Op-Ed: Bold, Conservative leadership on climate change

February 10, 2020

By Rick Peterson

Canada’s Conservatives have a window of opportunity to become global leaders in smart climate change policy.

Yes, you read that right. The Conservative Party of Canada as leaders in climate change policy.

It will take bold leadership, but it’s doable. There are clear choices to be made on this issue that will align climate change policy with Conservative values such as lower debt, lower deficits, smarter and more streamlined regulation and stronger economic growth.

Climate change is real. The time for disputing that understanding is long in the past. We must fully accept that climate change brings with it a variety of risks to all of us today, tomorrow and into future generations.  You can run from these risks, but you can’t hide.

However, where the rubber hits the road on the climate change file is in the way we propose to address this risk. This is where Conservatives have an opportunity to provide bold, effective leadership.

Climate change policy needs to take into account the balance of social impacts and environmental benefits of the many different actions proposed to address the risk. Some people think the risks are so huge and so imminent that there is literally no time to even think about things like costs and benefits.

We simply can’t let this wave of panic dominate government policy.  Climate change is a serious issue, and whether the risks are moderate or severe, it is more important than ever to look at the hard options before us. Let’s take a page out of the Senate instruction manual and give this a sober, second thought.

There are essentially two clear options available to us in Canada today. One is the federal Liberal government’s national carbon tax. The second is the Alberta government’s focus on creating incentives for large emitters to decrease the amount of emissions they release per barrel of oil produced from Alberta’s vast oil reserves.

My climate change policy team believes we can build on the strengths of Alberta’s Technology, Innovation and Emissions Reduction (TIER) system and it will work for all of Canada.

We will put a hard stop on Liberal government policy that wastes your time and money in pursuing a tax on small, highly dispersed sources of greenhouse gases in your home, your car, your school or your business. The Liberals are giving power to governments and regulators to tax you away from lifestyle choices that they may not value or respect as much as you do – it’s as clear as that.

While we would largely preserve TIER, we will consider changes such as a reversion to industry-wide baselines rather than facility-based baselines; eliminating the emission-trading component that people instinctively see as a horse-trading system rather than a true efficiency incentive; and we would reject the federal “backstop” carbon tax on households, businesses, and vital services that improve the lives of Canadians. We will create incentives (both positive and negative) to encourage large Canadian emitters to improve their greenhouse gas emission intensity: that is to do more stuff that Canadians want, while emitting less greenhouse gases they don’t want.

We believe such a bold policy will best protect both Canada’s environment and Canada’s economy.

We also recognize that technology will be a critical part of the climate solution, and it’s a solution path where Canadians can rightly boast about leading the world with technological developments to control greenhouse gas emissions as well as conventional pollutants. So we will invest more money in the kind of fundamental research and development that can bring us toward the key breakthroughs needed in energy storage, in lower-carbon energy extraction, in renewable energy technology and especially towards the rapidly developing nuclear technology around Small Modular Reactors.

At the same time, we will avoid the premature deployment of technologies that – love them or hate them – are just not ready to supply Canadians with the affordable power that they need to thrive in Canada’s always-challenging climate, and to compete economically at home and abroad.

Conservatives have long been given short shrift when suggesting climate policies that diverge from a liberal orthodoxy long on taxes and regulations, but short on measurable impacts on the climate. We know today that there is a way forward that takes climate risk seriously, while preserving conservative beliefs in the power of trade and markets, the power of technological progress, and concerns about federal tax plans that seem more about grabbing money for pet projects than about seriously addressing the actual risks posed by climate change.

That is the bold path forward for Conservative leadership on climate change. It’s the path that my team will take under my leadership as Prime Minister of Canada’s  next Conservative government.

Rick Peterson is an Edmonton businessman and a Conservative Party of Canada leadership candidate.