Nelson: Carbon tax charade about saving Liberals, not planet

In terms of cynicism, the federal Liberals have never taken a back seat to anyone when it comes to that dubious political virtue

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As with many things today, carbon taxes are more about politics than any practical solution to a serious problem.

At first glance, they seem quite logical as government policy. If you want to reduce the use of something — whether it’s gasoline, cigarettes or eating pizza — then jack up the price until you eventually accomplish your goal.

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But in reality, the imposition of these green levies will never reach a level where people cut back usage enough to have an appreciable effect on humanity’s production of carbon. Any politician attempting to do so would be run out of office long before the tax was high enough to change behaviour to such an extent it made any noticeable, environmental difference.

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That’s especially true in Canada, where a relatively small population spread out across a huge and often frozen land mass could not survive, never mind thrive, without delivering a rather large carbon footprint.

Shrinking that footprint by any sizable degree would leave us stranded, freezing in the dark, allowing the much larger populations of countries such as China, India and our southern neighbours to quickly gobble up what tiny drop in emissions our self-sacrifice resulted in, emitting barely a burp of gratitude in the process.

Still, this guaranteed failure doesn’t stop our current federal government from pretending it is steadfastly saving the planet, even though it hasn’t hit any self-imposed emission-reduction target since first grabbing the highest perch aboard the stop-global-warming bandwagon almost a decade ago.

That symbolism is why Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s regime jacked up taxes again on the suitable date of April 1. (How much extra we pay today for heating, power and gasoline is compounded by the more prosaic politics of our provincial government, in steadily jettisoning the various breaks it gave us on natural gas, electricity and gasoline during the run-up to last year’s election. Blatant self-interest, of course, but at least Premier Danielle Smith’s bunch didn’t pretend they were saving Alberta from some future fiery armageddon, but instead simply reminded us of the inherent cynicism of politicians when they need your vote as opposed to when they don’t.)

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In terms of cynicism, the federal Liberals have never taken a back seat to anyone when it comes to that dubious political virtue.

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Earlier this year, the Grits put to bed any lingering doubt the environment was beyond the sordid reach of day-to-day governance when they exempted heating oil from the carbon tax. This came after desperate pleas from their Maritimes MPs, anxiously watching support plummet due to the extra cost those levies placed upon previously loyal voters.

In typical Liberal fashion, this exemption for heating oil — heavily used in Atlantic Canada, unlike on the prairies where there are also far fewer Grit MPs — came despite years of preaching about following the global warming science. Instead, Trudeau’s government simply followed the polls.

The average Canadian isn’t too environmentally steadfast either. A recent Leger poll showed more than two-thirds oppose any further increase in green levies. It just took a spike in inflation to remind us the cost of living matters more than the threat of some blistering future summer.

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So, if carbon taxes are too limited to curb individual emissions — Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault admits any effect can’t even be calculated — while most Canadians no longer favour them, how come they still exist?

Well, nothing gets a government more excited than doling out cheques to voters, especially if the cash actually comes from earlier picking those same recipients’ pockets. Such is the case with those carbon rebates, sweetly deposited into our bank accounts each quarter.

Bean counters estimate we’re worse off overall after paying the tax and getting rebates, but the former comes in smaller increments spread across many bills, while the latter is a relatively juicy payment courtesy of our benevolent federal government, one you could repay in the voting booth down the road.

The carbon tax charade isn’t about saving the planet at all. It’s about saving the Liberals.

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