Ford government ups ante in carbon tax fight with new TV ad

Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government is ratcheting up its anti-carbon tax rhetoric today, releasing a new television ad set to air during prime-time hours across the province.

“The federal government is charging you a carbon tax. You’re paying a nickel more per litre,” a female narrator says as dozens of nickels come pouring out of a gas pump.

“A carbon tax isn’t the only way to fight climate change,” it continues, after encouraging viewers to read about the province’s “Made-in-Ontario” plan that rolled out last November.

The ad, which the government is calling “One Little Nickel,” is sure to up the ante in a months-long standoff with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals. The federal carbon tax came into effect in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick on April 1, after the four provinces failed to establish a carbon pricing program that met Ottawa’s criteria.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Environment Minister Rod Phillips have vowed to use “every tool” to fight against the tax, both legal and political, and the PC caucus has been emphasizing anti-carbon tax messaging at every opportunity.

Ford frequently calls the tax “job-killing,” even going so far as to say that it will cause a recession — a claim that economists have declined to endorse. He’s also looked to form a kind of anti-carbon tax alliance with the conservative premiers of Alberta and Saskatchewan to oppose Ottawa.

All eyes on October

Simon Jefferies, spokesperson for the premier, said in an email statement that the federal government is “spending millions of dollars to try and fool Ontario families into believing they will somehow save them money by raising their taxes.

“The people of Ontario deserve to know that their provincial government is on their side and fighting for them,” he added.

Expenses for the ad came from $30 million previously set aside by the PCs to challenge the carbon tax. The TV ad will air until the end of June. A shorter 15-second version will simultaneously roll out on social media.

The ad comes as the federal parties prepare for an October election and the carbon tax is expected to feature heavily during the campaign.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer recently revealed that his party will release a climate change plan of their own before the summer. The Tories faced a chorus of criticism as they attacked the carbon tax but failed to offer a viable alternative to the Liberals’ carbon-pricing program.

As with all national elections, Ontario will be a critical battleground come October.

‘A political tool’

Ontario NDP MPP Peter Tabuns said the Ford government’s decision to scrap the province’s cap-and-trade system, and its anti-carbon posture, is about helping his federal counterpart.

“What they wanted was a political tool that they could use on the campaign trail. Now they have it, and they’re campaigning. And the people of Ontario are paying the price,” Tabuns told CBC Toronto.

“People want them to be paying attention to climate change, paying attention to their concerns. Not using government money to help another party run in another election,” he added.

The PCs’ new ad claims that the carbon tax will cost the average Ontario family some $648 per year by 2022. They say that their own plan — which includes a fund of public money to help incentivize big polluters to reduce emissions and a focus on decreasing waste and litter — will fight climate change without costing taxpayers.

Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna called the PCs messaging on the issue dishonest.

“It is unconscionable that you have politicians that are intentionally misleading Canadians, not talking about the cost of climate change … and not talking about the money we are giving back,” she told CBC Toronto, pointing to the Climate Action Incentive.

“They’re wasting taxpayer money on misleading advertising campaigns.”

Higher costs down the road?

The compounded expenses of extreme weather events will eventually far outweigh the fuel charge Ontarians are paying today, McKenna said. Floods, forest fires and rising temperatures will end up costing taxpayers far more down the road, she continued.

“Our plan to tackle climate change is a credible plan that was negotiated with the provinces and territories and we’re holding provinces to account for what they committed to,” she said.

Tabuns echoed those concerns.

“If we don’t actually invest today, the cost of dealing with climate damage later is going to be very, very heavy on the people of this province. Ask anyone who’s had their basement filled with sewage. Ask anyone who’s been forced out of their home by flooding. They can tell you that’s an expensive proposition,” Tabuns said.

The NDP are set to introduce a motion on Monday, calling on the government to declare a climate emergency in Ontario.

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