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Is the carbon tax a good idea?

['Did You Know That with Alan Walter']
['Did You Know That with Alan Walter']

Did You Know with Alan Walter

I had considered a carbon tax on fossil fuels to be a reasonable approach to solve some of our climate change challenges. Our federal government keeps reminding us that we must pay a price for atmospheric pollution, and such a tax on fossil fuel consumption seemed to make sense.

However, I’m beginning to question whether the proposed tax plan will in fact do the job. While I have no ideological objections to reasonable increases in taxes when it serves the public good, I have my doubts that such a tax regime would have the desired effect on gasoline consumption in particular.

Admittedly, tax increases worked well when it came to curbing cigarette smoking in Canada, causing a significant 40 per cent decline in participation in recent years, and helping to mitigate future health care costs.

However, the price paid by smokers was a very stiff one, well beyond a few percentage points. Between the 1980s and the present time, the Canadian government increased tobacco taxes by over 500%, which is why a standard pack of 25 cigarettes now costs around ten dollars, and a ten-pack carton can run over $100!

On the other hand, we regularly see 10 to 15 per cent fluctuations in gasoline prices, without much protest and few efforts to limit consumption in these periods. So, I don’t see the proposed modest carbon tax increases having much of an impact, and major tax increases are politically out of the question.

On reflection, the craziest aspect of the plan involves the use of tax rebates to repay the carbon tax, which runs contrary to the “paying a price for pollution” philosophy underlying the plan. We essentially get back what we paid in the first place….where’s the pain? It will also create a bizarre situation where equal amounts of dollars flows back and forth between government and taxpayers every year, at great administrative cost, and to what end?

Of course, we Nova Scotians are not affected by the recently introduced national carbon tax plan. In 2016, the federal government announced that all provinces and territories must put a price on carbon pollution. They could use a carbon tax, a cap-and-trade program, or a blend of the two approaches. So, our province decided to use a cap-and-trade program which is more complicated but essentially extracts money from businesses who consume energy and create pollution in serving their markets.

What bothers me most about the carbon tax is the punitive philosophy underlying it. This is a government saying to us that we have been harmful consumers and its time to pay up. No wonder there is so much resistance and anger surrounding the idea. And it is this anger that politicians like Doug Ford and others are only too happy to stir up.

We definitely need to put a much more positive, collaborative spin on any remedial plans to dig ourselves out this climate change situation. There are many green energy solutions emerging that people can feel enthusiastic about and can be made more practicable to implement with some positive financial and regulatory support taken by government.

I am ready to take on a re-do of our farmhouse property employing solar energy to power heat-pumps and store surplus energy for when the sun doesn’t shine, using the kind of high capacity storage batteries that Surrette Batteries produces down the road in Springhill, and sells worldwide.

With this setup we can treat the local power company as a “standby” supplier of last resort, powering our home and charging up our future all-electric vehicles courtesy of our sun, without spending another cent on gasoline or fuel oil. Like many others I would simply welcome some helpful governmental assists to make this happen, sooner rather than later.

As for some final thoughts on the carbon tax approach offered by our federal government, Margaret Wente of the Globe and Mail succinctly wrote recently that “Too many people don’t like them, no matter how revenue-neutral they’re supposed to be. The central problem is that they are either too low to be effective, or they’re so high that the politicians responsible for introducing them will get booted out of office.”

Alan Walter is a retired professional engineer living in Oxford. He was born in Wales and worked in Halifax. He spends much of his time in Oxford, where he operates a small farm. He can be reached at alanwalter@eastlink.ca.

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