The recent debate around carbon pricing has created challenges I would never have anticipated three years ago when I was first elected. Back then, I was the lone Green MLA, I had a tiny but enthusiastic group of advisors, and party membership was small. On the issue of tackling climate change, I could stand up and defend my conviction that carbon pricing is the most effective and efficient means to reduce emissions. Economists agree, and it has been implemented successfully in dozens of jurisdictions. When done properly, it not only reduces emissions without placing any additional burden on low and middle income families, it can actually improve the economy by easing the transition to new green tech opportunities.
But the landscape has changed. I now lead a caucus (albeit a caucus of two), the party has a wide and diverse membership, and polls are showing the Greens are in a three-way race to form government after the next election. In this politically tense situation I recognize it is important to be “strategic” as well as purely idealistic. So when both the Liberals and the Conservatives announced that they would oppose a price on carbon, I had to consider what was best for my party, as well as what was in my heart.
The Liberals have rejected carbon pricing in spite of signing a pan-Canadian agreement to implement it to meet our obligations under the Paris Accord. Indeed, for a couple of years they have been promoting a fiscally-neutral price on emissions designed to meet the needs of Islanders. But suddenly they decided to ignore their commitments, and state if the federal government chooses to force a price on PEI, so be it. The PEI government is washing its hands of the issue.
Meanwhile the PCs came out with an even more extreme position. They would not only refuse to implement carbon pricing, they would also use whatever means available to fight the federal government in court.
This forced me to take a long, hard look at both my ideals and my responsibilities. One of the most reviled creatures on Earth is a politician promoting a new tax. The strategists for both the Liberals and Conservatives know that aligning yourself with a new tax or fee is dangerous, if not political suicide, just before an election. I now have a caucus colleague, employees and candidates who have all put their trust in me. Some have suggested it’s time for me to be more “strategic” and start acting like the leader of a “real party.”
But if I am going to be more “strategic,” I will also have to be less forthright with Islanders. The Liberals know that a carbon policy imposed by Ottawa will never meet the needs of Islanders as effectively as one that has been designed by Islanders to protect our vulnerable citizens and our primary industries. When the PCs say they can protect the climate without costing taxpayers any extra money, they conveniently forget that all government programs are paid for by taxpayers, including new incentives to reduce emissions AND doomed legal action to prevent carbon pricing. One way or another, taxpayers will foot the bill.
It may not be “strategic” but I prefer to be honest with voters. I have great confidence that Islanders, who live in one of the provinces most susceptible to the effects of climate change, and with a long history of attachment to this special place, will take the time to grasp why we have to act decisively. In fact, I’m willing to bet my political future on it.
Good governing improves people’s lives: it makes things better. It is about facing difficult challenges head on, not pretending they don’t exist or ignoring them, but having an honest conversation with Islanders about how best to tackle them. Good governing sometimes requires courage. Acting decisively and thoughtfully on climate change is the right way to proceed both morally and economically. That’s why you’ll see a clear and unambiguous commitment from me and the Green Party to price carbon pollution in a socially and economically responsible way. I am proud to lead a party that is willing to place trust in our kinder instincts, and in our policies, to express hope for a better future.