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Western MP pitches Conservative carbon price with a 24-pack of Pilsner

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OTTAWA — Ron Liepert says these days, the phone calls and emails from people wanting to talk about his party’s climate plan have slowed.

One month ago, the Conservative MP for Calgary Signal Hill was answering at least a dozen or more emails a day, and another half a dozen calls.

“There’s no question I’ve had a number of constituents, and I think I’m not talking out of turn when I say so probably have every other western Conservative MP — a number of constituents say, ‘Why the flip-flop?’ Liepert told The Canadian Press.

“‘(You) said no carbon tax, now there’s a carbon tax.'”

Explaining the Titanic-sized shift in the Conservative heartland particularly on a policy championed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose Liberals hold no seats in Saskatchewan and Alberta has been something those representing the region’s resource-rich farmlands and cities have had to figure out.

Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta, along with Ontario, waged a years-long battle against the federal Liberal government’s charging of a federal carbon price on consumer goods in provinces that do not already have one. It went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in March that Ottawa’s backstop was constitutional.

The Canadian Press contacted each of Saskatchewan’s Conservative MPs and most of those in Alberta to discuss reception to the Conservative party’s own carbon-pricing plan. The majority declined to comment, or didn’t respond.

In fact, any mention of the climate policy — unveiled by Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole as a major plank in an eventual election platform — is absent from many of their social media.

For Liepert, a veteran of Alberta politics, it’s obvious the party needs more wins in Ontario to form government and felt it was time to shed its anti-carbon price stance.

“If you start from that premise, that Canadians have grudgingly accepted a carbon tax, then how do we pivot away from having a position where we will cancel the carbon tax?”

Pitching the Conservatives’ fuel price comes down to persuading people it’s not a tax, he says. It’s also what O’Toole, who ran as the “true blue” candidate in the party’s leadership race, has rigorously maintained.

“Let me give you this analogy: When you go to the liquor store and you pick up a 24 case of Pilsner, there’s a 10 cent per can levy attached to that, correct?,” said Liepert, describing how he sells the plan.

“And they’ll all agree with that, and I say, ‘You don’t consider that a tax do you?’ And they say, ‘Well no, because I get it back when I take my cans back.’

And I say, ‘Well bingo. Same thing with this.'”

Liepert says most people tend to “grudgingly agree,” with his answer, but there are always those who will feel “a tax, is a tax is a tax.”

Besides what to call it, Conservatives say what distinguishes their party’s proposed carbon price from the Liberals’ is when people pay it, their money will be sent to a savings account that is like a rewards card. They’ll then be able to use the money in that fund to make government-approved environmentally friendly purchases.

O’Toole says people should imagine being able to use these carbon bucks to buy anything from a bike and transit pass to an electric vehicle and, according to one op-ed he penned, even locally grown produce.

“It’s certainly a creative policy,” said Michael Bernstein, executive director of Clean Prosperity, a group that has been advocating for the Tories to adopt carbon pricing since its 2019 election loss.

“It is very difficult to understand how it’s going to actually work.”

Saskatchewan MP Cathay Wagantall also evokes the bottle levy to pitch the Conservatives’ new carbon-pricing policy in her rural riding, a policy she didn’t necessarily see coming.

“Everybody was somewhat surprised, sure, but at the same time, once I read through it, and I did take a great deal of time first just to get my own head around the whole plan, so that I could understand it,” she said.

Wagantall feels assured provincial decisions around climate will be respected, which she says is something that caucus stressed. And like Liepert, she’s had many talks with upset or confused constituents.

“I have the conversation around what the prime minister of the day is doing and it brings them to a realization that we’re in an environment where that is an expectation, it’s true, but what we are doing is very, very different.”

“The longer we talk, the more understanding they are and they simply want to have that conversation. I haven’t had a circumstance where I felt I wasn’t heard.”

But not all conversations appear to be as cordial.

During an exchange with a critic about the party’s carbon price on Regina MP Michael Kram’s Facebook page, user Amos Dowler wrote: “Even Premier (Scott) Moe agrees that O’Toole’s plan is far better than the current plan. Maybe read it or get someone to read it to you.”

A person answering the phone at Kram’s constituency office said Dowler was Kram’s chief of staff. His personal LinkedIn page also lists him in that role. An assistant for Kram declined to respond to his comments.

Liepert says he can’t tell whether he risks losing voters, even as several emails a day land in his inbox from those voicing disgust with the Conservatives and teasing their support for the fledgling Maverick Party, led by former Tory MP Jay Hill.

It brands itself as offering “true western representation” by only running candidates in the Prairies and criticizes O’Toole for having a “phoney carbon levy.”

But the Conservatives’ primary foe remains a Liberal government that is ratcheting up its promises to reduce carbon emissions.

Trudeau has pledged to further cut Canada’s emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases by up to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. He has also committed the country to reach net-zero carbon pollution by 2050.

O’Toole’s plan is designed to reach the country’s current targets under the Paris Agreement of a 30 per cent reduction by 2030. He has dissed the Liberals’ tougher goal.

His MPs also voted against the government’s net-zero legislation, citing the possible influence “climate activists” on a net-zero advisory panel could have on the oil and gas industry.

But despite what progress has been made, O’Toole’s attempt to straddle the climate fence may cost him with the new voters he’s hoping to attract.

“Expectations of voters, although we’ll have to probe this in polling, are likely to continue to evolve as well in terms of what they expect from a credible plan,” said Bernstein.

“There is a chance that O’Toole is out of step with that.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 16, 2021.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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Two charged in Saskatchewan Mountie’s death make first court appearance in Regina

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REGINA — Two people accused of killing a Mountie by hitting him with a truck in rural Saskatchewan made their first appearance in court Monday.

Alphonse Stanley Traverse, 41, and Marlene Velma Louise Pagee, 42, have been charged with manslaughter in the weekend death of Const. Shelby Patton.

RCMP have said the 26-year-old officer died Saturday after he stopped a suspected stolen truck in the small town of Wolseley, 95 kilometres east of Regina.

Patton was hit by the truck before it sped off. The officer died at the scene.

Pagee and Traverse were arrested two hours later in a field outside Francis, a town about 80 kilometres southwest of where the officer was killed.

They also face charges of failing to stop after an accident resulting in death as well as of theft of a motor vehicle. Pagee is also charged with possession of a controlled substance.

They appeared in a Regina court in person. Pagee is to be back in court Friday, while Traverse is scheduled for a video appearance on Monday.

Both are from Winnipeg and RCMP have said the truck was stolen in Manitoba. Winnipeg police said they could not provide any information about the investigation.

“The tragic, senseless death of Const. Shelby Patton is being investigated by Saskatchewan RCMP,” Winnipeg police Const. Rob Carver wrote in an email.

Manitoba court records show Traverse and Pagee have been in and out of jail for multiple convictions, including theft and break and enter. In 2006, Pagee was found guilty for operating a motor vehicle while being pursued by police.

Both face outstanding charges in Manitoba for unrelated offences.

Meanwhile, a memorial of flowers continued to grow at the Indian Head detachment where Patton was posted.

He had been a Mountie for just over six years and worked at the detachment since 2015. Before that, he was briefly on assignment at Parliament Hill.

Saskatchewan RCMP Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore said officers have appreciated the outpouring of support and condolence messages.

“These messages help us through this difficult time. I would like to thank everyone who took the time to let us know they share our grief,” Blackmore said in a statement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 14, 2021.

— By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg

The Canadian Press

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Putin likens Russian crackdown to arresting Capitol rioters

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is to meet President Joe Biden at a summit Wednesday, has suggested that the hundreds of people arrested for rioting at the U.S. Capitol are being subjected to “persecution for political opinions.”

Putin is likely to come under strong criticism from Biden at their meeting in Geneva for moves against his political opponents in Russia, particularly the imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the detention of thousands of demonstrators protesting his arrest, and the outlawing of Navalny’s organizations as extremist.

“You are presenting it as dissent and intolerance toward dissent in Russia. We view it completely differently,” he said in an interview with NBC News broadcast Monday. He then pointed to the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington when protesters barged into the Capitol to try to halt the count of electoral votes to certify Biden’s election victory over Donald Trump.

“Do you know that 450 individuals were arrested after entering the Congress? … They came there with political demands,” he said.

Although the protests that erupted across Russia after Navalny’s arrest in January were unsanctioned, demonstrators were largely peaceful and did not enter government buildings or cause significant property damage, unlike the Capitol riot.

Putin also reiterated denials that the Kremlin was behind last year’s poisoning of Navalny with a nerve agent that nearly killed him.

“We don’t have this kind of habit, of assassinating anybody,” Putin said.

“Did you order the assassination of the woman who walked into the Congress and who was shot and killed by a policeman?” Putin said, referring to Trump supporter Ashli Babbitt, who was fatally shot by a Capitol Police officer as she tried to climb through a window that led to the House floor.

At a news conference after a NATO summit Monday in Brussels, Biden declined to assess how he’ll measure the success of his meeting with Putin because “the last thing anyone would do is negotiate in front of the world press.”

Biden described Putin as “bright,” “tough” and a “worthy adversary.” But he indicated he would remain wary of any commitments coming out of their meeting, saying he would “verify first and then trust” the Russian leader.

He also suggested he’d be looking for areas of agreement with the Russian president, while also warning him against continued aggression towards the U.S.

“I’m gonna make clear to President Putin that there are areas where we can cooperate, if he chooses, and if he chooses not to cooperate and acts in a way that he has in the past relative to cybersecurity and other activities, then we will respond, we will respond in kind,” he said.

In his NBC interview, Putin sharply dismissed the cyberattack allegations against the U.S. as baseless.

“Where is the evidence? Where is proof? It’s becoming farcical,” Putin said. “We have been accused of all kinds of things — election interference, cyberattacks and so on and so forth — and not once, not once, not one time, did they bother to produce any kind of evidence or proof, just unfounded accusations.”

In April, the United States announced the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats and new sanctions connected to the so-called SolarWinds cyberattack in which several U.S. government branches experienced data breaches. U.S. officials blamed the Russian foreign intelligence service.

In May, Microsoft officials said the foreign intelligence service appeared to be linked to an attack on a company providing services to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

At the summit, Biden also is expected to raise the case of two Americans imprisoned in Russia: Paul Whelan, who was convicted of espionage, and Trevor Reed, convicted of assaulting police while drunk. U.S. officials say both were convicted in biased trials on flimsy evidence.

Putin said of Reed, a 29-year-old former Marine: “He’s just a drunk and a troublemaker.”

Putin brushed off one possible source of tension in the upcoming summit: Biden’s claim that he once told Putin he considered the Russian leader soulless.

“I do not remember this particular part of our conversations,” Putin said.

—-

Associated Press writer Alexandra Jaffe in Washington contributed.

The Associated Press

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