December 29, 2018 10:00 am
Updated: December 29, 2018 10:39 am

COMMENTARY: In 2019, let’s hope for a less stupid climate-change debate

In this June 1, 2017 file photo, protesters gather outside the White House in Washington to protest President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the Unites States from the Paris climate change accord.

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

The absolutely mind-rotting stupidity of the “debate” over Canada’s climate-change policy needs to change. The dawn of 2019 is as good a time as any.

I’m not talking about the details of the Liberal plan. I’m not talking about the science of climate change. I’m talking about the chronically unserious nature of the debate on display among both Tories and Liberals.

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The federal Liberals have a plan to fight climate change — a carbon tax. Provinces with their own carbon-pricing system in place can be exempted from it so long as it’s generally comparable to the federal plan. In provinces without some kind of comparable provincial plan, the federal government will impose a carbon tax that will rise to $50 a ton over four years. This will mostly be felt by consumers on fuel bills, though companies will obviously pass on added costs onto consumers. (The Liberals have proposed a series of offsetting rebates to mitigate the impact for some Canadians.)

WATCH: Canadians wants climate change action, but not at any cost, poll finds

The Conservatives are hammering the Liberals for their plan to impose the tax on millions of Canadians. The Liberals, for their part, are countering the Tory attacks by pointing out that the Conservatives don’t even have a plan.

There’s truth in both positions. The Conservatives are right that the carbon tax will be expensive and unpopular and will not meaningfully alter global carbon emissions — Canada is too small a portion of global emissions to make much difference. The Liberals, for their part, are right that the Tories don’t have a plan, even though they have pledged to meet Canada’s targets under the Paris agreement. The Tories ought to be able to say how they’ll do something they insist they can and will do.

READ MORE: Faster electric car uptake will help Canada hit climate targets; carbon tax, coal phase-out not enough

That’s all true. But that’s not where the real stupid is to be found. The real stupid is how the Liberals are hammering the Tories for not having a plan when the Liberal plan won’t work.

Oh, it’ll collect revenue. It’ll “work” from that perspective. But it won’t lower Canada’s emissions enough to meet the Paris targets. The government’s own internal experts have already conceded that. Just before Christmas, it was announced that Canada was not only not on track to meet its targets under the Liberal plan, but it was, in fact, moving in the wrong direction. The government says it’ll get there, but can’t say specifically how beyond vague statements about improved transit and new technology, and working with the provinces and territories.

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Which ones? Working to do what? Who decides? Will any plan survive longer than the next election?

What new transit? Where? When? How many riders do we need? Who’ll build it? How long will that take? Will it be sustainable, both environmentally and fiscally? Canada isn’t exactly a world leader at building large-scale projects right now. Can we get all this new infrastructure built by 2030?

What new technology? How much will it cost? When will it be ready? Who’ll pay for it? Does it exist yet? Is it cost-effective? Is it reliable? How rapidly will we have to phase out our existing technologies, including some that might have decades of service left? Who owns the patents for all this new tech?

Oh, and how will all these things fit together? What will the mix be?

READ MORE: Carbon tax is the smartest way to target rising emissions: Canadian Chamber of Commerce

Am I being churlish to note that a plan with this many unanswered questions isn’t a plan at all? The Liberals, for all their bluster, don’t have a plan — they have part of a plan and then a plan to plan the rest.

So that’s where we are right now. A government with part of a plan and then some vague notion of what else they’ll try is hammering the Opposition party because it doesn’t have a plan at all.

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Partisans will partisan, of course. I’ll no doubt be attacked from both sides for writing this. But anyone who fairly looks at this objectively can’t help but be appalled. The Tories claim to have the same goal as the Liberals, but insist that the Liberal plan is garbage without offering up an alternative for voters to consider. That’s not great. The Liberals, not content with that level of dysfunction, then kick things up a notch by attacking the Tories for not having a plan, even a failing one, like the Liberals do.

Let’s just boil this down to first principles: Canada’s two major federal parties have both committed to hit a specific goal by a specific deadline. Neither of them has a workable plan to do so. The rest is just buck-passing and political tribalism. Neither party has a workable plan. The end.

Canadians need to start asking the Liberals some tough questions, and not taking “But Andrew Scheer!” for an answer. We also need to start demanding better from opposition parties who think they can merely oppose, and skip the whole “offer alternatives” part of the job.

Because the debate over carbon emissions and how to lower them is one of the most important ones facing our country today. The decisions made and directions taken will have real impacts on our way of life. It’s serious. Our politicians aren’t.

Matt Gurney is host of The Exchange with Matt Gurney on Global News Radio 640 Toronto and a columnist for Global News.

READ MORE: Trudeau’s carbon tax on gas won’t motivate Canadians to switch to fuel-efficient transportation: Ipsos poll

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