Alberta Politics
Erin O’Toole with Aaron Wudrick of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation pledging never, ever to impose a carbon tax last year (Photo: Twitter).

Erin O’Toole’s startling course change on carbon taxes suggests Jason Kenney’s influence over Conservatives is waning

Posted on April 16, 2021, 2:30 am
8 mins

Federal Opposition Leader Erin O’Toole’s screeching smuggler’s turn on carbon taxes yesterday likely wouldn’t have been possible without the current disarray of Alberta’s Kenney Government.

When word of Mr. O’Toole’s plan to put a price on carbon as part of the Conservative election platform leaked to the CBC on Wednesday followed by his confirmation yesterday, no one could have been more shocked than conservatives here in Alberta, where under Premier Jason Kenney opposition to any form of carbon tax has become a fundamental pillar of the party’s core beliefs.

The notorious Maclean’s Magazine “Resistance” cover (Image: Maclean’s).

The reaction of many Conservative true believers in Wild Rose Country was shocked and bitter. 

Former Wildrose and United Conservative Party finance critic Derek Fildebrandt straight out called Mr. O’Toole a liar on his online right-wing news and commentary website. “O’Toole lied. And his carbon tax is worse than Trudeau’s,screamed the headline over his commentary. 

Franco Terrazzano, Alberta Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, reminded his social media followers of the “No Carbon Tax Pledge” the organization dragooned Mr. O’Toole into signing last year. 

“I, @erinotoole promise that, if elected Prime Minister of Canada, I will: Immediately repeal the Trudeau carbon tax; and, reject any future national carbon tax or cap-and-trade scheme,” Mr. Terrazzano quoted the coroplast sign to which Mr. O’Toole affixed his signature. 

Back in the fall of 2016, when Mr. Kenney left federal politics to lead a campaign to unite Alberta’s two conservative political parties, he was one of the most powerful leaders of the conservative movement in Canada, someone who might well return to Ottawa someday to lead the federal party. There was no question of his opposition to carbon taxes. 

His effective campaign to topple the Alberta NDP relentlessly attacked premier Rachel Notley’s carbon levy as the worst thing imaginable for Albertans and their province’s economy. 

In 2018 he joined newly elected Ontario Premier Doug Ford at a “Scrap the Carbon Tax Rally,” where they formed a mutual admiration society, boasting of their “bromance” and vowing not to give an inch in their opposition to carbon taxes. 

Mr. Kenney on the campaign trail in 2016 (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

At the end of that year, Maclean’s Magazine featured Mr. Kenney, Mr. Ford, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, and then federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer on its cover, proclaiming them to be “a powerful new alliance of conservative leaders … taking a stand against the Liberals’ carbon tax plan.” The cover headlined them as “Justin Trudeau’s worst nightmare.”

If Mr. Kenney wasn’t seen as the unofficial leader of Canada’s conservative movement, he was certainly a contender. 

When his Alberta electoral campaign succeeded in 2019 and his UCP became Alberta’s government, he was revered by Conservatives throughout the Dominion. If any of them dared to challenge his implacable opposition to carbon taxes, federal or provincial, it wasn’t apparent. 

But while Mr. Kenney’s attitude may not have changed, that was then. This is now. 

In October 2019, Mr. Scheer fumbled and lost the federal election that was his to win.

The CTF’s Franco Terrazzano (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Since then, and through the pandemic, Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals have dominated the polls in most parts of the country. Mr. O’Toole’s best efforts to challenge him seem to have had all the effectiveness of writing on water.

Recent national polling suggests that if a federal election were held tomorrow, Mr. Trudeau would not only win, but restore the majority he lost in 2019. 

While Conservatives remain the dominant force in federal politics on the Prairies, Mr. Kenney’s United Conservative Party has seen a dramatic reversal of its fortunes, including a lagging economy, series of highly unpopular policies and scandals, a school curriculum that’s become a national disgrace, perceptions on both sides of the aisle it’s mishandling the province’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and a full blown rebellion by about of a quarter of its MLAs opposed even to the weak measures taken by the government to control the pandemic. 

Recent provincial polling suggests that if an Alberta election were held tomorrow, Rachel Notley’s New Democrats could win. 

It doesn’t help that a green-tinted Democrat now occupies the White House in Washington either. 

Former Wildrose and UCP finance critic Derek Fildebrandt (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Mr. Kenney’s personal approval level keeps falling too, and is now said to be near the bottom of the pile for Canadian premiers. 

The days Mr. Kenney could tell other Canadian Conservative leaders to keep up the fight against carbon taxes and be assured they’d snap to attention are over.

Mr. O’Toole may have had his come-to-Jesus moment when he read the polls and saw what Canadians outside the Prairies thought about the need for Canada to play a meaningful role mitigating global climate change. 

Or maybe it was when the Supreme Court of Canada said, no, gentlemen, sorry, but the federal government had a right to govern the federation – including putting a price on carbon. 

His carbon tax proposal may be problematic. The idea Ottawa should tell Canadians what they can spend their carbon tax credits on is not going to be popular anywhere, especially for a party that constantly accuses its opponents of advocating a “nanny state.” 

Still, this means that whether or not the prideful and inflexible Mr. Kenney likes it, carbon taxes are coming to Canada in some form, no matter which party forms the next government.

Mr. O’Toole’s willingness to sign onto the elite consensus that carbon must be taxed shows Mr. Kenney’s influence is waning, quite possibly along with that of his friends at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the organization he once led. 

28 Comments to: Erin O’Toole’s startling course change on carbon taxes suggests Jason Kenney’s influence over Conservatives is waning

  1. Brian Gibbon

    April 16th, 2021

    Hello, David. One editorial correction to suggest. The sentence: “Recent provincial polling suggests that if a federal election were held tomorrow, Rachel Notley’s New Democrats could win.,” should surely be edited to read “if a provincial election were held tomorrow..” Thanks.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      April 16th, 2021

      Thank you, Brian. It has been done. Column fatigue. DJC

      Reply
  2. Bill Malcolm

    April 16th, 2021

    I thought Cam Holmstrom’s (Magpie Brule blog) take on O’Toole’s nonsense the best commentary. Basically, the so-called no red-tape minimum-government Con artists would create a new bureaucracy to run their carbon points scheme because all citizens would be included in it. Of course, they’d outsource that to friends in the private sector, like InterAc dear Erin mentioned, which is the usual Con game to enrich their business bros at public expense.

    The Liberal approach on carbon pricing gives money back to personal income tax payers, requiring virtually zero effort or extra staff. The Cons never mention that refund, although taxpayers doing their annual tax returns right now know it. The Con scheme creates a private bureaucracy, no doubt workers slaving away at minimum wage, who know your personal business and they could flog off the data to advertisers for even more income. This is your advanced Con brains at work — screw the public, let’s make money! While pretending to be Green, har, har. Sweet jumping jehoshaphats! Neoliberal lateral thinking at its finest!

    When O’Toole intones “Canadians feel … “, on the basis of no facts whatsoever, what he means is: “Canadian business wants …”. It’s code. It was nauseating to watch O’Toole on TV boasting away about a proposed national scam as if it were something a typical Canadian asked for.

    kenney, Erin and the boys in blue need help: they can’t run provincial pandemic response effectively, they deny climate change, think foreign eco-freaks are out to get ’em, attack anyone with common sense as socialist or Liberal, yet show every sign that they cannot punch their way out of a wet paper bag. The Brits have a word for these kinds of folk — gormless.

    Reply
  3. jerrymacgp

    April 16th, 2021

    Mr O’Toole’s so-called “plan” is absurd. Burn more gas & you’ll accumulate more of that carbon price in your teeny-tiny savings account: how will that drive emissions down? But it’ll still cause a number of Conservative heads in Saskaberta to explode.

    The current federal government’s carbon pricing plan at least makes some sense: burn less gas, pay less carbon tax, but still get same rebate as someone who burned more gas & paid more tax: this is the incentive to burn less & pay less tax & thus keep more of the rebate. It also includes a modest bump in the rebate for those of us who do not live in a “Census Metropolitan Area”, aka a big city — Calgary & Edmonton come to mind. This is intended to compensate for the fact that people in smaller cities & rural areas usually have fewer alternatives to driving to get where they need to go. (Transit is very limited out in the sticks).

    Oh, well, perhaps this will create another schism on the right like we saw in the late ‘80s & early ‘90s, after the Mulroney PC government awarded the CF-18 maintenance contract to a Quebec firm instead of one in Winnipeg; if you remember, this was a proximate cause for the formation of the Reform Party.

    Reply
  4. Ron

    April 16th, 2021

    Any indication that the recent winner-of-the-popular-vote-party might finally embrace climate reality is good news.
    Albeit very trivial in the scheme of things.

    But coming on the heels of the CONs grassroots’ clear choice for climate denialism, I’d say O’fool has likely guaranteed a third Trudeau gov’t.

    Reply
  5. Bob Raynard

    April 16th, 2021

    “Recent provincial polling suggests that if a federal election were held tomorrow, Rachel Notley’s New Democrats could win. ”

    Oopsie!…but not necessarily inaccurate!

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      April 16th, 2021

      You know, Bob, you’re right! DJC

      Reply
  6. Bob Raynard

    April 16th, 2021

    When the details of the current federal carbon tax came out, conservative commentators had great fun asking how it could cut emissions if it refunded the carbon tax back to the consumer, conveniently forgetting how everyone got the same rebate, regardless of how much they paid into it. With the current tax, the longer my neighbour warms up his truck on a +2 degree morning, the larger the rebate I get. As the carbon tax grows, eventually my neighbour will decide getting into a cool truck isn’t that bad.

    The criticism the commentators tried to make for the current tax is, however, dead on when applied to the scheme Mr. O’Toole is proposing. Mr. O’Toole’s proposal would have all of the carbon tax I pay go into my ‘green spending account’, which could then be used to make environmentally friendly purchases. The problem is there is no incentive to reduce emissions – and perhaps there is an incentive to increase them. Is your kid asking for a new bike for his birthday? No problem, burn a bit more fuel and you will have enough money in your green account to get the bike for free!

    Reply
    • Keith McClary

      April 16th, 2021

      This has been called a “loyalty card” but nobody has yet called it “green stamps” (according to my googling).

      The scammers and fraudsters will have a heyday selling O’Toole-approved 100 mpg carburetors and plug-in “Power Savers” that cut your electric bill in half.

      Reply
  7. Dave in Sask

    April 16th, 2021

    Who can dislike a green energy tax credit that not only pays for the tax levied on carbon, but also pays for some of the fuel you buy? The credit being based on your income rather than on the carbon based fuel that the federal government can’t know especially if you pay for your fuel with cash.

    Reply
  8. brett

    April 16th, 2021

    Carbon tax was bad, bad, bad last week. This week it is good, good, good. And next week?

    Now I get it. Thanks Erin.

    Good to see that the Conservatives are so united and have such a succinct climate platform.

    Reply
  9. tom in Ontario

    April 16th, 2021

    “The (Maclean’s) cover headlined them as Justin Trudeau’s Worst Nightmare.”
    His worst nightmare would be the CPC’s installing a leader other than O’Toole or Kenney.

    Reply
  10. Political Ranger

    April 16th, 2021

    What (K)erin the Fool’s capitulations show is his and his Party’s, lack of character and integrity. It also proves that conservatives have nothing to offer any thoughtful constituent.

    The vast, vast majority of Canadians of all ages, in all locations across the country and of every level of education know that the climate is changing and know that it is caused by human industrial activity. Canadians know this. They see it and experience it; it’s no longer a theory or in any doubt in anybody but the most loony neighbour. And Canadians fear that it’s going to get a lot worse.
    So they want their leadership to do something. To alleviate the effects, to reduce the damage, to promote a way of life that is not so damaging to the place they live. Pricing carbon emissions seems to work; it’s not terribly onerous and hey, we get a nice refund at the end of the year. What’s not to like? Short of wading through a couple dozen technical reports to get at the actual facts of this scheme and compare it to the others on offer, it’s easy to feel good about being onside with most of the world’s climate scientists and economists and governments.
    It’s at least something and it’s moving us, globally, in the right direction.

    So, finally, the federal conservative leadership recognises this, at long last. More important even, than the recognition that carbon pricing is an acceptable and workable solution, is the recognition that they, the conservative brain trust, have absolutely nothing else to offer. Denial hasn’t worked. Their vaunted belief in business solutions has only made things worse. Their fantastical evangelical belief in the rapture has very limited currency.
    In short, they got nothing.
    So rather than fess up and get 100% behind an idea that will provide tangible benefits to Canadians everywhere for generations, they decide to … save face.
    Their idea; lower prices for carbon, more tepid impact of GHG emission than currently on offer and a financial management scheme for savings and spending that the crooked and irresponsible operators on Bay Street could have only dreamed about. At the end of the day the conservatives will have a lesser impact on GHG emissions and return less cash to Canadians while enriching their corporate friends, but hey! … it’s a conservative plan.
    Kind of.

    This shows, yet again, that conservatives of all stripes, everywhere, have nothing to offer the rest of humanity to help resolve current issues. They are determinedly facing backwards, by constitution and by choice. They have no ability to comprehend issues currently extant let alone those possible in the future.
    These are not the people you want to be leading us into the future. They are not only blind to that future and living in the past but they are totally consumed by their own Machiavellian instincts to personal power and social positioning. Conservatives and conservatism as a political force for good is spent; it serves no useful function for a modern society. It is best left in the dustbin of history. There are plenty of other political impulses that can offer competitive solutions to the problems that plague us today.

    Reply
  11. DAVID Wasserman

    April 16th, 2021

    “if a federal election were held tomorrow, Rachel Notley’s New Democrats could win. ” David, you’ve got to stop posting at 2:30 a.m.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      April 16th, 2021

      Thanks for this, David. It’s been fixed. Occasionally I’ll write things like this, even at an earlier hour. What I really need is a good editor – alas, this is a one-person operation. As stated many times, my readers are my editors. DJC

      Reply
    • Lulymay

      April 16th, 2021

      Ah but, you can’t blame him for thinking positive, can you? I have many good friends there and my great great grandmother, a widow with 8 children, arrived from England in 1884 to settle in Alberta (Midnapore area). Oh, and she had purchased her property from the CPR Land Company Office in London so didn’t arrive via the Western Canada Land Grant Program (nothing wrong with that program or its reasons either).

      However, I despair that if I lived in Alberta, I would find myself out in the wilderness, as they say, when it comes to the understanding of man’s contribution to and the serious effects of an increase of carbon dioxide on our future generations.

      Reply
  12. Abs

    April 16th, 2021

    All those people who voted for Kenney two years ago today because of the carbon tax must surely have buyer’s remorse. “We can’t afford it,” they said in TV and radio interviews with people filling up at gas stations. Ha! Now Kenney has given them extra fees for everything, including random camping fees announced just days ago. If his poor handling of the pandemic doesn’t finish this province off his nickel and diming will.

    His pledge to protect public health care was signed with a big Sharpie marker on Coroplast. Look how that worked out. Fortunately, word has gotten out about Coroplast. “Kat” wrote in a hardware store review:

    “Used the coroplast to make a guinea pig cage… Its (sic) sturdy, easy to cut, and keeps their mess inside the enclosure…”

    Coroplast has not prevented Kenney’s mess from leaking out all over this province and beyond for two long years. What a stinking mess it is, too. Happy second anniversary? Have another user fee, and fire up the mini-nukes while you’re at it. I think a guinea pig would do a better job ad premier.

    Reply
  13. Dave

    April 16th, 2021

    That famous resistance picture on Macleans cover is quickly becoming a bit dated. Like most bad nightmares, this ended quickly with waking up to reality. First of all, I don’t believe Mr. Ford won because of his opposition to the carbon tax, mostly it was just time for a change in government in a province that regularly changes them. Alas, Mr. Scheer now politically departed definitely didn’t win because of opposition to the carbon tax and now the courts say the Feds do have the power to levy it.

    So, it is not surprising Mr. O’Toole has finally done a U turn here. As he realizes, he will probably only have one shot to win and his languishing poll numbers at this point are not promising. Perhaps this is a desperate move, but the Federal Conservatives needed some semi credible policy on climate change. However, I have to wonder how well this will go over with Conservative voters and members after being told for over a decade a carbon tax was very, very bad. I don’t think it is only Kenney, who is indisposed with a number of other problems right now, that O’Toole will have to worry about. Perhaps there will be a possibility of a bit of a political revival for Mr. Bernier and his party.

    No doubt the Taxpayers Federation is also a bit miffed, after all Mr. O’Toole signed that plastic/cardboard thing they may have paid for, pledging no carbon tax. Perhaps Mr. Kenney was a bit smarter to pay for his own plastic/cardboard thing when he signed the grassroots guarantee he later disregarded and as that did not involve taxes directly, perhaps the Taxpayers Federation is more willing to look the other way. Also, perhaps all the user fees that Kenney is levying or increasing these days don’t count as taxes, at least in the eyes of the Taxpayers Federation.

    So, the solution is clear for O’Toole’s dilemma here, just call his carbon tax a user fee instead. Maybe an administratively complex one, which seems to provide an incentive for more pollution, not less, but it seems like Conservatives do have a soft spot for the term user fee. He could even be magnanimous and give Mr. Kenney credit here for that term. Lets see how that goes.

    Reply
  14. John Kolkman

    April 16th, 2021

    Yikes. Hell must have frozen over this morning because I find myself agreeing with Derek Fildebrandt. O’Toole’s carbon tax is unambiguously worse than Trudeau’s. Not only because of its “nanny state” implications, but also because the more you burn the more you earn for your savings account.

    Reply
    • brett

      April 16th, 2021

      Agree completely. It is a tax, it is a mess. But at least he made the first steps toward a sensible policy. The so called ‘savings account’ is ridiculous.

      Reply
  15. brett

    April 16th, 2021

    O’Toole did not have a choice.

    Minority Gov’t, an election could happen after the budget. The very last thing O’Toole wants is to go into the next election with no climate policy, notwithstanding the recent Conservative Policy Convention.

    O’Toole does not need Kenney. He has been elected Leader. Kenney has his own mess to work on.

    This is strictly a math issue. Loose some votes, perhaps even a seat or two in Alberta. But pick up votea and perhaps 10-15 seats, or more in the vote rich urban areas of Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver that he otherwise would not even have a chance of winning.

    O’Toole, IMHO, took the only sensible course of action. He would otherwise be doomed as just another has-been Leader of the Official Opposition. He is placing his bet on the voters, not the Party. It is his only play at this point in the game. I admire him for being brave and for doing the right thing.

    Reply
  16. Mike Danysh

    April 16th, 2021

    The CTF bills itself as representing Canadians who pay taxes. This is true, if you remember that multi-millionaires and billionaires pay (some, if they have to) taxes, too.

    Their grand-standing Coroplast display was a déjà vu moment. Kenney did the same thing, with the same result, for his “grassroots” pledge and his “protect health care” pledge.

    O’Toole has obviously realized he can’t win with just the right-wing nuts and fruitcakes in the Prairies. He has no choice but to try re-erecting a Big Tent party. If that means pissing off the yokels and yahoos in Oilberduh and Saskatechedumb, so be it.

    O’Toole no longer has to worry about Jason Kenney replacing him. Kenney has severe foot-in-mouth disease, and the list of UCP gaffes has grown beyond belief (my personal list, incomplete and in bullet form, is approaching two pages). If the pandemic in Oilberduh doesn’t die out soon — and it’s unlikely, as shown here:
    https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/low-turnout-during-first-week-of-edmonton-expo-centre-mass-vaccine-clinic-1.5989513
    — Kenney’s affliction may become politically terminal at next year’s leadership review.

    Jason Kenney has become the first premier in Alberta history to alienate both his right-wing base and ALSO the sensible people. His days are numbered—and Erin O’Toole can see it just as easily as we can.

    Reply
  17. Just Me

    April 16th, 2021

    The O’Toole Carbon Tax — just start calling it that right now — is a carbon tax with a difference: the larger your carbon footprint, the greater carbon tax you will pay, and the greater your rebate. Though this rebate is in the form of some quasi-digital credits that are state-managed and meant to encourage recipients to “be” carbon responsible.

    It’s good to see that O’Toole can fall back on a career in comedy writing, if he’s tossed from the CPC leadership, which could be any day now.

    Reply
  18. Keith McClary

    April 16th, 2021

    The O’Toole plan says:
    “OUR PLAN HAS BEEN INDEPENDENTLY ANALYSED BY NAVIUS RESEARCH, Canadian leaders in quantifying the impacts of energy and climate policy. Navius simulated the expected outcome of our plan using a model that accounts for all economic activity in Canada. This model is used by most provincial governments and the federal government to assess the impact of climate policy. Navius found that our plan would be expected to achieve substantially the same emissions reductions as the government’s current plan in 2030, while resulting in a boost to jobs and the economy.”
    https://cpcassets.conservative.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/15104504/24068610becf2561.pdf
    Navius describes how they did this using their secret proprietary model:
    https://www.naviusresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/CP-policy-assessment-2021-04-16.pdf
    Notice on p.7, #2 , they claim that they can model human behavior !!!

    Navius has also been paid by the War Room:
    “To address that gap, we asked Navius Research, a firm known for its data-driven, empirical work to assess current plans and policy to meet the Paris target. Navius was given complete independence to design one of most efficient ways of arriving at the Paris target in 2030. They concluded (and others may disagree) that was via a carbon tax that covers virtually all economy-wide emissions, including emissions intensive and trade-exposed sectors.”
    https://www.canadianenergycentre.ca/reaching-paris-target-entails-extra-costs-to-jobs-and-canadas-economy/

    I suspect Navius is ignoring the cost of vehicle and fuel mandates, which will be passed onto consumers but Navius will count as increased GDP.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      April 17th, 2021

      Good reporting, Keith. Thank you. This will find its way into many reports, and not just mine. DJC

      Reply
  19. Anonymous

    April 17th, 2021

    It’s been a known fact that the conservative parties in Canada support a carbon tax. How could they try and say otherwise?

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      April 17th, 2021

      We have always been at war with Eastasia. We have never been at war with Eurasia. DJC

      Reply
  20. Alan K. Spiller

    April 19th, 2021

    It isn’t hard to understand why the MLAs from the Lougheed era taught me that you can’t trust a reformer. They will tell the people anything they want to hear even if they have to change it the next day.
    Danielle Smith , when she was trying to become premier was the same thing. Her candidates told us she didn’t believe in global warming, or same sex marriages, or cared about the pollution we were creating , she believed in privatization of our health care and education systems , then all of a sudden she didn’t. It was too late people knew she couldn’t be trusted and she was defeated. Fired from the Calgary school board and lost three elections but is still spreading her reform party lies.

    I haven’t forgotten the words from the American oilmen that I was involved with either. They called Albertans the dumbest people on the planet for allowing the Klein government to give away our oil royalties like the were doing. Don’t you people realize it’s non renewable they stated.
    Klein of course was a well known Liberal, as his daughter Angie confirmed in her interview in 2015, and when he became premier he adopted Preston Manning’s reform party stupidity and look what it did to us. The American oilmen certainly knew what he was doing to us and economist Trevor Tombe has proven it. While he points out we lost $575 billion , oilmen state that it’s a lot more because it doesn’t include Natural Gas royalties they gave away.

    Reply

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