Exchanging e-mails with Joe Oliver

Following the Natural Resources Minister’s turn with the talking points, I emailed his office with a question.

The Conservative party’s 2008 platform included a promise to “work with the provinces and territories and our NAFTA trading partners in the United States and Mexico, at both the national and state levels, to develop and implement a North America-wide cap and trade system for greenhouse gases and air pollution, with implementation to occur between 2012 and 2015.” Did Joe Oliver object to cap-and-trade when he ran as a Conservative candidate in 2008?

Through his office, Mr. Oliver sent along a response.

“Our Government is focused on the economy and creating jobs. We will not move forward with a cap and trade system when our largest trading partner, the US, has not moved forward with their proposal. This would put Canadian business at a disadvantage compared to their American counterparts. The economic recovery remains fragile and we will not pursue initiatives like the NDP that would destroy Canadian jobs, including Mr. Mulcair’s proposal to introduce a carbon tax.”

So I had another question.

What will the Harper government do if the United States does move forward with cap and trade?

Awhile later, a response arrived from the minister.

“We are committed under the Copenhagen Accord to reduce our total greenhouse gas emissions to 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. According to the most recent Emissions Trend report Canada is halfway to reaching these goals. We are taking concrete actions in this area and will not comment on an unlikely hypothetical question about on what the United States may do in this area.”

This corresponds with what Peter Kent’s office told me in June.

So the Harper government proposed a cap-and-trade system in 2008, while loudly condemning a carbon tax. But it now says that cap-and-trade is the same thing as a carbon tax and loudly condemns cap-and-trade. But it won’t rule out pursuing cap-and-trade itself if the United States decides to do so.

(There might be a narrower argument to be made that a cap-and-trade system should only be established if the United States and Mexico are willing to do likewise, but that would seem to require acknowledging that cap-and-trade is not inherently evil.)

I think it’s interesting to note the language of the first response from Mr. Oliver. When referring to the cap-and-trade proposal that the Harper government made in 2008, cap-and-trade is described as “cap-and-trade.” But when referring to the cap-and-trade proposal that Thomas Mulcair has made, cap-and-trade is described as a “carbon tax.” So there’s no distinction to be made between cap-and-trade and a carbon tax unless you’re referring to what the Conservatives proposed, in which case the distinction still stands.

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