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EDITORIAL: Tell us how this won’t hurt

Most Canadians will agree we need more efficient energy use and progress in limiting the emissions of combusted fuels.

Mention carbon pricing, however, and a certain number of those same people start getting nervous.

What better criteria could you have for a political topic?

Not to single out any particular political party for their stance on carbon pricing, but most would hazard a quick appraisal. At any rate, the topic came up Tuesday night in the federal NDP leadership debate in Saskatoon, where the hopefuls found themselves on common ground supporting a carbon tax.

At the same time a number of them offered critical remarks about counterparts in some of the provinces who are defying any move by the federal government to initiate a carbon-pricing plan. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, for example, has said he would go to court to fight any attempt forcing his province to adopt it. Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has also vowed opposition.

The general thrust from the NDP candidates was that a plan is necessary to help fight climate change. And considering the growing consensus in the international community toward an agreement – with the notable exception of President Donald Trump in the United States – we know it’s something that’s not going to go away, no matter what certain provincial leaders think.

Leadership hopeful Charlie Angus, in addressing the potential standoff Tuesday night, said he favours adopting a legislated carbon budget to reduce emissions and would work with any government in diversifying its economic basket to balance out negative effects on the economy.

Also noted in the discussion is that the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the Mining Association of Canada are open to carbon pricing.

What about typical Canadians though?

We get roundabout explanations about how such a plan might work. Some proponents have pitched a point-earning, cap and trade system that would encourage companies to reduce energy use and emissions. Similarly, the carbon tax proposal is the old carrot and stick approach to get companies to upgrade operations and get a better control on waste.

When it comes to the impact on individuals and households, there have also been suggestions that any tax on carbon affecting people’s purchase of fossil fuels would be offset by cuts in other taxes.

The problem is – and this wouldn’t be limited to the cynics among us – a lot of people are leery about governments and their penchant for establishing anything that smells like a tax. If a new system is indeed revenue neutral, then someone had better show very clearly where the money goes, and how and why this isn’t going to hurt people already struggling to pay utility bills and get back and forth to work.

A lot more education is needed. Some might not be willing to listen, granted, but those who accept that climate change is a real threat will be eager for a clear explanation.

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