The next federal election is shaping up as a crucial decision point for the Carbon Tax Debate. Photo Credit: Facebook/ Pierre Poilievre
Is the next federal election the political backdrop for a referendum on the carbon tax?
If Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has his way, the answer is yes. He’d like to see Canadians enter the voting booth thinking about which candidate is best positioned to ‘axe the tax’.
The carbon tax question is nothing new, and has been a live wire issue litigated to death by politicians of all political stripes in the 2015, 2019 and 2021 election cycles.
For the better part of eight years, the Trudeau Liberals found themselves on the right side of public opinion on the issue of climate change, carbon taxes and the environment. But times have changed and the goodwill of Canadians to finance federal climate commitments have taken a backseat as pocketbook issues once again rule the day.
This can be attributed to stagnant economic growth seen in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and a cost-of-living crisis that has Canadians reflecting on their own household books, and the taxes being levied on essential goods like gasoline and home heating bills.
For his part, the Prime Minister has, to a certain extent, read the tea leaves enough to know that Liberal talking points aren’t resonating with cash-strapped voters.
In response to a vocal outcry from Atlantic Canadians who are now looking at the Conservative Party as a very viable alternative to the Liberals, the Prime Minister stood in the foyer of the House of Commons last week to announce a three-year freeze on home heating oil. There was a litany of other measures included in the announcement, including a rebate on home heating pumps and a tax rebate for rural communities.
It’s hard to see the move as anything other than a shameless vote grab to make up for poorly thought out public policy. Instead of acknowledging that carbon pricing disproportionately impacts Canadians in certain regions more than others, Trudeau has instead provided a carve out in a region where he is taking a hit in the polls, while ignoring the rest of the country.
The walk back has created more questions than answers. The premiers of several provinces, including Alberta and Ontario have asked for similar exemptions to be put in place in their own provinces. The federal Conservatives were also quick out the gate to criticize the move by Trudeau, and this week, Poilievre tabled an opposition motion calling on the government to extend the carbon tax pause to all forms of home heating.
The Liberal caucus cannot be pleased about the current state of play. Trudeau’s announcement brings no relief for MP’s door knocking in Manitoba or the suburbs of the GTA. And thanks to Poilievre’s motion, they will have to stand up and risk breaking ranks with the Prime Minister, or continue to defend a senseless policy during an affordability crisis.
It took eight years, and three party leaders but the Conservative posturing on the carbon tax is finally back in vogue. Even the Prime Minister seems acutely aware of the writing on the wall. One can only hope that come the next election, the debate on the future of the carbon tax is finally put to bed.
Josie Sabatino is a Senior Consultant at Summa Strategies, focused on providing strategic insight and helping clients meet their objectives in an ever changing and complex political and regulatory environment. Prior to joining Summa, Josie spent nearly a decade in political communications and most recently served as the Director of Communications to the Hon. Erin O’Toole, former Leader of the Official Opposition.