By Steve Scherer
OTTAWA, June 19 (Reuters) - Canada's Conservative Party leader unveiled his long-awaited climate and environmental plan on Wednesday that would eliminate the current federal carbon pricing program and focus on promoting green technologies.
For more than a year, Conservative chief Andrew Scheer, who is currently leading in the polls, has been promising to deliver a climate plan that would replace Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's so-called "carbon tax."
"More and more Canadians are starting to realize that paying a tax isn't going to help the environment," Scheer said, speaking at a protected park in Quebec. "A carbon tax is not an environmental plan."
Scheer, unlike some conservatives in the United States, recognizes that "climate change is real" and says federal action is needed.
How to deal with climate change is shaping up to be a polarizing issue in the election campaign. Trudeau's Liberal Party supporters rank it among their top concerns, while Scheer's Conservative backers put it near the bottom of their list of priorities.
Since his election in 2015, Trudeau, 47, has walked a tightrope between policies that protect the environment and those that safeguard the country's economic interests, especially in the energy-rich West.
On Tuesday, the government approved a hotly contested proposal to expand the western Canadian crude oil pipeline it bought last year, providing hope for a depressed energy industry but angering environmental groups.
Scheer, 40, backs the pipeline expansion and, in a previous speech, proposed building a coast-to-coast energy "corridor."
"This is a plan only an oil lobbyist could love," Greenpeace Canada senior energy strategist Keith Stewart said of the Conservative initiative, a 60-page document with 55 different policy proposals.
Trudeau's climate plan required provinces to draft their own carbon pricing system. If they did not, Ottawa imposed a federal tax. Earlier this year, the government said most revenues from the tax would be returned to consumers in the form of a rebate worth hundreds of dollars annually for a typical family.
Several right-leaning provincial leaders are challenging the tax in court, and Scheer said the levy unfairly penalizes commuters, soccer moms and dads, farmers, seniors and local businesses, while it lets the largest emitters off the hook.
The government carbon tax "will hit hard-working families the hardest, with higher costs for gasoline, groceries, and home heating," he said.
If he is elected, Scheer said major emitters would be required to offset carbon emissions with investments in research, development and emissions-reducing technologies.
"The fact is we can actually create more jobs in Canada through technological growth while at the same time lowering global emissions," Scheer said.
He also promised a two-year home-owner tax credit to promote energy-saving by households, and to boost spending on conservation.
Speaking about the Conservative plan earlier on Wednesday, Trudeau said: "We have done more to protect the environment than any government in Canadian history." (Reporting by Steve Scherer Editing by Tom Brown)
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