The Conservatives moved on Wednesday to make carbon pricing the ballot box question in the next election, seizing on the public’s anxiety about affordability and seeing a crack in the Liberals’ carbon-price armour.
“A carbon tax election,” Leader Pierre Poilievre proposed in a speech to his caucus in Ottawa.
Last week, the Liberals said their government would pause the carbon price on home heating oil for three years to allow Canadians who use the fuel more time and money to replace it with electric heat pumps.
They’re also doubling the top-up to the carbon-price rebate that goes to rural Canadians, recognizing they have fewer options to reduce their fossil-fuel use, and expanding a program that helps people buy heat pumps.
The announcement did not land well, particularly in Western Canada, where a majority of households use natural gas to heat their homes and won’t be getting a carbon-price reprieve.
The Liberals have been defending the decision as one that takes into account the purchase cost of home heating oil compared to other fuels, and who is most likely to use it.
“Home heating oil is more expensive than other forms of heat, and home heating oil is disproportionately relied upon by lower-income Canadians in rural areas across the country who need more support,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday.
Liberals are also now pointing out that while a larger share of Atlantic Canadians rely on home heating oil, only one-quarter of home heating oil users live in Atlantic Canada. Forty per cent live in Quebec, 20 per cent reside in Ontario and 10 per cent are in Western Canada.
Still, that line of defence was undermined on Sunday, when Rural Development Minister Gudie Hutchings suggested on CTV’s Question Period that the move responded to the efforts of a strong Liberal caucus in Atlantic Canada.
She implied that if Western Canada wanted influence in Ottawa, it needed to elect more Liberals.
Nova Scotia Liberal Kody Blois called Hutchings’s comments “unfortunate,” saying on Wednesday that they mischaracterized the policy as benefiting Atlantic Canada most, when three-quarters of a million Canadians outside that region use home heating oil.
But Poilievre jumped on the remarks as proof the Liberals are using the carbon price as punishment, not climate action.
He said he intends to introduce a motion in the House of Commons calling on the government to exempt all home heating fuels from the carbon price until the next election, and then ask Canadians at the polls to decide if they want the price reapplied.
“I want to make a deal with him,” Poilievre said of Trudeau. “We all know that we’re not going to agree on the carbon tax. He wants to raise it, I want to axe it, we all know that, OK.”
Poilievre charged that Trudeau’s announcement last Thursday amounted to a “flip-flop” and an admission that the federal policy is costing Canadians in the midst of an affordability crisis.
“So, let’s make a deal,” Poilievre said. “Let’s pause the carbon tax on all home heating until Canadians go to the polls, so that we can have a carbon tax election.”
Trudeau seemed eager to go to battle with Poilievre over climate action.
“I think Canadians are deeply, deeply concerned about the need to continue to fight climate change in ways that makes life more affordable for them,” he said.
“That’s what we’re doing and that is absolutely something I am going to continue to stand for unequivocally, while Mr. Poilievre has no plan to fight climate change and therefore no plan for the economy.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 1, 2023.