“Alternative facts” and alternative plans

Last week I wrote a blog with my “Thoughts on grandchildren and grand challenges” which explained why I became involved in politics 25 years ago and why I believe our response to the risk of climate change is the defining challenge of our generation. As political leaders in the 21st century, we must carry the heavy responsibility of making the policy decisions that will determine whether or not we will “leave a habitable home for those that follow us.”

I take this responsibility very seriously, which is why I have become so discouraged by the recent approach our provincial government has taken on this issue.  In 2016, our Premier signed the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change committing PEI to introduce carbon pricing to meet our Paris Accord targets.  Yet, since then, he and his government have been trying to evade their responsibility under the Framework.

But even more troubling, in the last couple of weeks, the government and the Liberal Party of PEI have begun to spread misinformation about the Premier’s plan, the federal backstop and the carbon pricing plan proposed by the Office of the Third Party.

In a newspaper ad published on Saturday, government claimed that “all other plans” would cost an average household “over $1000.” That statement is quite simply false.  Both the federal backstop plan and the Green Party plan were designed to be revenue-neutral, and funds collected in carbon pricing would be returned to Islanders through direct rebates or other tax cuts.  

In both the backstop and the Green plan, 70-80% of low and middle income households would actually get more money back in carbon rebates than they would pay in carbon tax. Islanders would be able to spend that money however they choose.  In the Premier’s plan, government has decided that most of the money raised from pricing carbon will go straight back to subsidizing gas and diesel.

In the same ad, government claimed that the net cost to Islanders would be “$0” with their plan. Again that is false.  With all other provinces implementing a carbon price the cost of food and other goods that we import from other provinces will go up, but Islanders will not have the benefit of the rebate to offset those costs. In the end Islanders will pay more and those costs will be felt most painfully by low and middle-income Islanders--the very people government claims they are trying to protect.  That’s why our plan would provide quarterly dividends to protect vulnerable Islanders.

As Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the former US Senator, put it: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”  If Islanders are going to have a meaningful public discussion on how we address the very real and imminent danger of climate change, we must base that discussion on the facts.

I believe that government has a special responsibility to lead public debate with honesty and integrity.  Members of executive council have been entrusted by the people of this province to make decisions for the benefit of all Islanders.  When they begin to rely on partisan talking points instead of fact-based policy development, they not only end up with poor policy decisions, but they undermine the very foundations of our democratic traditions.  We only have to look to our Southern neighbour to see what can happen when politicians use “alternative facts” to defend their positions.

Islanders deserve better.