Conservative MP Ron Liepert rises during Question Period on Parliament Hill, Friday, March 10, 2017 in Ottawa. Ron Liepert says these days, the phone calls and emails from people wanting to talk about his party’s climate plan have slowed. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Conservative MP Ron Liepert rises during Question Period on Parliament Hill, Friday, March 10, 2017 in Ottawa. Ron Liepert says these days, the phone calls and emails from people wanting to talk about his party’s climate plan have slowed. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

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

Trudeau has pledged to further cut Canada’s emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases by up to 45 per cent

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.”

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

carbon tax

Just Posted

Canadian Pacific Railway’s Caboose 437115 was retired and donated to Maple Ridge in 1991. Now, it’s in need of some repairs, and the museum is looking for some people willing to help in its refurbishing. (Maple Ridge Museum/Special to The News)
LOOKING BACK: Caboose needs a new roof

Maple Ridge Museum is putting the call out to loca train lovers for some help

Grant De Patie. (The News files)
Virtual sit-in in memory of Maple Ridge gas attendant killed in 2005

Protest for stronger safety protections for late-night workers

Have an opinion you’d like to share? Submit letters to the editor through our website, via email or the postal service. (Heather Colpitts/Black Press Media)
LETTER: Pitt Meadows does not need new RCMP detachment

Local resident says the price tag is too much

Maple Ridge author Tiffany-Ann Bottcher is one of 21 authors whose real-life stories are featured in the new book Women in Business in a Changing World. (Special to The News)
Maple Ridge author shares real-life story to inspire women in business

Tiffany-Ann Bottcher, is a long-time Maple Ridge resident, a full-time business coach and blogger

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. There’s new evidence the Vancouver police were warned about a possible riot days before violence broke out during the final game of the Stanley Cup playoffs on June 15. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
Maple Ridge residents share Vancouver Stanley Cup Riot memories

June 15th was 10th anniversary of Canucks Game 7 loss

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

Police are asking for public assistance in locating Anthony Graham who has been charged with the murders of Kamloops brothers Carlo and Erick Fryer. (RCMP photo)
2 charged, suspect at large in killings of B.C. brothers linked to gang activity: RCMP

Kamloops brothers Erick and Carlo Fryer were found deceased in May on a remote Okanagan road

UFV athletes were honoured for their strength and perseverance during the pandemic. (UFV photo)
Fraser Valley athletes recognized in year without sports

UFV Cascades athletes honoured for strength shown during the pandemic

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Albert Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney unveil an opening sign after speaking about the Open for Summer Plan and next steps in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta 1st province in Canada to lift all COVID-19 public health restrictions

70.2% of eligible citizens 12 and older in the province have received a dose of the vaccine

Fraser Health registered nurse Ramn Manan draws a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe at a walk-up vaccination clinic at Bear Creek Park, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Honour our fathers’ with COVID-19 vaccine protection, B.C. urges

109 new cases Friday, 75 per cent of 12 and up immunized

(Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Trutch Avenue in Chilliwack to be renamed to remove racist taint

New name to have Indigenous significance as Chilliwack takes new step toward reconciliation

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a joint news conference following the EU-Canada Summit, in Brussels, Belgium, Tuesday June 15, 2021. Trudeau says Canada is on track now to have 68 million doses delivered by the end of July, which is more than enough to fully vaccinate all 33.2 million Canadians over the age of 12. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine deliveries enough to fully vaccinate all eligible Canadians by end of July

Three in four eligible Canadians now have their first dose, nearly one in five fully vaccinated.

Most Read