Tories, Libs fight over costs of climate action in election-campaign preview

OTTAWA — A day after Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer accused the Liberals of plotting to levy a "secret fuel tax" on families, seniors and farmers, the Liberals volleyed back with allegations the Tories have nothing but smears to offer in place of a real climate-change plan.

The federal election is still three months away but both parties seem happy to have this fight. The Liberals are betting that Canadian voters want potent policies to cut greenhouse-gas emissions. The Conservatives are betting that those same voters don't want to pay too much for them.

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The Tories began this week taking aim at a Liberal plan to introduce a clean-fuel standard, which will force cleaner-burning fuels in order to lower overall carbon emissions by 30 million tonnes a year.

Initially, the Conservatives planned to issue a letter from MPs Shannon Stubbs and Ed Fast to Environment Minister Catherine McKenna questioning a lack of detail from the Liberals about how much the fuel standards will affect gasoline prices.

But by Monday, the party decided to take a harder stance. Instead, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer issued an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau branding the new standard a secret fuel tax and promising to scrap it entirely if his party wins the fall election.

In his letter, Scheer invoked images of everyday Canadians paying more to live their daily lives — moms and dads driving their kids to soccer practice; seniors going to doctors' appointments; farmers planting their crops.

"Your secret fuel tax will undoubtedly increase the cost of gasoline by at least another four cents a litre, a fact you continue to hide," Scheer charged in his letter.

Later on Monday, a group of Conservative premiers took over, gathering in Alberta ahead of the "council of the federation" meeting in Saskatoon, to voice their continued opposition to the Liberal carbon-pricing plan and frustration at being "dictated to by Ottawa," as Alberta Premier Jason Kenney put it.

Then the federal Liberals fought back.

Calling journalists to the national press theatre in Ottawa, Liberal MPs Sean Fraser and Mona Fortier accused Conservative leaders of embracing policies that amount to "anti-climate action" heading into the federal election campaign.

Certain conservative premiers are spending millions in taxpayers' money vainly trying to fight the federal government's right to charge for carbon emissions — a right recently upheld by two court rulings in Ontario and Saskatchewan, Fraser told reporters Tuesday.

"We've seen conservatives like Doug Ford and Jason Kenney continue to oppose common-sense solutions that we know are the most effective ways to fight climate change and the most inexpensive as well," Fraser said.

"The fact is they would rather silence their critics, muzzle scientists as they did under Stephen Harper, and launch lawsuits or smear campaigns rather than actually present opposing views or ideas that will help reduce our emissions in a responsible way."

Andrew Scheer is no different, he added, accusing Scheer of "trying to scare and mislead Canadians against taking climate action."

He took strong issue with Scheer calling the Liberal plan for a clean-fuel standard a "secret fuel tax." It's a regulation limiting the carbon emissions from fuels, not a tax, he said.

"To describe it otherwise is, frankly, misleading and dishonest."

However, Fraser would not say how much the new standard might affect prices at the pumps.

In April, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce said that a federal carbon price and a clean-fuels standard amounted to "double-dipping" by charging businesses twice for every tonne of emissions. The chamber estimated that by 2025, the clean-fuel standard would add 1.5 cents to a litre of gasoline and 3.7 cents for a litre of diesel.

In a cost-benefit analysis released by Environment Canada in February, the department acknowledged the costs of implementing the standard would likely be passed on to consumers, households and industrial users. But the analysis did not suggest what that cost would be.

A draft of the regulations isn't expected until 2020, with rules for liquid fuels to apply in 2022. Standards for gaseous and solid fuels would follow.

Fraser said the details are still being discussed with provinces, territories and the public and this input could lead to "tweaks" to ensure prices remain affordable for all Canadians.

"This is not some sort of electionary trickery. This is good governance, this is going out and actually having conversations with Canadians and working with provinces and territories to implement a plan that works and will be done in a way that's affordable for households."

The Conservatives were swift in their next attack, accusing the Liberals of deliberately evading a clear answer on the clean-fuel costs.

"Despite repeated questions, even today, the Trudeau Liberals still refuse to come clean about how much this secret fuel tax will cost Canadians," Ed Fast, the party's environment critic, said in a statement Tuesday.

Fraser later took to social media to express his frustration over the Conservatives' stance on climate issues.

"I'm tired of some Conservative politicians opposing serious action on climate change. In the 21st century, Canadians expect a real plan to combat climate change, not court battles and wasted taxpayer dollars."

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