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Published April 1, 2024

Premiers making 'political hay' out of carbon pricing increase, Trudeau says

By Stephanie Taylor

Most of Canada's premiers would rather complain and "make political hay" out of the federal carbon pricing program than propose viable alternatives for reducing emissions, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday as his government ignored calls to forgo its latest increase.

Trudeau was responding to Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey's call for an "emergency meeting of leaders," just the latest of several last-ditch provincial efforts to forestall a higher fuel levy. 

Furey, the lone Liberal premier left in the country, is among several Atlantic leaders who joined with their counterparts in Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan in pushing Trudeau to abandon his planned $15-per-tonne increase, which went into effect Monday. 

Many of them have long opposed any carbon levy, but say the affordability crisis plaguing Canadians is reason enough not to increase it further. Manitoba NDP Premier Wab Kinew confirmed last week that he too is working on a request for his province to be exempted.

Trudeau says the increase will also mean larger quarterly rebate cheques, which families are next set to receive on April 15 to help offset the higher cost of fuel. 

The premiers, Trudeau told a news conference Monday in Toronto, have failed to propose any alternatives. 

"All those premiers that are busy complaining about the price on pollution, but not putting forward a concrete alternative that they think would be better for their communities, are just playing politics," he said. 

In a letter to Trudeau, Furey defended the actions taken by his province to date to lower greenhouse gas emissions, saying Ottawa is going to have a to make a "larger strategic investment" if it hopes to have "any meaningful impact" on Canada's carbon output.

"The threat of climate change is pressing," he wrote. "There is wide consensus that decarbonization is imperative; no serious counter-arguments remain. The only question is how best, at this time, to do so."

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, who last week testified before a parliamentary committee about his opposition to the increase, tweeted Monday that the only way to prevent future increases is a change in government. 

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, who is riding high over the Liberals in public opinion polls, has challenged Trudeau to make the next federal vote a "carbon tax election." That election must take place on or before Oct. 20, 2025. 

Poilievre has also spent the last month hosting "axe the tax" rallies across the country with the same message. He was to hold a news conference Monday in Nanaimo, B.C., before an evening rally. 

At around noon Monday, dozens of people were gathered on Parliament Hill, some waving "axe the tax" signs, while others draped themselves in Canadian flags or expletive-laced messages about the prime minister. 

Protesters also temporarily blocked the Trans-Canada Highway linking Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. News reports showed demonstrators near Aulac, N.B., carrying signs that read, "Axe the tax," and "Trudeau must go." 

By mid-afternoon, one lane in each direction had reopened to all traffic, but motorists travelling between the two provinces were advised to expect delays, said New Brunswick RCMP. 

Trudeau and other carbon pricing proponents say critics are ignoring the fact that Canadian families receive quarterly rebate cheques, which are more generous to low-income households, to help them offset the upfront costs. 

They also point to the costs climate change has imposed on Canadians through disasters such as wildfires or floods. 

Last week, some 200 economists and academics from universities across the country released an open letter defending carbon pricing as the most low-cost way to reduce emissions, as opposed to imposing stricter regulations. 

The Liberal party circulated a petition on social media Monday accusing Poilievre of wanting to slash the rebate cheques, which range from $760 to nearly $1,800 per year, depending on where the recipient lives. 

Trudeau has accused conservative premiers of lying about the policy's affect inflation and has challenged his provincial critics to present alternative plans to reduce emissions. 

For months, he and his ministers have been struggling to find support for the years-old policy as Canadians find themselves paying higher food and housing prices, and Poilievre aggressively campaigns against the carbon price. 

Back in February, the federal government rebranded the payments Canadians receive as the "Canada Carbon Rebate," formerly the "Climate Action Incentive," in an effort to boost public support for the policy. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 1, 2024. 

— With files from Lyndsay Armstrong in Halifax

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