Things have turned very much Jim Karahalios’s way lately, and they might not be done yet. If you haven’t heard of Karahalios, he was the noisy member of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives persecuted by his own party for refusing to let former leader Patrick Brown get away with making carbon taxes an official policy. Although Karahalios clearly spoke for most members, Brown was determined to stick with his carbon tax — and to muzzle Karahalios and his “Axe the Tax” campaign, which has since expanded to every province. Karahalios was even tossed out of PC events and stripped of his PC membership.
With Doug Ford now leading the party into a spring election, the Ontario PC party looks less like Brown’s than it does Karahalios’s, who got his official apology (and the lawsuit appeal dropped) earlier this month from the party. And with Canada’s largest province looking like it might soon be on the same warpath as other provinces against the federal Liberals over the carbon tax, the whole country could soon look more like Karahalios’s sort of place than Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s.
Until now, most pundits have taken the federal Liberals’ word that the carbon tax is going to happen, whether provinces sign on to it or not. No one’s really questioned the legitimacy of Trudeau’s threat to use a “backstop” power that would see Ottawa collecting a price-fixed carbon tax within a particular province if the province itself will not. Even the National Post’s estimable Andrew Coyne suggested not long ago that the Ontario PC leadership candidates’ “declaration of opposition to a carbon tax is… meaningless”: Since Ottawa will levy the tax itself if it has to, “the tax will be collected” whether they liked it or not. In reality, though, a growing number of provinces are girding for battle in what could be a federal-provincial showdown for the ages. Far from being certain of getting its way, the federal government likely lacks the weapons it needs to win.