POILIEVRE: Taxed green tomatoes (Courtesy Postmedia)

July 12, 2019
What happens when theory and practice collide? The theory is that carbon taxes reduce emissions by penalizing people for emitting greenhouse gas. That is the theory.

Tomato farmer Bob Mitchell, owner of Ottawa-based SunTech Greenhouses, is more concerned with practice.

He releases CO2 into his greenhouse to encourage better production. The federal government charges carbon tax on that CO2 even though none goes into the atmosphere.

The tomato tree absorbs it, just like they taught us in grade school.

That tax — along with the McGuinty-Wynne government’s decision to double electricity rates to subsidize unreliable and unneeded windmills and solar panels — inflated the farmer’s energy costs so much it became more expensive for Ottawa customers to buy his tomatoes than Mexican ones.

Why? Mexico has only a tiny carbon tax; only a fraction of Canada’s. But it’s tomatoes must travel by truck and train — polluting all the way through North America on their way to grocery stores in the nation’s capital.

None of that foreign transportation pollution is subject to the Canadian carbon tax either.

Yet, the tax signals consumers to buy the more polluting foreign tomatoes instead of the greener local ones.

What happened to the hundred-mile diet environmentalists championed not long ago?

It is not just with tomatoes that the tax drives production out and pollution up.

Compared to Canada, the United States emits six times as much greenhouse gases for each ton of aluminum it produces.

Yet Canadian carbon taxes, which Americans don’t pay, make our aluminum pricier than the more polluting U.S. product.

The result is to drive production out of Canada and global emissions up.

Conversely, lowering taxes on clean Canadian industries will help displace dirty industries abroad.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau admitted this logic at a photo-op to take credit for the previous Conservative government’s approval of the LNG Canada project in northern B.C. LNG Canada will have the lowest carbon intensity of any large-scale LNG facility in the world.

“We know LNG produces about half the amount of carbon emissions as coal,” he said.

“So by sending Canadian LNG to markets that are today powered by coal, we will help those jurisdictions transition away from this energy source.”

“But for every unit of greenhouse gas (GHG) British Columbia produces to get that LNG to market, the overseas production of GHGs goes down by a factor of 10,” Rob Seeley, president of E3Merge Consulting said in the Vancouver Sun.

“Shipping LNG at design capacity from Kitimat to displace coal-generated electricity in China would reduce global GHG emissions by 60 to 90 million tonnes annually, equivalent to the annual production of GHGs in all of B.C. and 10% of Canada’s.”

That is also equivalent to the total reductions the Liberal government claims the carbon tax will cause across Canada.

Think about that: One fossil fuel project in western Canada will reduce global greenhouse gases as much as a nation-wide carbon tax will do in a full year.

Speaking of the carbon tax, the federal Liberals and B.C. NDP offered a partial carbon tax exemption to make LNG Canada project financially viable.

By the government’s admission, applying the full carbon tax would have prevented the project and caused more coal emissions in Asia.

The tax would have boosted global emissions — as is the case with Mr. Mitchell’s Ottawa tomato farm — precisely the opposite of its stated purpose.

It is not the first time Liberals have offered a carbon tax exemption — on the grounds that the tax could actually increase global emissions. Industrial enterprises with over 50,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year are exempted from the tax.

That is because taxing those industries’ emissions, “could potentially have jobs leave and it would do nothing for emissions,” said Sean Fraser, Liberal parliamentary secretary to the environment minister. When taxes go up, industry leaves and foreign pollution rises.

The problem is that exemption only applies to a select group of well-lobbied-for industries.

A better approach would be to lower taxes to lower emissions.

This is exactly what Andrew Scheer has just proposed.

Allowing low-emission businesses to write-off their investments faster, earn tax-free patent income from green technologies, while requiring firms that exceed emissions caps to invest in greening their operations. Technology, not taxes, will green our future  — and leave more green in our wallets.

— Pierre Poilievre is a Conservative MP and the opposition finance critic