Here’s a sampling of headlines from the early days of the Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership race.
“Carbon tax in crosshairs of Ontario PC leadership contenders.” “Platform in limbo as candidates rethink carbon tax.” “Scrapping carbon tax would blow $4 billion hole in Ontario PC budget.” “By ditching carbon-tax plans, Ontario’s Tories become the Stupid Party again.”
You get the picture. The platform on which the party had previously intended to campaign, in those long-ago days when Patrick Brown was the leader, committed it to a carbon tax. The revenues from the tax, projected at $4 billon over three years, were to fund, in part, the platform’s hefty personal income tax cuts (the rest would be paid for with unspecified spending efficiencies.)
All of the major candidates in the leadership race having pledged to have nothing to do with the carbon tax — Doug Ford immediately and enthusiastically, Caroline Mulroney and Christine Elliott belatedly, after seeing how Ford’s position was playing with the membership — the party would seem to have renounced its platform, blown a hole in its budget and, er, become stupid.
Except … that’s not what’s actually happening. The candidates can’t promise to scrap the carbon tax, because the platform didn’t promise to implement one. What it promised was to acquiesce in a federal carbon tax. A PC government would “opt in to the federal carbon price backstop,” as the document put it, “rather than directly impose one of its own.”
John Ivison: Scheer’s climate policy alienating potential new Conservative votersChris Selley: The middle ground solution to Ontario PCs’ carbon tax problemFP Commet: The next Ontario PC leader has no choice but to fight carbon taxes
Of course, “acquiesce” suggests the party has some choice in the matter. But in fact it has none. It might have chosen to implement its own carbon tax, in which case the federal government would have deferred in its favour. But in the absence of a provincial tax, the feds have served notice they would impose their own. Whether the province agrees to it is irrelevant. The feds have the power to act unilaterally.
The candidates’ declaration of opposition to a carbon tax is therefore as meaningless as the platform’s readiness to “opt in” to it.
Either way, the tax will be collected. And either way, the province will most likely receive the same amount in revenues. The federal government has pledged, as a technical paper explained last year, to “return direct revenues from the carbon price to the jurisdiction of origin,” meaning, as the platform put it, “the province will receive a transfer worth the equivalent of all carbon pricing paid for by Ontario citizens.”
(That at least is how it was understood until recently: an unconditional pledge to transfer any revenues from a federal tax to the governments of the provinces in which it was collected. Last month a new wrinkle emerged, in the form of draft legislation giving Ottawa the option to rebate the money it collects either to the government of a province, or …read more