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Carbon tax dominates on 1st day of Ontario legislature return

Newly elected Ontario Liberal Leader Bonnie Crombie faced repeated questions about her position on the price of carbon at Queen’s Park as the legislature returned from its winter break.

Crombie was asked if she agreed with adding a price or tax on carbon emissions after a week in which Ontario Premier Doug Ford tried to frame her as an expensive, pro-tax candidate.

“She’s the queen of carbon tax,” Ford said at a campaign-style announcement in Mississauga on Feb. 13.

“Even worse, she raised property taxes every year she was mayor. Bonnie has never seen a tax she wouldn’t like to hike.”

Asked by reporters if she was in favour of carbon pricing, Crombie called it a “stunt” and “a desperate attempt to deflect” from previous controversies, including the Greenbelt scandal.

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The Liberal leader, however, would not say what policy she would roll out instead. Crombie told reporters the policy would be “very aggressive” and “won’t cost taxpayers money.”

Pressed for details, Crombie did not directly answer.

“Our caucus will come together and we will make a decision based on input that we receive across the province with scientists and stakeholders and average Ontarians,” she said.

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The focus on Crombie’s position on carbon pricing comes as the Ford government faces accusations of using its latest round of legislation to score political points.

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The Get It Done Act is set to be tabled on Tuesday, with provisions within it that attempt to set a future referendum on carbon pricing, ban new tolls on highways and freeze the cost of driver’s licence renewals.

The legislation has been panned by opposition parties, who said the government is playing politics.

“I think this omnibus bill that the government is introducing today is just a distraction from the government’s scandals that they’re mired in,” Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles said.

The Ford government’s decision to scrap the cap-and-trade system that forced the federal carbon pricing policy on the province.

Cap and trade, introduced by the previous Ontario Liberal government, allowed companies in Ontario, California and Quebec to trade carbon emission limits and buy more.

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In theory, it was designed so greener companies would save money by selling spare emissions capacity, while those that polluted more had to shell out for extra credits to emit. Revenue from the system then had to be earned for policies like energy-efficient retrofits and zero-emissions vehicles.

“We removed cap and trade, we removed the carbon tax in the province of Ontario, and it was reimposed on us by the federal Liberal government,” Housing Minister Paul Calandra told reporters.

“We’re going to continue to work hard to remove this tax.”

In 2022, after losing at the Supreme Court of Canada, Ontario also agreed to raise its price on industrial carbon from $40 per tonne to $65 per tonne in 2024. That price will reach $170 in 2031.

The increase put Ontario’s price on carbon at the same level as the federal government’s.

Stiles said it was that decision by the government to remove cap and trade that led to higher carbon levies in Ontario.

“The Conservative government and Doug Ford, when they scrapped cap and trade and refused to replace it with anything, actually brought us the carbon tax,” Stiles said.

“It’s on them, it’s on their shoulders. They are the reason we have a carbon tax in Ontario.”

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Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner called the Ford government’s new legislation the “Get it done wrong act,” and said it was “performative politics at its worst.”

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