Chris Selley: Liberals shock nation with a climate plan containing actual teeth (for now)

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For the first time in the country’s history, a federal government has tabled a plan that economists and climate scientists agree may well achieve our universally agreed-upon emissions targets. You certainly don’t have to like it. Plenty of carbon tax purists, never mind detractors, find it maddening: Instead of setting a price and letting the market sort it out, the plan comes with $15 billion in targeted subsidies for electric cars, home renovations and other campaign-friendly baubles.

For now, it’s a plan — an unprecedentedly plausible plan to achieve something every party says they want to achieve

Of course, the Liberals will quite rightly have to win an election stumping for the plan before it kicks in in 2023. Last time around they were so nervous even about $50 a tonne that McKenna, then environment minister, vowed they had no plans to go beyond it. This left them with no credible plan to meet their targets — but again, that hasn’t traditionally been a problem in Canadian politics. Indeed, the Liberals and friendly media immediately began criticizing Conservatives for claiming the carbon tax would go up!

And if the Liberals win, then they’ll have to stick to jacking the price of carbon up and up and up. There is no reason to take it on faith that they will — or that the carbon-neutrality provisions, which promise most households as much as or more in rebates than they spend, won’t change in the political and economic winds. British Columbia abandoned revenue neutrality completely with its carbon tax, and when the pandemic is over and the bills come due, any and all revenue sources are going to look mighty attractive in Ottawa.

But for now, it’s a plan — an unprecedentedly plausible plan to achieve something every party says they want to achieve. That seems like a net gain, overall. The other parties can, should and presumably will table their own plans, and presumably they will also have to be plausible. In some other countries that’s just called politics. Here it counts as a revolution all on its own.

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