Conservatives can do carbon pricing. Just ask Boris Johnson.

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Originally published by iPolitics

Last week, dozens of U.K. Conservative MPs urged their government to adopt even more ambitious climate goals in order to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. It’s a commitment to climate action that could inspire Conservatives in this country, as well.

Among industrialized countries, the United Kingdom is already a climate leader. The country cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 29 per cent between 2010 and 2019, faster than any other nation, even as its economy grew by 18 per cent. Last year, the U.K. became the first country in the world to legislate a commitment to net-zero emissions.

It’s important to note that the U.K. Conservative Party has been a principal driver of climate action. A Conservative prime minister, Theresa May, introduced the net-zero legislation. And U.K. Conservatives are continuing to push forward determinedly on climate. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, once considered a climate-change skeptic, now pledges to make Britain the “Saudi Arabia of wind power.”

Compare Canada to the U.K. We should be leading on climate, but our emissions have remained stubbornly high. While Britain was cutting theirs, ours increased by more than five per cent — even though our economy grew significantly less. Where the U.K. demonstrates a national commitment to climate action that transcends party lines, we continue to struggle with a partisan divide over basic policy measures.

Carbon pricing is a perfect example of common-sense climate policy that’s been turned into a political football, when it should simply be an accepted cornerstone of climate action.

Opinion polls consistently show that most Canadians support carbon pricing in its current form: the federal carbon tax and rebate. Most families get more money back in rebates than they pay in taxes, making it one of the most affordable tools we have to fight climate change.

Canadian oil and gas companies support carbon pricing, too.

Evidence from 142 countries shows definitively that carbon taxes reduce emissions. So why is the need for carbon pricing still up for debate in Canada?

The U.K. has moved on from arguing about whether it should have carbon pricing, to how best to implement it. The current debate about climate policy inside the ruling U.K. Conservative party concerns the optimal post-Brexit pricing system. Some argue for a carbon tax, others for an emissions-trading system (and some for both).

Eliminating pricing as a policy measure isn’t even up for discussion. Public opinion backs them up; more than half of Britons support carbon pricing.

Here at home, Canadian Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has made it clear he’s serious about climate action. He’s renewed the party’s commitment to meeting Canada’s Paris Agreement targets. This isn’t just altruism. O’Toole understands that the Conservatives can only hope to govern if they have a strong climate policy.

Polls of Toronto’s outer suburbs — the perennial 905 swing region notorious for deciding federal elections — show that potential Conservative voters want leaders who will deliver bold action on climate, including a majority who support carbon pricing.

Putting a price on pollution is orthodox conservative economics, so it should be an easy sell for the party. Yet somehow things have gotten turned upside down, and Conservatives are forced to watch while the Liberals implement conservative climate policies.

O’Toole has a golden opportunity to bring carbon pricing back to the Conservative Party, its natural home. As the Parliamentary Budget Officer reported recently, it’s a surefire way to get to Paris. It’s also a surefire way to reach those prized 905 swing ridings.

To be clear, putting a price on carbon doesn’t have to mean copying the Liberal policy playbook. By all means, the Conservative Party should propose a competing vision of how to price pollution. But, like their compatriots in the U.K., the Conservative argument should be about the most effective and affordable way to price carbon emissions, not about whether to price them at all.

O’Toole believes in “proven market-based principles” to fight climate change, and he’s started down this road with his proposal for an industrial regulatory and pricing regime. But a truly effective policy requires going further, by putting a price on the over 60 per cent of emissions that don’t come from industry.

Once investors and industry have confidence that carbon pricing is securely in place and won’t blow away if the government changes, we can start using it to unlock the clean technologies we need to grow our post-carbon economy — from carbon capture to clean hydrogen. As we try to break free of the pandemic-triggered economic crisis, this couldn’t be more important.

It’s urgent that the Conservative Party commit to carbon pricing — for its own electoral fortunes, for the future of the Canadian economy, and for the climate. If Canadian Conservatives have any doubt that this is smart policy, they need only look across the Atlantic for inspiration.

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