Globe & Mail: Pushing to axe the tax betrays our kids

Originally published in The Globe & Mail on February 2, 2024

If you make a mess, you should help clean it up. That’s a responsibility my mom taught me.

As the House of Commons returned to session, Pierre Poilievre, the Conservative Leader, betrayed this family value by courting voters with his promise to eliminate responsibility to pay for our pollution.

Whether to pay for pollution isn’t about consumer preferences. It’s a duty we owe to our kids. We need our politicians to recognize as much if they are to identify real solutions to the affordability crisis, and to reduce risks from extreme weather.

A new Abacus poll signals Mr. Poilievre has convinced many Canadians that the price on pollution is a primary source of financial pain. Alas, research from the University of Calgary shows he is pulling the wool over our eyes.

Professors Trevor Tombe and Jennifer Winter calculated the direct and indirect costs of the carbon tax to examine the entire financial impact of the tax relative to its absence. They use data from British Columbia, where the carbon price is the same as that levied by the federal plan. They found that carbon pricing adds 0.5 per cent to the cost of food and beverages; 0.29 per cent to rent; 0.2 per cent for clothing and footwear; and less than 0.13 per cent for insurance and financial services.

This means that for every dollar we spend on our major expenditures, the price on pollution adds less than a penny. The professors conclude: “Knowing that much of the present affordability crisis is due to factors other than emissions pricing, the elimination of the carbon tax is unlikely to solve the problem … [P]olicy makers will need to consider alternative solutions.”

Elsewhere, I’ve discussed how better child care, parental leave, housing, retirement and health policy offer such solutions. There are also savings to be gained from increased energy efficiency. The axe-the-tax campaign distracts attention from these options, which can deliver more relief to many wallets.

Worse still, the campaign distracts attention from why we pay for our pollution in the first place.

We pay for pollution because we love our kids and grandchildren. Their health, safety, air, food and drinking water are put in jeopardy when we pollute too much. Pollution accelerates the loss of clean lakes, healthy forests, snow-capped mountains, great plains, and the awe-inspiring wildlife with which we share our lands and oceans when we hike, boat, hunt and fish.

Beyond status, consumption and convenience, we are all driven by deeply ingrained desires to be part of something larger so that we preserve what we hold sacred for our descendants.

By punting the costs of pollution to our kids, Mr. Poilievre proposes to deal with pollution problems later. But later is now too late. Later is an abuse of the authority we wield over our kids and future generations. Since they legally can’t vote, they are trusting us to do more, not less, to fight climate change. This means urgently reducing our smog, litter and trash, and paying for messes made by our pollution – past and present.

The hard truth is that we should be expanding pollution pricing, not cutting it, because greenhouse gasses aren’t the only source of pollution. Plastics and other toxins pollute our oceans. There are pollutants from mining and fracking; industrial waste; single-use garbage, and more.

Industries with big profits and carbon footprints should pay their fair share so that the rest of us don’t feel like chumps when paying the consumer carbon price. So, it’s good news the federal government is making important, albeit imperfect, progress on this front, including its new regulatory framework to limit pollution by the oil and gas sector.

But at bottom, let’s remember we pay for our pollution to be good parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. That’s why we’re building a Good Ancestors movement at the Generation Squeeze website.

Our plan is to remind Canadians that pollution pricing helps us fulfill responsibilities to our kids by loyally stewarding sacred resources that are essential to our health.

If enough of us share this reminder, we predict more Canadians will open their hearts and minds to evidence that there are better ways to reduce affordability pressures than axing the carbon tax.

Because nobody wants to feel forced to choose between the financial security of their families right now versus leaving a healthy and safe legacy for their kids, grandkids, and generations to come.

People want both.

All political parties should deliver both, if we want Canada to work for all generations.


Paul KershawDr. Paul Kershaw is Founder, Lead Researcher & Executive Chair of Generation Squeeze. He is a policy professor in the UBC School of Population and Public Health, and Director of the UBC Masters of Public Health program.

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