Canada's main opposition party changes climate change tack, backs carbon pricing

FILE PHOTO: Petro-Canada's Edmonton Refinery and Distribution Centre glows at dusk in Edmonton February 15, 2009. REUTERS/Dan Riedlhuber

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Canada's opposition Conservative Party on Thursday dropped its resistance to carbon pricing and adopted it as part of its own climate plan, reversing a long-held position that could put it at odds with some of its staunchest supporters.

Climate change has proved a thorny issue for Erin O'Toole's Conservatives. The plan comes despite most Conservative delegates voting against recognizing climate change as a real threat at a policy convention just last month.

"We will scrap (Liberal Prime Minister) Justin Trudeau's carbon tax on working Canadians," O'Toole said at that convention, noting however that the party "fought and lost two elections against a carbon tax".

On Thursday, O'Toole said his own plan was better than the Liberal one.

"When compared to the Trudeau carbon tax, our plan is just as effective in emission reduction, but vastly superior in preserving jobs and growing the Canadian economy," O'Toole said.

A number of provinces - including the energy heartland and Conservative Party bastion of Alberta - oppose carbon pricing, and they challenged the current government's scheme to the Supreme Court. Last month, the court upheld Trudeau's plan.

Trudeau's national carbon price is due to ramp up to C$170 a ton by 2030, though 90% is returned to Canadian taxpayers through rebates. The Conservatives would cap prices at C$50 a ton for taxpayers, who would pay the levy into a government savings account and be able to use the money to make "green" purchases like bicycles and home energy retrofits.

"It's outrageous that O'Toole is now planning to hammer Canadians with higher fuel bills through his very own carbon tax," said Franco Terrazzano, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation's Alberta Director. "If he goes through with this scheme, he will be breaking his promise to Canadians."

As part of his broader plan to fight climate change, O'Toole said a Conservative government would meet Canada's international pledge to cut emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030, and match greenhouse gas reductions promised in the Liberal climate plan.

Many Liberal insiders expect Trudeau to seek an election later this year. Trudeau's Liberals lead O'Toole's Conservatives 37% to 29%, according an Abacus Data poll published on Thursday.

(Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa, editing by Steve Scherer and Marguerita Choy)

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