With almost two months to go before the federal election the mainstream media are already into full horse-race, horse-trading mode, frantically reporting who’s up and who’s down and who might be willing to make a deal with whom.

On the weekend, following a withering attack by Elizabeth May on Justin Trudeau’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair, the Globe and Mail’s John Ibbitson epitomized the speculative genre with this offering:

“If the Conservatives were to secure a narrow plurality of seats in the House of Commons, and if Mr. Scheer were to make the right promises, Ms. May and her Green caucus – if there is one – might find their way clear to supporting a Tory Throne Speech. Or not.”

“Or not” should be the most likely choice, given how hard it is to imagine a party calling itself Green could ever support the climate plan the Conservatives are putting in front of the electorate. The Conservatives’ badly misnamed “Real Plan to Protect our Environment” was dismissed by the other main parties and some in the media when it was released in June, with critics citing the lack of any targets for emission reductions. Now the experts have taken a closer look and the reviews are no better.

In an article written for the centrist Institute for Research on Public Policy economist Mark Jaccard panned the Conservative Real Plan as a replay of a failed political approach to climate change that spanned two decades until it was replaced by extremely faltering steps (my characterization)  in the right direction begun by the Trudeau government.

The past approach, heavy on PR hogwash, was first chronicled in book form in Hot Air: Meeting Canada’s Climate Change Challenge, co-authored by Jaccard in 2007. He dismisses the Conservative plan as more of the same, describing it as “a throwback to an earlier era in which climate-insincere politicians tried to trick climate-concerned citizens into believing that they were taking action to reduce GHG emissions with information and subsidy programs alongside vague statements about GHG-reducing actions that somehow occur without carbon pricing and/or regulations.”

Jaccard goes on to say: .

“In reality, carbon prices must rise or regulations for technology and energy must become more stringent. There is no other way to significantly decarbonize the economy”.

Subsidies ineffective

The worst aspect of the new climate-insincere Conservative plan is that it eliminates carbon pricing and clean fuel regulations and is silent on the coal plant phase-out, elements critical to any actual reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. It would replace those pricing and regulatory measures with a shopping list of programs – including a Green Technology Innovation Fund and a Green Home Tax Credit. The familiar buzzwords may sound good, but based on two decades of research, Jaccard declares they will have little impact on emissions. That’s primarily because of the “free rider” effect – most in a position to take advantage of the programs would have made the investments anyway.

Jaccard projects, using 2015 as a baseline, that under the Conservative Real Plan emissions will increase by 10mt by 2030 – and that’s on the wishful assumption that oil sands production in Canada will not grow appreciably.

Paris TargetsNA520mtNA
Current Plan700mt610mt90mt
Conservative Plan700mt710mt190mt

As the table shows, the Liberal government’s current plan will leave emissions at 610 megatonnes (mt) in 2030,  about 90 mt short of meeting our international commitments. The Conservative plan will leave Canada 190mt short of the target.

Jaccard’s analysis does not go into costs related to the no-benefit Conservative plan. That aspect does emerge from an earlier review by EnviroEconomics and Canadians for Clean Prosperity. When that report came out a few weeks ago it was predictably dismissed by Conservative apparatchiks because Clean Prosperity is known to favour the free market approach – carbon pricing – over regulation. This hostile reception from the Conservatives was despite the fact that on emissions, it was kinder to the Real Plan than Jaccard is, projecting that it is only 30mt worse than the Liberal plan is at meeting Paris targets.

That’s because, unlike Jaccard, Clean Prosperity gave the Conservatives the benefit of the doubt on a couple of their proposed measures –the Green Technology Innovation Fund and a Green Home Tax Credit [1] But there’s a big complication – the high cost of any reductions achieved through those programs should be an embarrassment to a party running on a platform of fiscal prudence and helping families get ahead.

On the fiscal prudence side, the reviewers estimate that repealing measures now in place (and sacrificing 21.6mt in emission reductions in the process) would save $850 million in 2022. However, the Conservative plan would demolish those savings, adding costs of $4.66 billion just to partially offset, by 12.5mt, the lost reductions.

 Change in emissions (mt)Cost (billion$$)Cost per ton
Measures being removed+21.64$-0.85-$39.46
New measures-12.50$+4.66+$372.64
Net change (2+3)+9.1$+3.81NA
Source: Clean Prosperity and author's calculations

As the table shows, the Conservative plan would see public and private spending increase by $3.81 billion to cut 9.1mt less in emissions than the measures they replace. As the right hand column shows, the  Real Plan would have Canadians spend $372.64 to reduce one ton of GHG. The measures they replace – mainly the carbon tax and the clean fuel standard – are supposedly costing only $39.46 to achieve a ton of reductions. As Doug Ford discovered when he scrapped Ontario cap and trade program, there’s a high cost attached to stirring up populist opposition to carbon pricing.

Households hit

The Real Plan is also flawed on the bread and butter, helping families get ahead front. That’s partly because scrapping the carbon tax also means no more rebates that come to about 90 per cent of households at an average net value of about $100 a year. Clean Prosperity estimates that households will save $20 a year from repeal of the clean fuel standard (while emissions increase 7.5mt). But they will be hit with an extra $214 in taxes to pay for the new subsidy programs – the ones that may cut emissions anywhere from Jaccard’s estimate of zero to 12.5mt projected by Clean Prosperity. (Because of the deal negotiated with the McNeil government Nova Scotians will not be affected by the loss of the rebate since they don’t receive it. They will get the projected savings from scrapping the clean fuel standard but will also pay their share of the taxes needed to finance the Real Plan’s ineffective subsidies).

All told, according to the Clean Prosperity analysis, it will cost Canadians in the affected province (New Brunswick, Ontario and the Prairies) the equivalent of $295 per household more to pay for the 109mt Conservative shortfall than the 79mt Liberal shortfall. And the waste would be even worse if Jaccard is correct and the gap is 100mt rather than just 30.

Those troubling numbers may be hard for another party to get across in a campaign ad. But the spend-a-lot-more-to-get-a-lot-less Real Plan should be grounds enough to scare off any would-be Conservative voters or proper-uppers concerned about climate policy.

The profound flaws should certainly be sufficient to send Elizabeth May running as fast as she can away from any talk of supporting a Conservative minority. But that apparently hasn’t happened yet. On Tuesday, another prominent member of the pundit class, Andrew Coyne, weighed in suggesting that May remains open to supporting any party, including the Conservatives, providing they have a credible plan for dealing with climate change. The Conservatives’ Real Plan is so far removed from credible that May should either ask  for a total re-write or join Jagmeet Singh in ruling out any chance of cooperating with Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives.


[1] Most of the emission cuts are projected to come from the Green Home Tax Credit, which the Conservatives say they’ll fund to the tune of $900 million a year. Studies have shown that such tax credit programs favour the well off who can afford to pay their 80 per cent share of the renovations.