Published March 20, 2024

Poilievre threatens no confidence vote on carbon price, Guilbeault calls him a liar

By Mia Rabson and Stephanie Taylor

The minority Liberals are facing increasing political pressure on their signature climate policy, as Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre triggers a vote of no confidence in the House of Commons. 

As the pile-on mounts and provincial politicians — including Liberals — vow to join the fight, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault is openly calling Poilievre a liar. 

He's also challenging the Tory leader to put up an environmental plan that eliminates as many emissions as carbon pricing does without costing Canadians a cent.

Conservatives have opposed the Liberal climate policy from the start, but the backlash has grown to new heights since Poilievre took the helm. 

Under his leadership, the Tories have successfully seized upon the post-COVID-19 cost-of-living and inflation crisis as a platform to convince Canadians the carbon price is making their lives much less affordable.

Poilievre is demanding that the government back off from its plan to raise the carbon price another $15 per tonne as scheduled on April 1. 

The hike will add about three more cents to the price of a litre of gasoline.

"I'm giving Trudeau one last chance to spike his hike," Poilievre said Wednesday in speech to caucus members that was open to media. 

"If Trudeau does not declare today an end to his forthcoming tax increases on food, gas and heat ... we will introduce a motion of non-confidence."

The Liberals made no such move, and the no confidence vote is scheduled for Thursday. 

It marks the 10th time in the past 18 months of Poilievre's leadership that the Tories have moved a motion in the House of Commons calling for carbon pricing to be scrapped or significantly amended. 

To date, none of them have succeeded.

Government House leader Steven MacKinnon said Wednesday he had no fears of losing Thursday's vote. Both the NDP and Bloc Québécois support carbon pricing.

Poilievre's speech followed a new ad campaign and another series of "axe the tax" rallies and town halls, where the leader drew crowds of thousands in Toronto and across Atlantic Canada.

Following the blitz, Guilbeault accused Poilievre of "lying" about the carbon price.

The environment minister said Tuesday that the Tories are falsely linking it to inflation, ignoring the existence of rebates and failing to propose a plan that recognizes the cost of climate change. 

"Climate change is real, it's impacting Canadians and it's costing Canadians, and you'll never hear Pierre Poilievre talk about that," he said.

"The more we wait, the more we will suffer the impacts of climate change, the more Canadians will be impacted by heat domes, by forest fires, by flooding, by coastal erosions, by sea level rise."

Guilbeault said that according to Environment Canada analysts, carbon pricing will account for about one-third of emissions reduction in Canada by 2030. 

That amounts to about 75 million tonnes of greenhouse gases, which is what 17 million passenger vehicles emit in a year. 

"If there's someone, somewhere that can show me a measure that comes at no cost to Canadian taxpayers because it's revenue-neutral, that can give us a third of our emission reduction, I'd like to hear it," Guilbeault said.

"Cause I've been working on this for 30 years. That's all I've done as an adult, working on climate change. And there's no such measures lying around."

The Liberals have been on their heels on carbon pricing almost from the outset. 

They've struggled to explain to Canadians a complicated policy that makes the cost of buying fossil fuels gradually more expensive, even as the government sends rebates to households to offset those costs. 

Those struggles have intensified over the last few months.

The first real sign of fissures among Liberals over carbon pricing came last fall when Trudeau announced, with his Atlantic caucus behind him, that the government would exempt heating oil from the policy for three years. 

In Atlantic Canada, about one-third of homes use heating oil. That compares to fewer than one in 10 households everywhere else in the country. 

Liberals said more households overall use heating oil outside the region, and argued that they need help to replace oil furnaces with greener alternatives. They've promised not to introduce any other carve-outs. 

But the optics gave Conservatives and other critics plenty of room to accuse Trudeau of blinking on a signature policy out of fear of losing votes in Atlantic Canada.

Chris Ragan, an economist and the director of McGill University's Max Bell School of Public Policy, strongly supports carbon pricing and said there is no environmental benefit to delaying the April increase. 

But he said the heating oil exemption was a big mistake. 

Premiers outside the Atlantic took "what, three minutes" before they were demanding an exemption for natural gas and calling the Liberals' decision unfair, he said. 

"And it is unfair," he said in an interview. "I think it created a world of harm, actually."

It opened up provincial demands for additional exemptions, gave fire to opponents of the policy and added to public confusion. 

The government is also now in a legal standoff with Saskatchewan. 

Premier Scott Moe stopped the collection of carbon pricing on natural gas bills on January 1, which goes against federal carbon pricing law.

Moe and six other premiers joined Poilievre last week to demand the April 1 increase be avoided. 

That included the only current Liberal Premier, Andrew Furey in Newfoundland and Labrador, and Blaine Higgs, the Tory premier in New Brunswick who in 2019 said the re-election of the Liberals was a sign voters wanted carbon pricing.

In Ontario this week, Liberal Leader Bonnie Crombie vowed her campaign platform will not include a carbon price, following attacks from Ontario Premier Doug Ford. 

Several Alberta NDP leadership candidates have vowed not to reintroduce a provincial carbon price either, including Sarah Hoffman, who was the deputy premier in Alberta when Rachel Notley's government introduced a provincial carbon tax in 2016. 

Hoffman said Trudeau's decision to "play politics" with carbon pricing and pick winners and losers has killed the policy.

Eight environmental organizations released a letter on Thursday decrying politicians who they say are "shamelessly exploiting Canadians' very real economic pain for political gain."

"Climate policies have nothing to do with the hardships Canadians are facing, yet these politicians are ignoring the real causes of the cost-of-living crisis and scapegoating carbon pricing," it read. 

Banner image: Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre addresses his caucus on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, March 20, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Mar. 20, 2024. 

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