The Good, The Bad And the Ugly: Where Conservative Leadership Candidates Stand on the Environment

The next leader of the Conservative Party will be chosen on May 27.

While only Conservative Party members are eligible to vote in the ranked ballot election, the outcome will determine who will likely run against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the next election, so it’s worth paying attention.

Where do the 13 leadership hopefuls stand on energy and environment issues? Well, they’re a bit all over the map. Fear not, we’ve distilled the platforms down into this quick cheat sheet to help you get up to speed on what Canada could be in store for come May 27.

Carbon Tax

So according to OpenParliament, the very first usage of the phrase “job-killing carbon tax” in the House of Commons was made in June 2008 by Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro (who was, in completely unrelated circumstances, convicted and jailed in 2015 for violating the Elections Act during the 2008 election).

Usage of the phrase spiked from two in that year to 56 in 2009, and saw an all-time high of 73 times in 2012. In total, the Conservatives have used the phrase 343 times since 2008.

Sure, its deployment has declined in recent years: it saw only 29 uses for the whole of last year. But that sure doesn’t mean that leadership candidates have abandoned the sentiment.

These people are just obsessed with ending carbon pricing. Absolutely obsessed. Frontrunner Maxime Bernier — who was endorsed by reality TV show star Kevin O’Leary after he dropped out — pledges to axe the tax on four different pages of his website, including a commitment to “eliminate the farm killing carbon tax.”

Various candidates describe carbon pricing as “regressive and punitive” (Chris Alexander), “simply bad policy” (Kellie Leitch) and “[inflicting] financial pain and suffering on every Canadian, with no discernible impact” (Pierre Lemieux).

Lisa Raitt says we must “axe the carbon tax.” Some, like Erin O’Toole, directly link carbon pricing to the National Energy Programs of the 1980s: “Historically, they tried to impoverish Alberta with the National Energy Program and are trying again today with the carbon tax,” he wrote on his website.

In fact, in Clean Prosperity’s recent “environmental policy report card” for the 13 candidates, it was reported that seven of them have “cancel carbon tax” as their only significant environmental policy.


But it’s really not that much of a surprise.

While carbon pricing has been endorsed by many conservative economists and politicians including the likes of Gregory Mankiw and Preston Manning, most active right-leaning politicians view it as a wedge issue to cater to anti-tax constituents as opposed to a simple means of accounting for the “social cost of carbon” and incentivizing innovation to cut emissions.

But that would require two key things: 1) an acknowledgement of basic climate science; and 2) a desire to find market-based solutions — as opposed to state-funded solutions — to the looming catastrophe that is climate change.

The lone exception to this is Michael Chong, who proposes an economy-wide carbon price of $10/tonne in 2018, rising $10/tonne per year until it hits $130/tonne in 2030. This far exceeds the current $50/tonne limit set by the Liberals.

We’ll return to Chong later.

Juggling Indigenous Rights and Resource Extraction

Credit where it’s due: some Conservative candidates can certainly talk the talk when it comes to “reconciliation” with Indigenous peoples.

Take Alexander, who recognizes that Indigenous peoples have been “deprived of their language and culture in campaigns of assimilation that have been justly termed cultural genocide.” Meanwhile, O’Toole states: “Improving the relationship between the government and Indigenous communities must be a top priority.”

Good stuff!

Such language serves as obvious contrast to the likes of fellow candidates like Bernier, Leitch and Steven Blaney, who have all suggested that Canada abolish the Indian Act (apparently learning nothing from the 1969 White Paper debacle, the 1973 Calder case or Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution).

Unfortunately, none of the semi-promising talk from the likes of Alexander and O’Toole squares with the assumptions that they — or any of the Conservative candidates — make about resource extraction.

For example, O’Toole, suggests the introduction of the so-called “National Strategic Pipelines Act,” which would further fast-track environmental assessments for certain pipeline projects.

Meanwhile, Alexander advocates for the building of TransCanada’s Energy East, Enbridge’s Northern Gateway and Nalcor’s Muskrat Falls. Almost every candidate explicitly mentions granting tax breaks for resource exploration companies, something clearly intended to increase the rate and scope of resource development.

This is all in spite of significant opposition from Indigenous peoples. You know, the people who they are promising to reconcile with.

Just last week, Raitt came under fire for suggesting that her government would use the very controversial notwithstanding clause to ensure the construction of TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline.

In response, Mohawk Council of Kanesatake Grand Chief told the National Observer that “If they’re willing to do that, then they’re proving my point I’ve been saying for about two years — these people are part of an autocracy. They’re only there to speak for industry. They’re not there for ordinary Canadians, that’s for sure.”

Sounds like it’s going well.

Nuclear And Carbon Capture and Storage

Carbon pricing is ruled out categorically by most of the candidates, yet there’s still a continued claim to the general concept of solid environmental policy.

That includes a real range of ideas, all of which require a metric shit-ton of cash.

Three of the leadership candidates — Blaney, Alexander and Deepak Obhrai — explicitly call for public investments in nuclear power.

Obhrai, who has repeatedly stated that he has “no platform,” points to investment in fast neutron reactors which has “given us an alternative energy that we could use to help our industries in Canada, not hurt them, while meeting our global carbon commitment.” Blaney petitions for constructing small modular reactors in Canada’s North, and replacing old stations in Ontario with new reactors.

Such projects would require tens of billions of public funding. This is coming from the same party which cut the GST by a full two points, equivalent to $14 billion per year.

Of course, there is a certain irony in people who oppose putting a price on pollution — which would make low-carbon power sources and negative emission technologies far more viable — while simultaneously pushing for gargantuan public investments in technologies that would cut emissions.

Same goes for other technologies. Alexander suggests more investments in carbon capture and storage (CCS) based on “the experience of Saskatchewan.”

It’s another classic move: Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has poured over $1 billion into a single CCS project that was arguably to the direct benefit of Cenovus, which is a significant out-of-province donor for his party.

There’s probably a strong case for large public investments in these sorts of technologies. But the way that these Conservative candidates are positioning it seems a little, well, contradictory.

Canada Doesn’t Really Matter Anyways — And Other Wacky Arguments

Most candidates will ramble on and on about the importance of regulating pollution and addressing climate change.

But their platforms will almost always return to the fact that Canada only contributes around 1.6 per cent (Andrew Saxton) or “less than” two per cent (Lemieux) in terms of global greenhouse gas emissions. O’Toole noted the new administration under U.S. President Donald Trump doesn’t intend to implement carbon pricing, “so why are we doing it?”

The implicit argument is that unless other countries introduce carbon pricing or regulations, then it’s simply not worth it for Canada.

Alexander stated that “Canada has a responsibility to implement its commitments to reduce greenhouse emissions under the Paris Agreement” while later quoting climate denier Gerrit Cornelis van Kooten as his main source for why Canada shouldn’t attempt to reduce greenhouse emissions under the Paris Agreement.

O’Toole also suggested that “the senior heating her home cannot put solar panels on her roof or wear a second sweater: she will just pay more,” apparently not understanding the basic premise of carbon pricing.

Look, nobody said these arguments were sensible.

Also ignored is the fact that Saskatchewan and Alberta have some of the highest per-capita emissions in the entire world, thanks to their still-significant oil and gas industries. Or that previous prime minister Stephen Harper committed to some incredibly lofty climate goals, including cutting emissions (as compared to the 2005 level) by 30 per cent in 2030 and 80 per cent in 2050.

Harper also pledged as a member of the G7 to eliminate all fossil fuel usage by the end of the century. There was no mention of that in any of the platforms. Then there’s Brad Trost — who’s pushing for the banning of all non-hetero marriages — who loudly notes that “as a geophysicist I do NOT believe in MAN-MADE climate change.”

There you have it.

Crackdown on Protesters

This category applies solely to Leitch, who has also called for the screening of all visitors and migrants for so-called “Canadian values.” Leitch is considered one of the frontrunners in the race, along with Bernier and Scheer.

In 2012, then-minister of natural resources Joe Oliver suggested that “radical groups” were attempting to interfere with pipeline and resource projects. He stated in the open letter that “these groups threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda.”

Leitch has made it clear that she will continue that legacy, just like she’s continuing the legacy of pitching an allegedly racist “barbaric cultural practices” hotline and niqab ban via her new proposed immigrant screening process.

Specifically, she’s suggested increasing the penalties for “those engaging in acts of violence and/or vandalism designed to disrupt natural resources development” and creating a mega-force of cops and spies to “coordinate investigations, freeze bank accounts, and lay charges to ensure that those who seek to illegally disrupt natural resource development projects are brought to justice.”

What is Michael Chong even doing here?

Look, Chong is very much a conservative.

He’s promised to slash tax rates and privatize the Canadian Housing and Mortgage Corporation. The carbon pricing framework that he wants to implement will be revenue-neutral, paired with deep cuts to existing regulations relating to greenhouse gases (including the Clean Energy Fund Program and CMHC Green Home).

Clean Prosperity gave him a score of ‘A’ in their report card.

But it seems unlikely the Conservative Party is ready for his proposals of acknowledging the threat of catastrophic climate change and responding with a high price on carbon.

Chong has been booed at multiple Conservative events for bringing up the idea. He recently stated in an interview with the Canadian Press that “we’ve been running against the party’s advertising and communications machine that has been campaigning against a carbon tax.”

It’s true. Every other candidate in the race dismisses carbon pricing, if not climate change as an entire concept. The next highest grade awarded by the Clean Prosperity was ‘C,’ received by both Alexander and O’Toole. The remainder of the candidates received a ‘D,’ save for Trost who scored a ‘F’ for his straight-up climate denialism.

So there you have it: the good, the bad and the ugly of the Conservative leadership race. Stay tuned for how 259,000 Conservatives choose to vote on May 27th.

James Wilt is a freelance journalist based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a journalism degree from Mount Royal University in…

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