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Wanted—a federal leader who will be honest about ‘climate’ policy

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7 minute read

From the Fraser Institute

By Ross McKitrick

Poilievre’s anti-carbon tax rallies are popular, but what happens after we axe the tax? If he plans to replace it with regulatory measures aimed at achieving the same emission cuts he should tell his rally-goers that what he has in mind will hit them even harder than the tax they’re so keen to scrap.

Pierre Poilievre is leading anti-carbon tax rallies around the country, ginning up support for an old-fashioned tax revolt. In response, Justin Trudeau went to Calgary and trumpeted—what’s this?—his love of free markets. Contrasting the economic logic of using a carbon tax instead of regulatory approaches for reducing greenhouse gases, the prime minister slammed the latter: “But they all involve the heavy hand of government. I prefer a cleaner solution, a market-based solution and that is, if you’re behaving in a way that causes pollution, you should pay.” He added that the Conservatives would instead rely on the “heavy hand of government through regulation and subsidies to pick winners and losers in the economy as opposed to trusting the market.”

Amen to that. But someone should tell Trudeau that his own government’s Emission Reduction Plan mainly consists of heavy-handed regulations, subsidies, mandates and winner-picking grants. Within its 240 pages one finds, yes, a carbon tax. But also 139 additional policies including Clean Fuels Regulations, an electric vehicle mandate that will ban gasoline cars by 2035, aggressive fuel economy standards that will hike their cost in the meantime, costly new emission targets specifically for the oil and gas, agriculture, heavy industry and waste management sectors, onerous new energy efficiency requirements both for new buildings and renovations of existing buildings, new electricity grid requirements, and page upon page of subsidy funds for “clean technology” firms and other would-be winners in the sunlit uplands of the new green economy.

Does Trudeau oppose any of that? Hardly. But if he does, he could prove his bona fides regarding carbon pricing by admitting that the economic logic only applies to a carbon tax when used on its own. He doesn’t get to boast of the elegance of market mechanisms on behalf of a policy package that starts with a price signal then destroys it with a massive regulatory apparatus.

Trudeau also tried to warm his Alberta audience up to the carbon tax by invoking the menace of mild weather and forest fires. In fairness it was an unusual February in Calgary (which is obviously a sign of the climate emergency because we never used to get those). The month began with a week of above-zero temperatures hitting 5 degrees Celsius at one point, then there was a brief cold snap before Valentine’s Day, then the daytime highs soared to the low teens for nine days and the month finished with soupy above zero conditions. Weird.

Oops, that was 1981.

This year was weirder—February highs were above zero for 25 out of 28 days, 8 of which were even above 10 degrees C.

Oops again, that was 1991. Granted, February 2024 also had its mild patches, but not like the old days.

Of course, back then warm weather was just weather. Now it’s a climate emergency and Canadians demand action. Except they don’t want to pay for it, which is the main problem for politicians when trying to come up with a climate policy that’s both effective and affordable. You only get to pick one, and in practice we typically end up zero for two. You can claim your policy will yield deep decarbonization while boosting the economy, which almost every politician in every western country has spent decades doing, but it’s not true. With current technology, affordable policies yield only small temporary emission reductions. Population and economic growth swamp their effects over time, which is why mainstream economists have long argued that while we can eliminate some low-value emissions, for the most part we will just have to live with climate change because trying to stop it would cost far more than it’s worth.

Meanwhile the policy pantomime continues. Poilievre’s anti-carbon tax rallies are popular, but what happens after we axe the tax? If he plans to replace it with regulatory measures aimed at achieving the same emission cuts he should tell his rally-goers that what he has in mind will hit them even harder than the tax they’re so keen to scrap.

But maybe he has the courage to do the sensible thing and follow the mainstream economics advice. If he wants to be honest with Canadians, he must explain that the affordable options will not get us to the Paris target, let alone net-zero, and even if they did, what Canada does will have no effect on the global climate because we’re such small players. Maybe new technologies will appear over the next decade that change the economics, but until that day we’re better off fixing our growth problems, getting the cost of living down and continuing to be resilient to all the weather variations Canadians have always faced.

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Business

New capital gains hike won’t work as claimed but will harm the economy

Published on

From the Fraser Institute

By Alex Whalen and Jake Fuss

Capital taxes are among the most economically-damaging forms of taxation precisely because they reduce the incentive to innovate and invest.

Amid a federal budget riddled with red ink and tax hikes, the Trudeau government has increased capital gains taxes. The move will be disastrous for Canada’s growth prospects and its already-lagging investment climate, and to make matters worse, research suggests it won’t work as planned.

Currently, individuals and businesses who sell a capital asset in Canada incur capital gains taxes at a 50 per cent inclusion rate, which means that 50 per cent of the gain in the asset’s value is subject to taxation at the individual or business’ marginal tax rate. The Trudeau government is raising this inclusion rate to 66.6 per cent for all businesses, trusts and individuals with capital gains over $250,000.

The problems with hiking capital gains taxes are numerous.

First, capital gains are taxed on a “realization” basis, which means the investor does not incur capital gains taxes until the asset is sold. According to empirical evidence, this creates a “lock-in” effect where investors have an incentive to keep their capital invested in a particular asset when they might otherwise sell.

For example, investors may delay selling capital assets because they anticipate a change in government and a reversal back to the previous inclusion rate. This means the Trudeau government is likely overestimating the potential revenue gains from its capital gains tax hike, given that individual investors will adjust the timing of their asset sales in response to the tax hike.

Second, the lock-in effect creates a drag on economic growth as it incentivises investors to hold off selling their assets when they otherwise might, preventing capital from being deployed to its most productive use and therefore reducing growth.

And Canada’s growth prospects and investment climate have both been in decline. Canada currently faces the lowest growth prospects among all OECD countries in terms of GDP per person. Further, between 2014 and 2021, business investment (adjusted for inflation) in Canada declined by $43.7 billion. Hiking taxes on capital will make both pressing issues worse.

Contrary to the government’s framing—that this move only affects the wealthy—lagging business investment and slow growth affect all Canadians through lower incomes and living standards. Capital taxes are among the most economically-damaging forms of taxation precisely because they reduce the incentive to innovate and invest. And while taxes on capital do raise revenue, the economic costs exceed the amount of tax collected.

Previous governments in Canada understood these facts. In the 2000 federal budget, then-finance minister Paul Martin said a “key factor contributing to the difficulty of raising capital by new start-ups is the fact that individuals who sell existing investments and reinvest in others must pay tax on any realized capital gains,” an explicit acknowledgement of the lock-in effect and costs of capital gains taxes. Further, that Liberal government reduced the capital gains inclusion rate, acknowledging the importance of a strong investment climate.

At a time when Canada badly needs to improve the incentives to invest, the Trudeau government’s 2024 budget has introduced a damaging tax hike. In delivering the budget, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said “Canada, a growing country, needs to make investments in our country and in Canadians right now.” Individuals and businesses across the country likely agree on the importance of investment. Hiking capital gains taxes will achieve the exact opposite effect.

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Economy

Extreme Weather and Climate Change

Published on

From the Fraser Insitute

By Kenneth P. Green

Contrary to claims by many climate activists and politicians, extreme weather events—including forest fires, droughts, floods and hurricanes—are not increasing in frequency or intensity, finds a new study published today by the Fraser Institute, an independent, non-partisan Canadian public policy think-tank.

“Earth Day has become a time when extraordinary claims are made about extreme weather events, but before policymakers act on those extreme claims—often with harmful regulations—it’s important to study the actual evidence,” said Kenneth Green, a senior fellow with the Fraser Institute and author of Extreme Weather and Climate Change.

The study finds that global temperatures have increased moderately since 1950 but there is no evidence that extreme weather events are on the rise, including:

• Drought: Data from the World Meteorological Organization Standardized Precipitation Index showed no statistically significant trends in drought duration or magnitude—with the exception of some small regions in Africa and South America—from 1900 to 2020.

• Flooding: Research in the Journal of Hydrology in 2017, analyzing 9,213 recording stations around the world, found there were more stations exhibiting significant decreasing trends (in flood risk) than increasing trends.

• Hurricanes: Research conducted for the World Meteorological Organization in 2019 (updated in 2023) found no long-term trends in hurricanes or major hurricanes recorded globally going back to 1980.

• Forest Fires: The Royal Society in London, in 2020, found that when considering the total area burned at the global level, there is no overall increase, but rather a decline over the last decades. In Canada, data from Canada’s Wildland Fire Information System show that the number of fires and the area burned in Canada have both been declining over the past 30 years.

“The evidence is clear—many of the claims that extreme weather events are increasing are simply not empirically true,” Green said.

“Before governments impose new regulations or enact new programs, they need to study the actual data and base their actions on facts, not unsubstantiated claims.”

  • Assertions are made claiming that weather extremes are increasing in frequency and severity, spurred on by humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Based on such assertions, governments are enacting ever more restrictive regulations on Canadian consumers of energy products, and especially Canada’s energy sector. These regulations impose significant costs on the Canadian economy, and can exert downward pressure on Canadian’s standard of living.
  • According to the UN IPCC, evidence does suggest that some types of extreme weather have become more extreme, particularly those relating to temperature trends.
  • However, many types of extreme weather show no signs of increasing and in some cases are decreasing. Drought has shown no clear increasing trend, nor has flooding. Hurricane intensity and number show no increasing trend. Globally, wildfires have shown no clear trend in increasing number or intensity, while in Canada, wildfires have actually been decreasing in number and areas consumed from the 1950s to the present.
  • While media and political activists assert that the evidence for increasing harms from increasing extreme weather is iron-clad, it is anything but. In fact, it is quite limited, and of low reliability. Claims about extreme weather should not be used as the basis for committing to long-term regulatory regimes that will hurt current Canadian standards of living, and leave future generations worse off.

The Fraser Institute is an independent Canadian public policy research and educational
organization with offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal and ties to a global
network of think-tanks in 87 countries. Its mission is to improve the quality of life for Canadians,
their families and future generations by studying, measuring and broadly communicating the
effects of government policies, entrepreneurship and choice on their well-being. To protect the
Institute’s independence, it does not accept grants from governments or contracts for research.
Visit www.fraserinstitute.org

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