Skip to main content

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, seen here, has flip-flopped on whether the Liberals will raise the carbon tax above $50 a tonne after 2022.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The Liberal government’s election platform will promise greater action to combat climate change, but will be silent on a plan for the carbon tax after 2022, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said on Monday.

The same day, Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre accused the Liberals of having a “hidden agenda” for the carbon tax, because of her changing statements on the future of the levy.

The political jousting arose on Monday as federal parties prepare for a fall election in which plans for tackling climate change, and the Liberal government’s carbon tax in particular, will be a key issue. It is the latest instalment in a fight between the Conservatives and the Liberals over the carbon tax’s role in fighting climate change.

As reported by The Globe and Mail on Sunday, Ms. McKenna has flip-flopped on whether the Liberals will raise the carbon tax above $50 a tonne after 2022. In June, she said the Liberals won’t raise the carbon tax after it hits $50, but in a recent interview with The Globe, she said any change would be done in consultation with the provinces and territories.

At a news conference on Monday, she confirmed that any change to the tax would not occur until after wide-ranging consultations, and would likely be put to voters in the general election after this one. On Twitter, environmentalist Steven Guilbeault, now a Liberal candidate, suggested the carbon tax should go higher.

“That price should reflect the cost of #climatechange to society,” he wrote.

Zeroing in on the carbon tax at a separate news conference, Mr. Poilievre charged that “the Liberal plan is not an environmental plan, it is a tax plan.”

While slamming the Liberals over their carbon tax, Mr. Poilievre didn’t explain how his party’s climate plan will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Conservatives have proposed unspecified regulations and tax incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Ms. McKenna fired back, saying the Conservatives have no real plan to cut emissions and confront what she described as the most challenging issue of the 21st century.

“We need more ambition; every country in the world needs more ambition," Ms. McKenna said.

The most recent Environment Canada assessment suggests the Liberal government will not meet its target to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. Ms. McKenna insists the necessary measures are largely in place – including investment in public transit and support for electric vehicles – but the resulting emission reductions are uncertain in some cases.

A recent report from a government-appointed advisory group recommended that the government target transportation and building sectors to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including mandates for zero-emissions vehicles. The group was co-chaired by Mr. Guilbeault.

The carbon tax is one element of the Liberals’ plan to cut emissions to meet commitments made under the Paris Accord. The Conservative Party argues its climate plan represents the “best chance” to reach those targets, although the party hasn’t explicitly committed to meet them.

An analysis from Simon Fraser University professor Mark Jaccard, who sits on the United Nations’ International Panel on Climate Change, finds that under the Conservative plan, “emissions would keep rising.”

Prof. Jaccard, who has advised Conservative, NDP and Liberal governments, found that if the Liberals make no changes to their plan, by 2030 emissions would still be 100 megatonnes lower than under the Conservatives’ plan.

Mr. Poilievre told reporters he disagrees with Prof. Jaccard’s analysis. He repeatedly pointed reporters to one plank of the Conservative plan that would force companies who don’t reduce emissions to invest in green technology. The Tory plan, released in June, doesn’t say how much companies will have to reduce emissions by, or how much companies will have to pay if they don’t meet those unknown targets. Mr. Poilievre didn’t provide further details on Monday.

After 30 years in the field, Prof. Jaccard said he’s skeptical about the sincerity of any party to combat climate change when specifics aren’t given. He said Brian Mulroney, Jean Chrétien, Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau all set emissions reduction targets, but Mr. Trudeau’s is the "first government that actually implemented policies that would make a change.”