Cap and Trade: Conservatives Carbon Amnesia

Stephen Harper thinks you’re not very smart, or at least that your memory isn’t quite what it used to be. In 2008, the Conservative platform promised to develop and implement a North American-wide cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases. A 2008 Conservative platform proposal reads:

“We will work with the provincial governments and our partners to develop and implement a North America-wide cap and trade system for greenhouse gases and an effective international protocol for the post-2012 period.”

With the onset of the house of commons fall sitting, Conservative MP’s continue to spin the NDP’s cap-and-trade proposal into a call for a carbon tax. “Hard-working Canadians across the country will suffer if the NDP bring forward a job-killing carbon tax that will increase the price on everything” cried Conservative MP Mr. William. Except not. The Conservative party is completely wrong and continues to perpetuate confusion surrounding the issue. In reality the NDP has supported a cap-and-trade system since 2008, not a carbon tax.

While this should hardly be surprising, it still remains alarming. Under Harper, Canada has achieved one of worst emission records in the developed world. He is demonizing environmental concern while employing confusion tactics to distract from meaningful discussion of the real issues at hand. The real onus should be on implementing a national mechanism that reduces emissions and incorporates ecological considerations into our economic activities.

A cap-and-trade system is basically an incentive system that shapes business behavior towards energy efficiency. (A carbon tax is a different system, but has a similar goal.) Debate among economists continue to compare and contrast between carbon taxation and the cap-and-trade system with many proponents on either side. Basically, cap-and-trade (carbon trading) works as outlined below.

*$10.00 per ton is an arbitrary number used to describe carbon trading.

Come the 2011 election, the Conservatives decided they opposed cap-and-trade and what’s more decided that cap-and-trade and a carbon tax were the same thing. This is the stance they have maintained in attacking the NDP. Any attempt to establish a price on carbon, Conservative MP John Williamson informed the House of Commons on Monday, is a tax on carbon. They might want to revisit this logic because while the Conservatives were proposing cap-and-trade in 2008, they were loudly opposing Stephane Dion’s proposal for a carbon tax. So, if cap-and-trade is the same thing as a carbon tax, then the Conservatives were both proposing and opposing a carbon tax in 2008.

The provinces have largely implemented their own carbon price initiatives. British Columbia and Alberta already have carbon taxes, while British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec are signed on to the Western Climate Initiative, which intends to establish a co-ordinated cap-and-trade system. Quebec is supposed to launch its own cap-and-trade system next year. However, this should not distract from the need for a coordinated national emission strategy, or from questioning a deceptive and undemocratic Conservative government.

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