One of the most frustrating things to watch is how political mistakes keep repeating. The Scheer Conservatives badly lost an election (my hot take), and certainly there are a lot of disappointed people running about in conservative circles. Before I comment on the Scheer leadership question, I believe it is important for Conservatives to do a bit of introspection on policies and messages that need to change. I’ll be spending some time on this blog explaining where I see some of the need for major changes. There are more than just a few things to say on the environment, but I’m going to stick with climate change.
The Conservative response to climate in the last election was basically to come up with a loosely linked set of policies driven to regulate polluters. It was also to oppose the carbon tax. What did people hear? They heard that Conservatives didn’t have a climate change policy because they wouldn’t put a price on carbon. Those dinosaurs, they said, want to become extinct like the dinosaurs! What’s worse is the fact that Scheer’s social media ads are doubling down on this losing crusade.
Now, I get that the rational conservative voter can link a tax to their pocket book, but the rational voting public have identified a public policy problem and the Conservatives have failed to identify a solution to that problem to satisfy them. In effect, we abdicated our responsibility to develop practical public policy solutions to society’s challenges. This is most definitely an indictment on leadership. The lack of sincerity and attention to this area of public policy means that people think the party isn’t taking the problem seriously, if at all.
This isn’t an issue motivated by pocket book concerns at this point in time. The far greater societal concern is that a collective effort is needed to solve this particular challenge. Conservatives that challenge the idea about whether human activity caused this particular problem and/or whether modifying human activity will fix this particular problem are fighting yesterday’s policy debates. They aren’t talking about the challenges today, no less about what Canada might look like in 2030 or 2040.
Here’s the thing: to fix this problem, things are going to become more expensive. Conservatives continue to rail against a carbon tax. Environmentalists continue to say that there isn’t a reasonable climate change plan that doesn’t put a price on carbon. People are believing the environmentalists, and its about time conservatives embrace it.
Here’s the dirty little secret: regulating polluters also makes the price of everything go up. Ssshhhhhhhh!
How long have conservatives been saying that red tape and regulations cost money? It’s because they do. So it’s about time that smart people in the conservative movement crunch some numbers and create a price on carbon that effectively makes polluting more expensive than not polluting.
No, you don’t need a carbon tax to fight climate change. What has worked in the past is the ‘legislate and regulate’ path. Creating a more robust and rebranded law and order environmental plan is precisely the counter argument to the carbon tax hysteria. Talk about how even with a carbon tax, a government still needs to put limits on emissions and regulate anyway. We can’t really tell if it is the carbon tax modifying behaviour or whether it is the imposed regulations that do . If you look at Ontario’s history over the past couple of decades, it has made enormous strides in reducing carbon emissions. Almost all of Ontario’s emission reductions came as a result of government policies that helped make it happen prior to a carbon tax, especially the policy of eliminating coal-fired electricity generation.
There is ample evidence to show that it works because it’s the only real proven thing to have worked. Governments are famous for guiding human behaviour by legislating right and wrong. Create that set of policies that precisely matches society’s expectations. Run some models to show its cost. Say it will make things more expensive, because this much is obvious (denying the obvious is trouble), and join the rest of the world in wanting to fix the problem.
Here’s the funny thing. Businesses everywhere are already catching on. Big oil has massive investments in green energy. Plastics companies are latching on to concepts like extended producer responsibility and creating more environmentally sustainable products. Businesses everywhere are doing this. Consumers are demanding it. Yet, conservatives aren’t getting the message. It’s frustratingly odd.
Running anti-carbon tax ads at this juncture, as the Scheer team are now doing, is incredibly tone deaf. It shows a lack of care and concern for what people and businesses are thinking, and how they are acting. A thoughtful response to the environment is exactly the kind of thing Scheer needs to do if he hopes to offer Conservatives a glimpse of how he might win in 2021 and beyond.
Rob Leone is an Associate Professor of Leadership and Public Policy at Niagara University.