Still, the defiant way Trudeau and his ministers lashed out at the Conservatives this week suggests there is no moving the Liberals on providing carbon tax relief to financially stressed Canadians. As this debate in Ottawa unfolds, Canadians must simply brace themselves for more carbon tax increases on April 1. Photo Credit: Ryan Remiorz.
The Liberal government is looking to rebrand the carbon tax, wanting to enhance the promotion of their quarterly rebate cheques. They want to re-explain the significance of their “carbon pricing system” because, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has confessed, the Liberals are losing the communications battle on the carbon tax. This news was given front page headline treatment by the Liberal-friendly mouthpiece Toronto Star as Members of Parliament were returning to Ottawa from their Christmas recess. It became the focal point for the opening salvos of the parliamentary session.
The Liberals are increasingly concerned that their government’s prized climate policy is being maligned and misunderstood because of Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre’s cross country “Axe the Tax” tour. Poilievre has been speaking to packed audiences, pledging to rid Canadians of their carbon tax burden. According to “a senior government official” who leaked the rebranding exercise to the Star’s news writers, the Liberals hope to dampen the enthusiasm for Poilievre’s message by changing the name of their rebates and directing Canadian banks to highlight in some way the quarterly payments.
Poilievre responded to the Liberals’ communications and marketing strategy with an age-old idiom: “No matter how much lipstick the Liberals try to put on a very ugly carbon tax pig, it doesn’t change the fact Trudeau’s carbon tax is a very costly, ugly, hungry pig.”
The reaction to the Liberals’ news from across the country was similarly dismissive. A lead editorial in Sun Media opined: “The Trudeau Liberals keep clinging to the idea, borne of their political desperation, that if they can just properly explain their carbon tax to Canadians, they’ll flock to it in support.” Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe scoffed: “I don’t think it’s Canadians who are confused about the carbon tax.” David Jacobs, an active social media political commentator from Toronto reacted, “What Canadians hate more than taxes is a government that takes them for fools.” Franco Terrazzano of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation sniped: “Lipstick on a pig. Stop the gimmicks. Scrap the carbon tax.”
Back in Ottawa at the Conservative caucus meeting on Sunday, Poilievre announced that cancelling the carbon tax is his number one priority. The Conservatives will champion carbon tax exemptions for farmers, who today are paying extraordinary amounts of carbon tax on the natural gas and propane needed to dry grains, or to heat and cool livestock barns. Poilievre also wants to see the carbon tax exemptions on home fuel that has been awarded to the Atlantic provinces to be extended to all Canadians.
The Conservatives used the first days back in the House of Commons to blast the Liberals’ planned marketing of their rebate payments, accusing them of being “pathologically obsessed” with their carbon tax. Poilievre questioned Trudeau on the amount of carbon tax he paid for his Jamaican Christmas vacation and chastised him for his non-answers to Canadians: “That is high-tax, high-flying, high-carbon hypocrisy.” Poilievre asked Trudeau about Edmontonians who suffered minus-50-degree temperatures recently, “Will he at least allow people to heat their homes without his tax?”
But the Liberals remain unmoved; the carbon tax for Canadians is “a price on pollution” that is imposed to ensure the country achieves its 2030 and 2050 emission targets. Conservatives maintain the carbon tax is not a climate policy, but simply another tax that is hurting individuals and families – and the nation’s economy.
The carbon tax is a tax impacting Canadians’ cost of living
The carbon tax increases the cost of everything in Canada. It raises prices for Canadians not just on gas and home fuel – it raises prices on everything. Every business pays it and will pass it on to their customers so, essentially, it is a hidden tax on all goods and services. It hits farmers and truckers hard, and it hits commuters to work – twice a day. Homeowners stress about heating bills through the cold of the winter and cannot imagine the costs tripling in the next six years. It adds to the cost of a Tim Hortons’ coffee, food in your grocery cart, and housing construction costs. A Finance Canada analysis concluded the carbon tax disproportionately impacts lower and middle-income households.
Today, the carbon tax adds $10 on every fill up and almost $300 annually for home heating fuel. In the next six years there are scheduled annual tax hikes that will nearly triple these totals by 2030. And there is an additional Clean Fuel Standard carbon tax – and GST applied on top of this.
In answer to these facts, government spokespeople counter that Canadians get back in rebate payments the taxes they pay at the pump and for home fuel. They say 80 per cent of households get all tax that is collected back. However, the government is not factoring the additional hidden taxes that Canadians pay extra for in the goods and services they purchase. The government is also not factoring the huge drain the carbon tax is having on business investment and economic activity, which the Parliamentary Budget Office reports will result in 60 per cent of households ending up worse off. For example, with rebates in, Ontario households will be in the hole $150 monthly in 2030.
An environmental must or a tax bust?
Here are a few other factors that the Trudeau government must explain to Canadians when they rebrand the rebate payments and re-introduce their “price on pollution.”
The Trudeau government’s schedule of carbon tax hikes will hurt Canadians in the pocketbook – but then it is meant to. The government has imposed their punitive tax policy, expressly designed to alter Canadians’ behaviour and energy habits. In a Liberal document circulated after the 2019 federal election, Trudeau explained the Liberals’ approach in annually increasing the tax: “The principle is straightforward: a carbon price establishes how much businesses and households need to pay for their pollution. The higher the price, the greater the incentive to pollute less, conserve energy and invest in low-carbon solutions.”
Leading Liberals – the likes of Mark Carney, Chrystia Freeland, Catherine McKenna – believe that only by applying increased financial pain, with the steady increase of the carbon tax, will their emission goals of 2030 and 2050 be met. Except, even with the burden of the scheduled tax hikes, a government report concludes that tripling the carbon taxes in the next six years is not sufficient to force a change in energy use behaviour.
The Parliamentary Budget Office provided a 2021 analysis that found the government’s “net zero” targets can only realistically be reached by raising the carbon tax five times greater than it is currently scheduled through 2030. At this level of taxation, Canadians would be paying approximately $160 of additional carbon taxes every time they filled up their vehicle.
The suggestion that carbon taxes are not high enough has prompted Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault to suggest their scheduled hikes must be further hiked – but any talk of inflating the tax has been silenced within Liberal circles, likely not to be heard again until after the election.
The Liberals contend their carbon pricing system is the lynchpin mechanism within the government’s climate plan to ensure the country meets its net-zero targets. Yet this rationale has been discredited. In the fall the government-appointed Environment and Sustainable Development Commissioner Jerry DeMarco released a report that concluded the Trudeau climate plan is a failure.
It is a fact that, since 2015, Canada’s emissions have risen, and the country has the worst performance of any of the G7 nations when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. According to a recent U.N. Emissions Gap Report, Canada is set to miss its next emissions target in 2030 by 15 per cent.
DeMarco’s report assesses that the Liberals environmental policies have too many unrealistic assumptions and projections and have no cohesive plan to reach the targets set for 2030 or 2050. He concludes the “punitive tax approach” has not been effective and it has failed the government’s stated objective, given emissions have risen over the past couple decades.
Still, the defiant way Trudeau and his ministers lashed out at the Conservatives this week suggests there is no moving the Liberals on providing carbon tax relief to financially stressed Canadians. As this debate in Ottawa unfolds, Canadians must simply brace themselves for more carbon tax increases on April 1.
As for the government’s intended rebranding exercise for the “very ugly carbon tax pig,” if that lipstick analogy is wearing thin, perhaps the Liberals will be better advised by an old Scottish proverb: “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”
Chris George is an advocate, government relations advisor, and writer/copy editor. As president of a public relations firm established in 1994, Chris provides discreet counsel, tactical advice and management skills to CEOs/Presidents, Boards of Directors and senior executive teams in executing public and government relations campaigns and managing issues. Prior to this PR/GR career, Chris spent seven years on Parliament Hill on staffs of Cabinet Ministers and MPs. He has served in senior campaign positions for electoral and advocacy campaigns at every level of government. Today, Chris resides in Almonte, Ontario where he and his wife manage www.cgacommunications.com. Contact Chris at email@example.com.