OTTAWA—The chief budget adviser to Ontario’s anti-carbon tax premier once told Canadian senators that putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions is “the single most important thing that any government can do to transition to a low-carbon economy.”
Benjamin Dachis, now Premier Doug Ford’s director of policy, budget and fiscal planning, was supportive of a carbon price when he testified at a Senate committee on Parliament Hill in November 2016. At the time, Dachis was associate director of research at the C.D. Howe Institute, a Toronto-based think tank.
“The reason I’m advocating a carbon price is that we, as a society, have made it a clear priority to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Dachis told the standing committee on energy, the environment and natural resources.
“Once your goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, by far the most efficient way to do so is through a price on carbon,” he said.
Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party was also in favour of carbon pricing before Patrick Brown resigned as leader and Ford led the party to victory in June’s provincial election. Ford campaigned to cut the cost of gasoline by axing the cap-and-trade system introduced by the previous Liberal government in 2016, a promise he kept when he moved to scrap the system in early July.
The Trudeau Liberals say carbon pricing is central to their plan to cut emissions that cause climate change, and that all revenue will be returned directly to residents of the provinces where it is being imposed. More than 70 per cent will get more money back than they pay in extra tax, the government says.
Dachis, who now serves as Ford’s budget policy director, did not respond to an interview request Tuesday.
Ford’s spokesperson, Simon Jefferies, said Dachis — who does not advise Ford on environmental issues and is among more than more than three dozen staffers in the premier’s office — was representing the views of the C.D. Howe Institute when he spoke to senators in Ottawa. “He no longer works for or represents the C.D. Howe Institute,” Jefferies said.
Alongside federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and like-minded Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, Ford is now championing the resistance to Ottawa’s carbon tax. Ford and Scheer have cast doubt on the government’s projection that most people’s rebates will outweigh the cost of the tax, while Ontario and Saskatchewan have gone to court to challenge the federal government’s authority to impose the tax.
“Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax will punish hard-working Ontario families who depend on cars to drive to- and-from work, seniors who depend on affordable natural gas to heat their homes in cold winters, and small businesses who create jobs up and down Main Street Ontario,” said Jefferies.
“If Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is insistent on ramming a carbon tax down the throats of Ontario families and job-creators, then Premier Doug Ford and the Ontario Government for the People will use every tool at our disposal to fight this carbon tax in court.”
Back in 2016, Dachis told the Senate committee that he believed a carbon price would encourage companies to adopt technologies to lower emissions. He also said a price to discourage emissions would lead to economic benefits of innovation more readily than policies that rely mostly on subsidies to develop new technology, and that such a carbon price wouldn’t destroy the country’s oil and gas industry.
“The bottom line is that Canada can have emissions reductions and jobs in the oil and gas sector, thanks to pipelines and LNG export facilities, as long as we are going to have in place some form of carbon price,” Dachis said.
He’s not the only member of Ford’s team to have previously supported carbon pricing. Attorney General Caroline Mulroney started her failed bid for the PC leadership last winter by supporting Brown’s centrist “People’s Guarantee” platform. That plan, announced in November 2017, would have accepted the federal government’s carbon price and given the province control over its projected revenue in the province, which Ottawa has pegged at about $1.7 billion next year from the fuel charge alone. Brown’s plan would have used that revenue to cut taxes.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report on Thanksgiving weekend that called for “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society,” if the world is to avoid the worst extremes of global warming. The report said global emissions will need to drop by 45 per cent below 2010 levels in 2030, and then hit “net zero” by 2050.
Canada’s current target, which government projections say the country is on track to miss, is to cut emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.
Ottawa’s carbon price plan is expected to cut annual emissions by 50 to 60 megatonnes in 2022, according to federal officials. Canada emitted 704 megatonnes in 2016.
Alex Ballingall is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @aballinga