United Conservative Party leader harps on carbon tax little more than fear-mongering to rally voters
On March 8, Jason Kenney, MLA for Calgary-Lougheed, took his seat for the first time as Leader of the Official Opposition in the Alberta legislature.
Since that time, in question period, in media scrums, in stump speeches, and at fundraisers he has talked almost exclusively about just one thing: Alberta’s carbon tax.
He continues to insist, for example, that the carbon tax has done massive damage to Alberta’s economy, seeming completely unfazed by the obvious reality that the global collapse in oil prices had far more to do with that than did the carbon tax. Kenney seems likewise undeterred by the fact that, despite the carbon tax and its recent increase, the Alberta economy is in the midst of a recovery and projected to grow by some 4.5 percent this year.
He insists on arguing that the NDP essentially hid the carbon tax by not mentioning it in their platform, despite the fact that the platform clearly promised to take leadership on climate change and develop strategies for moving forward. This claim is also quite rich from someone who despite his ongoing promise of balancing the budget in his first term has yet to specify where exactly he will cut to achieve those goals and has no plans for releasing a shadow budget.
He has gone as far in the past week as to equate the carbon tax with a sales tax and imply that it violates the spirit of the Klein era law demanding a province-wide referendum before the introduction of a sales tax. He actually put forth a private members bill that would require a referendum before any future increase to the carbon tax, and would amend Klein’s old legislation to specifically add carbon taxes as tools that would require referendums in the future. Given his promise to scrap the tax the moment he forms government, this would have meant no future government could introduce a carbon tax without a referendum.
Kenney has even tried to frame this as an issue of democracy, being quoted by Sun columnist Rick Bell as having said “It’s the old idea of no taxation without representation,” in defense of his call for a referendum. Of course, the word “representation” in that “old idea” highlights the degree to which our democracy is based on electing governments to make decisions rather than putting every decision to a plebiscite, but Kenney must have missed that day in his polisci class.
What has become increasingly clear since his debut in the Alberta legislature is that Kenney’s outrage and his almost singular focus on the carbon tax is little more than a carefully planned piece of populist theatre. Ultimately his plan boils down to spending millions on a referendum, killing the Alberta carbon tax, then spending millions on an unwinnable constitutional challenge against the federal government’s authority to impose a carbon tax on Alberta. At the same time killing the carbon tax would mean killing all the spending on infrastructure, transit, and energy incentives that the tax is currently funding. None of this seems particularly prudent for someone claiming to be a fiscal conservative.
What his plan doesn’t include is any sort of actual strategy for dealing with climate change and reducing Alberta’s emissions going forward. Kenney states that the UCP, historically home to numerous self-avowed and adamant climate deniers, now acknowledges the reality of man-made climate change. Well, what he actually acknowledges is that “climate change, of course, is a permanent factor of the natural environment, but there’s clearly a scientific consensus around there being a significant anthropogenic element to recent climate change,” which is not quite the same thing. What he doesn’t seem to acknowledge is the consensus among economists of all stripes that carbon taxes are the most economically efficient way for reducing emissions.
He has hinted at supporting the strategy of the past government, and of former Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, for dealing with climate change. Those strategies largely revolved around minimal levies on large emitters to fund experiments with carbon capture and sequestration (CSS), a technology that has proven to be prohibitively expensive and largely useless at reducing emissions.
It is all well and good for Kenney to criticize the carbon tax and the government’s overall climate plan: that’s actually his job as Leader of the Opposition. It is also his job, however, to put forth viable well-thought-out and fully costed alternatives. On that front, Jason Kenney’s first few weeks on the job have been a complete failure. The more he attacks without proposing, the more he will lose credibility in the eyes of Albertans, regardless of how good he is at the art of populist political theatre. Albertans are smarter than that, and it’s time Kenney gave them the respect they deserve.