim that the tax is hurting the poor folks. Which it clearly isn’t since 90 percent of the money is returned directly to tax payers as a credit on their income taxes. They get the tax credit even if they don’t have to pay any taxes.

So Andrew Scheer, Doug Ford and all the other conservative premiers are lying to us, by omission at the very least.

The poorest struggling or working class families are getting more back than they have to pay to fill their tanks and run their furnaces, on average.

In fact it is the wealthy that are affected most by the carbon tax. And as one can imagine the wealthiest 20% have more and fancier motor toys than those in the lower income classes. So the rich emit almost twice as much per capita as the lowest income Canadians. So exactly who are the ordinary folks that each of the political parties are aiming their pitches?

Kim Campbell H&S no blouse - robe

Kim Campbell was a Progressive Conservative who said what she thought.

Kim Campbell was a Progressive Conservative premier. But today’s Conservative party was taken over by the reform wing led by Stephen Harper and now Andrew Scheer. Campbell may not have been a social reformer, but as a member of Brian Mulroney’s cabinet she got to understand the environment. And so today’s Conservative party is not her party.

As a footnote on carbon taxes, we see Mr. Ford has filed an appeal to the Supreme Court. He has already squandered an estimated $30 million dollars when any thinking person could have told him he’d lose the court challenge. Perhaps nobody in his cabinet was willing to tell the emperor the truth about his new clothes. So what’s a few more million.

And to bring his point home, somewhat as Joseph Stalin could be expected to do, Ford is forcing every gas station owner in the province to slather his carbon tax propaganda on their pumps, or face a whacking $10,000 per day fine. That does seem a bit drastic for a province which Ford barely a year ago proclaimed to be finally open for business.

Gas tax sticker

Ford is forcing every gas station owner in the province to post a carbon tax message on their pumps.

And the poster is misleading on at least three counts. First, the scale of the sticker may accurately represent the amount of the tax, but not the impact of a 4.4 cent tax on the total cost of a litre of gasoline – which is what really matters. Second the sticker makes no mention that the tax is revenue neutral and fully 90% comes back in their income taxes.

Finally if the gas pumps are to provide useful information to consumers, what could be more useful than helping them understand the full impact of the gasoline they are buying and using, rather than just the carbon tax on it.

Sweden has recently adopted a policy to do just that. Much as society has placed full disclosure information on cigarette packages, gas pumps need to inform users about the myriad of health issues associated with petroleum and how that impacts health care costs. And then there is climate change.

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:

Kim’s Mar-a-Lar –   Kim Campbe ll Bio –    Methane Regulations

Auto Rule Roll Back –   Canadian Auto Emissions –    Carbon Tax Fight

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10 comments to Rivers: A carbon tax is the only tool governments have to reduce the amount of carbon in the environment.

  • Hans Jacobs

    It looks like CO2 and CH4 are not what we should be most worried about: https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-49567197

  • Ray Rivers

    Phillip thanks for your comments. I usually don’t respond to comments but it appears you might be accusing me plagiarism. I can assure you that while my publisher may have visited one of the sites you mention to borrow an image, I can’t recall actually having ever visited either of these sites before you brought them to my attention.

    But further to your other accusations, I see that ‘Clean Prosperity’ claims they receive no funding from political parties… https://www.cleanprosperity.ca/2019/01/23/why-a-carbon-tax-wont-cause-a-recession/ . Glancing through the articles on their website I see that at least one has been published in a national magazine. And, yes, they generally do seem to support current national environmental policy.

    Unlike you, I don’t know whether these organizations are fronts for or were created by the Liberal party and the Environment Minister, or whether we should just take them at their word – that they are concerned Canadians regardless of how they vote. The only name I recognize among corporate directors is Bruce Lourie, who is a distinguished environmentalist… https://www.speakers.ca/speakers/bruce-lourie/… As far as I know he has never been a candidate for the Liberal party.

    Mr. Wooster I don’t believe that the environment should be a partisan issue. Climate change is the most critical issue facing humanity, and that includes all Canadians. That issue should be beyond partisan challenge. Conservative parties in Canada, led by Bill Davis and Brian Mulroney had been leaders in developing and implementing environmental policy. My last column featured former PC prime minister Kim Campbell expressing her contempt for the climate policies of Trump, the climate denier.

    I agree with virtually all the other economists globally, including the latest winner of last year’s Nobel prize, that carbon pricing is the most cost effective way to bring about a reduction in climate changing emissions… https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/economic-sciences/2018/summary/. Mr. Scheer says he is concerned about climate change, why doesn’t he listen to the experts?

    • Phillip Wooster

      I don’t believe it should be a partisan issue either, but it is! And your own party is one of the major proponents of making it a partisan issue. But here is the problem with making it a partisan issue–confrontation does not lead to solutions! And when will all the parties TALK to each other instead of SHOUTING past each other? It certainly won’t be in the next 6 weeks.

      As for the narrative that carbon pricing is the most efficient way of reducing carbon emissions. Let’s look to the Nobel Prize winning thesis by Drs. Nordhaus & Romer. The first thing to note was that they recognized that rising carbon emissions leading to climate change was a GLOBAL problem. And as such, proposed to price carbon on a GLOBAL basis as the most efficient way to reduce carbon emissions, penalties to be applied to countries that did not comply. And here is where the thesis breaks down in implementation–when the world’s four major polluters–China, India, the USA, and Russian have no effective carbon pricing in place, there is NO GLOBAL SOLUTION using carbon pricing. Canada could destroy its economy and reduce its carbon emissions to ZERO and it won’t matter! It will be a wonderful exercise in virtue-signalling (which admittedly one of the very few things Trudeau is good at) but it will be like p*ssing into a strong wind. China alone will increase its carbon emissions to at least 2030. Most intelligent Canadians have figured this out–guess why there is little support for carbon taxes in Canada!

      BTW, thank you for confirming what I said about these two sites. Your comment was “yes, they generally seem to support current national environmental policy”, that is, LiBERAL environmental policy. Given the criticism that has been leveled at Canada’s climate plan as being ineffective, true environmental sites would have a much different focus. Of course these largely international criticisms could be just a way for the UN to squeeze more money out of Canada.

    • Phillip Wooster

      Ray, there was NO suggestion, overt or implied, about plagiarism.

  • Phillip Wooster

    Ray, very telling that you used a take-off on the Conservative gas decal in your article. This bit of creativity is from a website/FB site called, “Fair Path Forward”; it has a sister site called “Canadians for Clean Prosperity”. At first glance readers are led to believe that these are pro-environmental sites as their titles suggest and they both try to add to their credibility by proclaiming that they are “non-partisan”. BUT, it’s all a LIE! Both of these websites are part of a propaganda campaign by the Liberals—all the blogs and the posts from supporters are PRO-LIBERAL, ANTI-CONSERVATIVE without exception. They follow the McKenna Doctrine: “if you repeat it, if you say it loudly, if that’s your talking point, people will totally believe it”. Liberal talking point after talking point–that’s all you get.

  • The common denominator of EVERY environmental, thus economic, social, political, and military, problem we have is unchecked human population growth. A trite saying would be, Someone has to have the balls to address it. Unfortunately, there are far too many balls in the picture right now. We need someone to step up with surgical scissors. I did mine decades ago after one child.

  • Jim Barnett

    Phillip’s analysis is correct. Rivers comments on methane are correct. A lot of methane is the product of animal feces, the same source as River’s comments.

  • Phillip Wooster

    I’m afraid Ray, your analysis of the provincial government informing Ontarians of the impact of the carbon taxes is both simplistic, if not misleading, and most certainly politically biased. While you are correct that the provincial stickers only indicate the impact of the Trudeau carbon tax on the price of gas and omit the carbon tax rebate, the provincial Conservatives are only doing what the federal Liberals are also doing. In the House of Commons, the federal Liberals were asked to indicate on gasoline and home heating receipts the carbon taxes as a separate line item but they refused. Apparently in YOUR world, it’s OK for the Liberals to not disclose but wrong for the provincial Conservatives to play the same game.

    And let’s look at why the federal Liberals were not eager to show the cost of the Trudeau Carbon Tax on each gas or heating receipt. The Liberals have created a myth that 80% of families will receive more back on the carbon tax rebate than they pay. Wouldn’t want to give those families the information to calculate how much it’s costing them, would we? Let’s examine the myth more closely. The Liberals estimated that the average rebate would be about $300 but CRA has indicated the actual rebate was $203–a substantial overestimation by the Liberals and certainly politically motivated. Now what is it costing the average family in Ontario. If a family uses a full tank of gas per week to commute to work and do family business, then it likely spends approx. 60 litres x 5 cents (carbon tax + HST) = $3 per week (some will be less, many will be more) or $156 per year. Add in the carbon tax on home heating, and the average family will be lucky to break even with the rebate. Unfortunately, the Liberal deception continues. The Liberal calculator deliberately omitted the INDIRECT carbon taxes that families are paying on the thousands of goods they buy each year as businesses pass on the cost of carbon taxes in the form of higher prices. Even if this is only 5 to 10 cents per product, it realistically could end up costing a family an additional $500.

    Of course, the Liberals were hoping most Canadians couldn’t do the math but it’s important to note that in pointing the finger at the Conservatives for not telling the whole truth, the Liberals are just as guilty of playing the same game.

    And it’s not the impact on the price of a litre of gas that Liberals are worried about, it is the impact on people’s wallets that is the real issue. Again, why did the Liberals refuse to show the cost of the Trudeau Carbon Tax as a separate line item on gas and heating bills? I think the answer is obvious!

  • Alide Camilleri

    I wish someone can figure out how we can outsmart Ford and his stickers. How can one show opposition to the stick right where it is placed. I am ready for revolutionary behaviour!!!

  • Denise O’Connr

    well said, Ray