Can O’Toole’s Climate Policy Defeat Climate Denying Conservatives?Posted: June 24, 2024

Erin O’Toole, Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada just announced a new climate plan. Or maybe an Environment plan? Or an appeasement plan? On paper, the plan finally seems to be taking climate seriously. Is it enough? Maybe. But regardless, it is a step in the right direction. Yet, does it really matter if the party does not even believe in climate change?

Well, let’s start from the beginning. Conservatives do not have the best track record when it comes to climate change. Way back (at least for me), we had Stephen Harper as our Prime Minister. He silenced climate change scientists, cut climate change funding, and degraded our environmental policy by being best buds with big fossil fuel. The next leader, Andrew Scheer, who ran in 2019 for Prime Minister, had the strangest climate change platform ever. It was vague, not much measures, based on unsuccessful measures and was mainly designed to make anti-climate people feel that they were doing some good despite that the plan would not do so. Their bad record for climate change is also one of the main contributing losses for both Conservative leaders during the election.

Finally, we have Erin O’Toole. He ran with a decent climate plan for his campaign to become Conservative Leader. But, he like his predecessors, could not resist bowing down to Big Fossil Fuel by eliminating his clause to stop fossil fuel subsidies – something that the Greens, NDP, Bloc, and Liberals have all pledged to do.

However, the past few months have changed, with O’Toole finally learning the mistakes of his predecessors. In fact, he spoke loud and clear – telling Conservatives that sticking their heads in the sand will only shift voters away. He had good reason to believe this with COVID being a turning point for climate change. There began a worldwide push for a green economy alongside the implicit Liberal–NDP–Bloc Coalition capitalizing on Gen Z’s vote. All seemed bright. It seemed that the Conservatives were finally learning.

Yet it seems that O’Toole has to deal with a curse that is ridden in the Conservative Party: the fear of fighting climate change. Recently, the Conservatives voted against declaring climate change is real. Why would you be afraid of fighting what is objectively considered the greatest threat to humanity? Even if we consider that the vote was not unanimous, the fact that it passed at all and had to be considered in the first place is truly mind boggling. How can you live in 2021 and not understand that climate change is real? It seems that the Conservatives have a passion for screwing up their election chances. Climate change was the most important issue for the 2019 election, and I expect it to be up there when the next one comes. While O’Toole’ rightly denounced the Conservatives for their self-destructive tendencies, the damage was already done.

First, he had to watch as the Conservatives got derailed by the media. It is pathetic to be a political party in 2021 and not believe in climate change. Second, he had to deal with the abuse from all the other political parties who bragged during the conventions about their efforts to stop climate change. The Liberals, who in particular, did not waste a single moment roasting the Conservatives for their incompetence in not recognizing the greatest threat to humanity. They likely stole a lot of young voters as a result. Any change from the general Conservative party? Any call to recast the vote by the caucus? Nope

O’Toole, for some reason, has not given up, despite his own party being undeserving of him. Just a couple of days ago, he announced a new climate change plan. The Conservatives should be thanking their lucky stars Surprisingly, his plan has been independently found by Navius Canada to meet similar targets set by the current Liberal government. Key highlights include: technological development, tariffs for overseas carbon-intensive goods, retrofitting, and an electric grid.

But, I still have doubts. For one, unlike all the other parties, he omitted key policies for a green economic future promised by the other parties such as a just economic recovery, a green transition, and ecotourism (as found in Rohan’s Green Deal ). More importantly, however, he justified keeping the fossil fuel industry in the long term on the grounds that other countries are worse polluters. Canada producing 2% of all emissions is irrelevant since we produce the 7th most per capita in the world!

We need to transition to become a green economic leader including clean tech and renewables, which creates more jobs, is cheaper, already outpaces current economic growth, and more. We can be a force to be reckoned with. Rather than selling LNG to the world, why not use his policy of creating jobs in clean tech and selling those products to the world (as found in Rohan’s Green Deal Section 2 and 3) ? Why maintain an industry in the longterm which limits our oxygen, pollutes our oceans and atmosphere, burdens the health care system and kills the planet? 

Next, ironically, despite his earlier claims, he too decided to implement a price on carbon – one of the most effective ways of fighting climate change. But, unlike his Liberal counterparts, he made it useless by lowering the 2030 price from $170 to $50. A price starting at $20 and going to $50 per tonne is not enough to cause the required mass shift in business and consumer behaviour. Researchers recommend in the $200 range by 2030 for Canada.

Before you say he promised to tie carbon pricing mechanisms to foreign markets, consider: (i) Biden is backing out of carbon pricing; and (ii) the EU is already at 40 euros with annual increases. How can we establish pricing with the US if Biden is dead set against it? If we tied it to the EU, Carbon pricing would be anywhere from $118 to $133 (converted). It seems that pricing per the EU would be way over $50 that O’Toole promises anyway. I’m a bit confused

Moreover, if anything, a higher carbon price will spur further innovation in the green economy since businesses will be forced to take part less they want to pay more or seen as planet killers – either outcomes not being good. Consequently, Canada will become an instant leader.

If O’Toole is concerned about a high price impacting keeping businesses in Canada, then he should ensure that we are the best place for green innovation. For instance, an article by the Globe and Mail points out that the high carbon price could have been used to lower taxes, which is in line with Conservative thinking. To go even further, the excess money could have also been used to reinvest in communities hit hardest by climate change, building up infrastructure, investing in green jobs, and climate resiliency – all of which are in line with Conservative policy.

While Navius backing is pretty good, and despite it being a decent start for all things considered, O’Toole could have fought climate change on a whole new level than ever seen before by the Conservatives. This was his chance to dominate every other political party. I expect to see this plan which lacks many of the aggressive pushes by other parties, to be its downfall as it was in 2019.

Yet, despite this problematic plan, I have to defend O’Toole again. Why? The answer lies in another question: Why would O’Toole who has spent months calling for change yet put out such a plan? His own party. For years, Conservatives have become accustomed to ignoring the reality of the situation – that is the political, moral, economical, health, and environmental necessity to properly deal with climate change. It is likely that his flawed plan was to appease his substantial anti-climate fanbase. But, will it even succeed on those merits? For instance, despite the mockery of carbon pricing, there is a sizeable chunk that hates carbon pricing in general. In short, no one is really happy with the Conservative plan. Conservatives do not really want one, and others rightfully recognize it as a flawed compromise.

Mr. O’Toole, I feel for you – I really do. It seems you understand that climate action is important. But your party seems to favour hiding away rather than actually fighting for our future. In the end, it is the Conservatives that will suffer in the long run. Perhaps you should have gone over the top to shock the Conservatives. Regardless though, Gen Z will remember that the Conservatives once again failed to fight climate change, and should that continue then I do not expect to see much of a Conservative future at all.