As It Happens·Q&A

'This absolutely is not a carbon tax,' Conservative MP says of party's new price on carbon

Conservative MP Tim Uppal says the Conservative Party’s proposed carbon pricing scheme is not, in fact, a carbon tax.

Tim Uppal says Canadians will get their money back in the form of a ‘low-carbon savings account’

Conservative MP Tim Uppal says the party's proposed price on carbon is not a tax. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

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Conservative MP Tim Uppal says his party's proposed carbon pricing scheme is not, in fact, a carbon tax. 

Conservative Party Leader Erin O'Toole unveiled his party's climate plan on Thursday, and it included a proposed price on carbon for consumers — something the Conservatives had vehemently opposed before now. 

Unlike the Liberal carbon tax with rebates, the Conservative plan would charge a levy on fuel and use the money to fund "low-carbon savings accounts" that Canadians can use for environmentally friendly purchases.

Uppal told As It Happens host Carol Off last month that a carbon tax is "not the solution" for climate change. The Edmonton MP joined Off again on Thursday. Here's some of what he had to say. 

Last month [you were] saying "no" to a carbon tax. So what's changed?

Nothing's changed. This absolutely is not a carbon tax. A tax is money that goes to the government. Our plan would not send any money at all to the government.

Our low-carbon savings account would allow Canadians to ... collect that money and then be able to spend it on green technology, on maybe a furnace for their home or, you know, maybe a bicycle or a bus pass.

OK, so you would put a price on carbon, right?

It would be a price, yes. And when you … fill up your gas, you would see it right on the receipt that how much you're getting — so how much you've paid for your gas, but also how much you're getting into your account. That will accumulate. And then we allow you as the Canadian to decide how you want to spend that money. It's up to you.

What exactly would you call the thing you're doing when they pay for the gas and there's a levy on that that they have to pay?

It's pricing the carbon, absolutely. And I know where you're trying to go with this. But a tax is where the money goes to the government. Here, the money is not going to the government. This is being saved back into Canadians' pockets and they get to use it.

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So it goes into a kind of loyalty card?

We'll see, you know, exactly how that works. But it is going to be each family, each person, will have their own account. 

But they can't use that for anything. Who's going to make up the list of the ways they're allowed to spend their points?

You're right. They won't be just able to use [it] on just anything. You will be using it on ways to either make your home more efficient … putting it towards an electrical vehicle or a hybrid vehicle, a bicycle, like I said, a bus pass. So any of those things that actually goes towards reducing emissions.

And then who makes up the list of things that they're allowed to buy? 

We will come up with a list on what they can do, and we will work with … the market to see what new and innovative ideas that come out.

OK, I think you know that the levy that is now placed on fossil fuel, that carbon tax goes to the government ... but it comes back … as a rebate. And people can then take that rebate and spend it on anything they want. They can buy food or rent or pay their bills.

But there's a big difference there. Right now … those families that are commuting — maybe two vehicles, both spouses are driving — they are not getting back what they put into it. Our system is going to be much more transparent, and you get back what you pay into it.

But most people are getting a full rebate and … in some cases getting more. And they're able to buy whatever they want. Why would Canadians want to now have a carbon tax [in which] they're only allowed to use the money that goes back to them in ways that you say they can use it? 

Like I said, there are many, many families that have two vehicles [who are] paying a lot of carbon tax to [Prime Minister] Justin Trudeau and not getting that back.

In this way, it's much more transparent. You get what you put into it. And then you get to use it. You do have choices. There's going to be many, many choices on how you use this. 

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Jonanthan Wilkinson reacts to Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole's climate plan announcement. 0:45

And the more you drive, the more stuff you can buy.

Essentially, the more fuel you're purchasing, the more you're paying into this, and so the more you should get that. It's not fair that many Canadians are paying a carbon tax, but they're not getting the same amount back. In this way, you do get that back. It's much more transparent.

But carbon pricing is supposed to be a disincentive. So how is it a disincentive if the more I drive, the more gas I buy, the more stuff I get to buy with my [account]?

You're also buying something. You're accumulating it. So you're accumulating these points and this money and you're buying something that is also going to be reducing emissions.

OK, but maybe what I really need to do with that money that I get back is to buy food for my family.

It's going to be a third less than the carbon tax that you're paying now under Justin Trudeau. So that way, you're already paying less. So, yes, you will save money. You have more money in your pocket for food and other purchases.

A man fills up his truck with gas in Toronto, on April 1, 2019. Uppal says the current carbon tax is unfair to two-vehicle families. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)

The whole point of a carbon pricing is to reduce the amount of CO2 emissions ... but if you're not going to levy it at a certain level, economists say it's not going to make any difference…. So how do you expect to reach the goals that you say you want to reach in reducing carbon if you're not going to put an actually quite high carbon tax out there?

The Justin Trudeau plan is taxing Canadians, and then he keeps increasing that tax … and he's still not reaching those targets. We will reach our targets … with the low-carbon savings account. 

That's one part of it. There's also lowering industrial emissions. We'll work with the industry to do so. Increasing use of renewable natural gas. Implementing a low-carbon fuel standard. 

We're also going to work on a plan to have a North American plan so that we can have North American standards. And so when products are being brought in, like aluminum and steel from countries that don't have the same standards that we do, then there will be tariffs on those products.

Are you saying that even with a lower carbon tax, with the things you're going to put in place, you are actually going to meet Paris Agreement goals?

Yes, we are going to meet the Paris Agreement goals. So we're going to hit those targets, help the environment, reduce emissions, and we're going to improve the economy. 

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC Politics. Interview produced by Kevin Robertson. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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