O'Toole touts 'innovative' carbon pricing plan and pledges to work with provinces

O'Toole touts carbon plan

SAGUENAY, Que. - Erin O'Toole appears open to letting provinces decide whether they want to be part of the Conservative carbon pricing plan or stick with the Liberal one.

On Wednesday, O'Toole was asked to clarify his recent comments to the Toronto Star, in which he said his plan was an "alternative" to the federal carbon price and it would be up to provinces like Ontario that currently pay that price to decide whether to make the switch.

The Tory leader has faced criticism from within his own tent for promising a Conservative carbon price on fuel after campaigning during his leadership race to scrap the plan introduced by the Liberals in 2019. O'Toole has said that under his system, the money consumers spend on gas would be sent to personal savings accounts they could then use to make green purchases.

He rejected the suggestion that he has changed his party's policy by allowing provinces to choose among carbon pricing plans.

"That is exactly what I said in April when I launched this plan," O'Toole told reporters in Quebec's Saguenay region.

"It’s a very detailed plan to meet our Paris targets and to promote collaboration on a range of issues to pricing carbon to electric vehicles to technology," he said.

"We have to work together as a country — provinces and the federal government — to meet our targets and have a strong economic recovery."

The Conservatives haven't detailed the cost of their proposed loyalty rewards-style program, or how it would track people's carbon consumption and their points-based shopping.

O'Toole called his plan "innovative" and pledged to work with provinces on ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without fighting with premiers, referring to what happened under Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.

The Liberals under Trudeau implemented the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act in 2019, setting a minimum price on carbon emissions in provinces that don't have equivalent provincial prices, a law that was challenged by Saskatchewan, Ontario and Alberta.

But the Supreme Court of Canada in March ruled that the federal carbon price is entirely constitutional.

Stewart Elgie, a law and economics professor at the University of Ottawa who chairs the Smart Prosperity Institute, said O'Toole deserves credit for adopting a carbon price, something former leaders Andrew Scheer and Stephen Harper did not.

Unlike the Liberals' carbon price, which is set to rise to $170 per tonne by 2030, the Conservatives' charge would start at $20 per tonne and not rise higher than $50.

Elgie said the lower price means it won't be as effective as the Liberals' at reducing levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

And while the proposed savings accounts is an interesting idea, he said to implement it would be a "nightmare."

“How are you going to track the individual carbon footprints of every Canadian and look at every purchase they make?" asked Elgie.

Michael Bernstein, executive director of Clean Prosperity, said it's encouraging that O'Toole appears flexible on his carbon pricing plan, saying the simplest solution would be to keep the existing one in place.

"It works and returns all the money back to Canadians. But if O'Toole wanted to improve the carbon tax policy while giving it a Conservative spin, he could convert the rebates into tax cuts. It would still reduce emissions, and spur economic growth in the process."

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