Doug Ford vows to fight Justin Trudeau over the carbon tax, even though it could cost the Ontario Progressive Conservative Premier politically. Why take the risk?
The answer is that political movements of both the left and the right hold to core values, and for conservatives, fighting tax increases is one of those core values.
Liberals are, in contrast, more about trade-offs: To combat global warming, the Trudeau government is imposing a carbon tax in provinces that don’t have one, or its cap-and-trade equivalent, and combining that tax with income-tax rebates.
Which approach that will persuade the fickle Ontario voters, who will decide the next election, could depend on whether gas prices are rising or falling on April 1, when the federally imposed carbon tax comes into effect.
When it comes to federal elections, Ontario rules. In 18 of the 21 votes since the Second World War, the party that won the most seats in Ontario won the federal election. Today, most Ontario voters live in suburbs, own homes and drive cars.
There is no question that the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, along with other provincial conservative governments and federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, are all-in when it comes to opposing the Liberal carbon tax.
“The people of Canada expect conservatives, provincially and federally, to stand united against tax hikes that ultimately will impede the ability of families to afford energy,” said Ontario MPP Stephen Lecce, who is a parliamentary assistant to Mr. Ford, in an interview.
Increasing the cost of home heating fuel and gasoline “is not an environmental solution. It really is just a tax grab,” he maintained.
But such opposition comes with risks. Mr. Lecce represents the riding of King-Vaughan, which sits on the northern edge of the Greater Toronto Area. Mr. Lecce won the riding comfortably in last June’s provincial election. But the Liberals took the riding, narrowly, in the 2015 federal election.
Yes, Ontario voters have a confounding habit of sending one party to Ottawa and a different one to Queen’s Park. But as any past Ontario premier will tell you, life is simpler for everyone when the federal and Ontario governments get along. If Mr. Ford pushes for the ouster of the Liberals and fails, Mr. Trudeau is unlikely to forget or forgive. When you strike at a king, you must kill him.
Although a former Liberal MP, Dan McTeague, now the senior analyst at GasBuddy, a digital operation that monitors fuel prices, doesn’t have a high opinion of the carbon tax.
“It’s a colossal gamble and the odds do not favour the government on this,” he said in an interview.
Although prices are relatively low right now, they may well go up in the spring, thanks to the carbon tax, the low Canadian dollar, and the start of the summer driving season. Mr. McTeague also cites changes to the composition of winter fuel versus summer fuel, which is more expensive to produce.
If all that combines to produce sharp increases in fuel prices, then consumers might blame the tax, even though it is only one element of the increase.
Mr. McTeague points out that political parties that staked their fortune on carbon taxes – Joe Clark’s Progressive Conservatives in 1979 and Stephan Dion’s Liberals in 2008 – fared badly. If the Liberals face rising gas prices combined with a wall-to-wall advertising campaign by both the Ontario and federal Tories blaming their carbon tax, how can that not hurt them?
Of course, gas prices are unpredictable. They might be falling when the carbon tax arrives, masking its impact. If so, people may not notice the tax, while appreciating the income-tax rebate. (Although anyone who uses an accountant or tax-filing service might not notice the rebate.)
Fears over global warming are growing. In Ontario, 43 per cent of those polled supported the tax-and-rebate program, and 32 per cent opposed, according to internal federal government polling data obtained by Global News.
Bottom line: if suburban Ontario voters agree with Doug Ford, and hate the carbon tax, the Liberals will pay the price in the next election. If they accept the tax, even grudgingly, Mr. Trudeau will likely win a second term. It’s really as simple as that.
And as hard to predict.