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bruce anderson

Bruce Anderson is the chairman of polling firm Abacus Data, a regular member of CBC The National's "At Issue" panel and a founding partner of i2 Ideas and Issues Advertising. He has done polls for Liberal and Conservative politicians in the past, but no longer does any partisan work. Other members of his family have worked for Conservative and Liberal politicians, and a daughter currently works for Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. He writes a weekly digital column for The Globe and Mail.

Canada has a spectrum of opinion on carbon emissions. Political parties are staking out places, with every chance the election will see a good scrap about this issue, again.

On the far right, a small fragment of the population thinks climate change is not a problem, or carbon emissions are not the cause. And that bending our economy or lifestyle in the name of this issue is nutty.

To their neighbours, these people sound like anti-vaxxers: certain that science can be arranged to prove any point and authorities should not be trusted.

At the other end of the spectrum lies another smallish fragment of opinion. For these people, the planet is out of time and decent choices. We must dash our economic hopes, and make big changes in how we live. Now.

Other Canadians are tempted to ignore these people. They sound like they have different needs. Thoughtful people, but maybe not the ones you want in charge of your country.

In between lies the large majority, who think reducing carbon emissions makes sense, but want practical ways of getting this done. If the choice is highly disruptive solutions or no solutions, they will take no solutions.

To turn this crowd off, preach for a big, federal tax. Tell them there is no alternative – the planet's clock is running out. Stéphane Dion lost these people in 2008 because, when critics said his plan was radical, he sounded like he was saying: "But people, radical is what we need."

When Stephen Harper called taxing carbon "crazy talk" recently, he was echoing a theme that helped him win the last election. That approach might not work as well this year.

The economy does not seem as fragile. Also, since some provinces are already pricing carbon, whether doing so is economic poison is no longer a hypothetical. The burden of proof is shifting.

In Alberta, many are working on the best ways to reduce carbon instead of debating whether climate change is real, or cutting emissions is a good idea. Naturally, Albertans do not want to be rendered uncompetitive, but they also do not like being cast as people who cannot do anything unless the United States does it first.

In Ontario, a honking big carbon tax would be an election loser. But a "not now, maybe never" position could sound more like "I don't care about this" than "trust my economic judgment."

Justin Trudeau's approach, described to Calgary's Petroleum Club, might change the game. He avoided the "killer tax" trap Mr. Dion walked into. He avoided Pierre Trudeau's "Ottawa knows best" trap, acknowledging how easy it is to tear the country apart over energy.

Instead, the Liberal Leader laid out an idea for getting more done. Not everything everyone might want, but more than is happening today. He will not win "greenest leader." He wants his approach compared with those of his opponents, believing it will seem less fringe, more practical, and a better fit with mainstream values.

Mr. Trudeau did not sell environmental doom or moral imperatives. He argued that to ensure we get our resources to market, we should find sensible ways to reduce carbon.

Mr. Trudeau's pitch is innovative. He needs to persuade people his approach would bring more progress without great pain, and that the Tory and NDP plans will not cut it in the economy of tomorrow.

Maybe some Liberals were disappointed when the Sierra Club's John Bennett sniffed at the Liberal plan, saying he hoped for something more aggressive. But that is the reaction the Liberals need: voices from the edges of the spectrum saying the Liberal approach is better than nothing, but leaves them short of completely satisfied.