A Conservative motion to expand a carve-out from carbon pricing to all forms of home heating failed to pass the House of Commons on Monday, despite surprising support from the New Democrats.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and his party backed the motion, but Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet had told reporters ahead of question period that his MPs would vote against it.
The opposition motion was defeated by a vote of 186 to 135, with the Block and Liberals voting against it.
The motion came about 10 days after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suddenly announced a temporary, three-year pause from the carbon price for people who use home heating oil. The Liberals said the change comes as the cost of heating oil soared and people were struggling to pay to replace it with alternatives such as heat pumps.
They also increased the amount of grant money available to help low- and moderate-income Canadians replace oil furnaces with electric heat pumps, and said the pause gives people more time and money to make that change.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre called the move divisive and has accused Trudeau of engaging in regional favouritism in a bid to reverse the Liberals’ sluggish poll numbers in Atlantic Canada.
Since the summer, consecutive polls have shown Poilievre’s Conservatives well ahead of the Liberals. That includes across Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador, where Trudeau’s Liberals have typically fared well.
Poilievre points to widespread concerns about affordability as a main reason why Trudeau should scrap the policy altogether — something the Conservative leader has vowed to do if elected prime minister.
Trudeau’s sudden announcement of the exemption on Oct. 26 came just before Poilievre was set to take the stage at a rally in rural Nova Scotia. It was part of a months-long “axe the tax” campaign, which the Conservatives are using to drum up support in key ridings, taking aim at one of the signature policies of Trudeau’s government.
Since Trudeau announced the temporary exemption, Conservatives have singled out specific Liberal-held ridings in regions such as northern Ontario, arguing constituents deserve a similar pause on paying the carbon price.
Home heating oil was exempt from the carbon price in the Atlantic until July, when the four provinces began using the federal carbon price program, rather than their own provincial versions that until then Ottawa had approved.
Atlantic Liberals lobbied Trudeau hard for months before that change, and in the months since, to provide relief as concerns mounted about the cost of living.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe is among provincial leaders demanding similar exemptions for other kinds of home heating such as natural gas. Moe threatened to have the province stop collecting the carbon levy if no break is provided.
The Liberals have ruled out providing any more carve-outs to its carbon-pricing system.
They also point out that while the carbon price rebate more than covers the associated added cost for natural gas, that isn’t always true for home heating oil, which produces more greenhouse gas emissions and is charged a higher carbon levy.
Those rebates will be reduced to account for the home heating oil exemption.
The Liberals dismiss allegations of regional favouritism, noting that while a disproportionate number of households in Atlantic Canada still use heating oil, about three in four heating oil furnaces is located outside that region.
The New Democrats said they would vote in favour of Poilievre’s motion after failing to convince the Conservatives to push for the GST to be removed from home heating instead.
The decision to do so marks a shift for the NDP, which in early 2022 entered into a confidence-and-supply agreement with the governing Liberals.
The New Democrats agreed to support the minority Liberals on key votes in the House of Commons, including those related to the budget and other matters of confidence, until 2025 in exchange for the government taking action on some NDP priorities. The agreement would also help avoid triggering an election.
“I’m always reluctant to vote alongside the Conservatives in any way,” Singh told reporters on Monday.
“On this vote specifically, it is very clear that this is a vote to reject the divisive approach of the Liberals and I do reject their approach.”
Last week, NDP House leader Peter Julian said the Conservative motion was “clearly not a confidence motion.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 6, 2023.