Pierre Poilievre’s Conservatives are digging in on their campaign to nix the Liberal carbon pricing plan and say the government’s approach amounts to a tax that will not stop wildfires playing out in parts of Canada this summer.
Conservative Dane Lloyd, who serves as his party’s critic for emergency preparedness, recently posted a video to social media where he began by saying 2023 has been a “horrible year” for forest fires, including in Nova Scotia, British Columbia, Alberta and the Northwest Territories.
But the MP for Alberta’s Sturgeon River-Parkland riding said lately he has been “disturbed” by what he has been hearing out of the Liberal government. Mr. Lloyd said ministers are using “their climate change agenda” to go after Conservatives over these forest fires.
“Their carbon tax plan is not a plan to prevent forest fires,” he said in the video. “It’s a plan to raise your taxes.”
Over the summer, which has seen extreme weather events in different parts of the country, the Liberals and Conservatives have been staking out battle lines over carbon pricing that are expected to figure prominently in the political dialogue of the next campaign. Mr. Poilievre been particularly vocal about the carbon policy in Atlantic Canada, where all four premiers have said Ottawa is causing disproportionate economic harm.
As of July 1, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia became listed provinces under the federal Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act, meaning fuel used in these jurisdictions is subject to a fuel charge.
The Liberal government insists it is necessary to reduce green-house gas emissions while spurring innovation. It also says money from the federal price on pollution charged to fuel goes back to benefit Canadians in the same province or territory where it was collected.
Speaking in Oshawa, Ont., on Tuesday, Mr. Poilievre took aim at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, including on the carbon policy, during an event focused on the cost of living, including the price of school supplies.
Dennis Matthews, a principal at strategic communications firm Enterprise Canada who worked as a senior advertising adviser to then-prime minister Stephen Harper and on political campaigns, said in an interview that the two major political parties are on “totally different wavelengths” when it comes to their messages about the carbon price.
“For Conservatives, this is 100 per cent a cost-of-living issue,” he said. “For the Liberals, this is 100 per cent an environment, climate change issue.”
Some of the success the Conservative Leader has had at rallies is an example of how his message is resonating, Mr. Matthews said.
“That wavelength that he’s on about the cost of living and the pressures that are out there … he’s definitely hit on something there.”
In response to wildfires in British Columbia, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault posted on X, the social-media website formerly known as Twitter, to say that Conservative MP Tracy Gray, who represents the B.C. riding of Kelowna-Lake Country, was fanning “the flames by making pollution free again” while her constituents were “forced from their homes by climate-fueled fires.” Ms. Gray had posted about Canadians being unable to afford what she called Mr. Trudeau’s carbon tax.
In another post, Mr. Guilbeault suggested the Conservatives were “missing in action” on the environment.
“Being forced to cancel anti-carbon pricing events due to wildfires is sadly telling,” he wrote. “Literally smoked out on climate denial!”
Mr. Guilbeault was referring to the cancellation of rallies that were to be held by the Conservatives with the pledge to “axe the tax” this summer. The party recently announced it would postpone events in B.C. and Yukon owing to the severe wildfires.
A note sent out to party supporters in Yukon said the Conservatives would reschedule a rally with the Conservative Leader. Director of media relations, Sebastian Skamski, said the party also made a decision to postpone Mr. Poilievre’s upcoming tour of B.C. because it wanted to support British Columbians facing wildfires.
Nik Nanos, founder and chief data scientist at Nanos Research, said that each week, his firm tracks the top unprompted issue of concern. The environment is tied with the cost of living and inflation, he said, adding Canadians are “cross-pressured.”
“They’re cross-pressured in terms of paying for their groceries this week and, at the same time, fighting climate change.”
But he said the Conservatives have calculated that Canadians who feel great stress about trying to pay their bills will vote for their party because they feel they don’t have a choice and “if not, they’re not going to be able to pay for their rent.”
The party knows Canadians are worried about the rising cost of paying for rent and groceries, Mr. Nanos said, adding Conservatives are counting on people saying about the carbon pricing plan: “It’s just another tax grab. It’s not going to do anything to change the situation in the short term.”
Mr. Matthews said Mr. Lloyd’s video on the carbon policy and the wildfires is also reflective of a “way more confident Conservative Party” that is not afraid to hit back on attacks and launch ones of its own.