“Policy academics are cheap dates.” One of my mentors, professor Aiden Vining, loved saying that. His point was that we policy academics will gladly pay for our own dinner if we think that a politician, of any political stripe, wants our advice. This explains why, in my 30 years of climate policy research, I have willingly advised Conservatives, Liberals, NDP and Greens, sometimes when in power, sometimes in opposition. Once, a politician actually paid for my dinner – at McDonalds.
I have learned some things that are relevant to this federal election. One lesson is that climate policy is really, really hard. Our political system has strong incentives for politicians not to implement effective climate policies. To be effective, policies must either price CO2 emissions or regulate CO2-causing fuels and technologies. These compulsory policies impose short-term costs (real and perceived) on some people, some of whom will wage war on the guilty politician. As in all wars, truth is the first casualty: the climate policy and its implementing politician will be blamed for completely unrelated misfortunes by these people, powerful backers, and a media that loves attacking politicians.