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opinion

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre rises during Question Period, in Ottawa, on Sept. 23.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

When Erin O’Toole and Andrew Scheer were Conservative leaders, both released plans to combat climate change after unrelenting questions and criticism from journalists over the lack of such plans.

Pierre Poilievre, however, is taking a different approach. The new Conservative Leader says virtually nothing about the issue and refuses to meet with journalists, dismissing them as Liberal shills.

He may be hoping that, by focusing on economic issues and attacking the media, he can escape from having to address climate change. For the sake of the planet and a free press, we must hope he fails.

This past weekend’s storm was one of the worst Atlantic Canada has ever endured. While we should not necessarily attribute an individual weather event to climate change, the pattern is clear: This year, Fiona battered the Atlantic region; last year, British Columbia experienced devastating fires and floods.

As well, 2021 was the seventh-hottest year on record globally; the other six have all been since 2015. The pattern suggests years of increasingly extreme weather lie ahead.

The Conservatives under Stephen Harper took limited measures to fight climate change, but at least set clear targets.

Mr. Scheer promised to cancel the Liberal government’s carbon tax and replace it with emission standards, which many found unconvincing.

Erin O’Toole as leader accepted the need to put a price on carbon, which angered many core conservatives, contributing to his ouster earlier this year.

Mr. Poilievre has vowed repeatedly to scrap the Liberal carbon tax. What would he put in its place? He has mentioned relying on new technologies and letting the provinces take the lead. None of that sounds in the least like a coherent climate action plan.

It’s a fair bet that if Mr. Poilievre went before a microphone to take questions from reporters, as opposition leaders used to do regularly, some of those questions would focus on the lack of a Conservative plan to combat climate change.

Instead, the new leader ridicules the very reporters he avoids: “I don’t try to go through the Liberal media to get my message out,” he said in May. “I go around them. I deliver my message to millions of people through social media.”

He has targeted Global News, saying it “is content to be a Liberal mouthpiece.” As for the other major private network, “no wonder CTV is so biased,” he once said. “They’re owned by Bell, [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau’s favourite phone company.” And of course, he has vowed to defund the CBC.

Most comparisons of Mr. Poilievre to former U.S. president Donald Trump are fatuous. His tendency to treat the media as the enemy is the exception.

Last week, things reached a nadir. Dale Smith, a freelance journalist, criticized what he called “lame” remarks in the House by Conservative MP Garnett Genuis.

“When horses are this lame, you shoot them,“ Mr. Smith tweeted.

Mr. Genuis accused Mr. Smith of inciting violence against him, and demanded the journalist lose his right as a member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery to walk freely through the precinct.

“I should not have to consider whether or not I will encounter someone who has made a threat to me in the halls of Parliament,” Mr. Genuis declared.

But Mr. Smith did not threaten the MP in the least. He simply made a bad joke.

The media, despite all our flaws, remain vital in preserving a healthy democracy. Mr. Poilievre should make himself available to the press, as opposition leaders have been doing for generations. That he won’t lessens his credibility as a leader and heightens suspicions that he is afraid to take tough questions, including on his nonexistent climate plan.

The making of Pierre Poilievre, conservative proselytizer

The Conservative leader may be hoping that, come election time, voters will be more concerned about rising prices and rising taxes than they will be about rising temperatures – and that avoiding the media and demonizing journalists will lower their reputation rather than his.

But it would only take one major weather event before or during an election campaign to focus attention on Mr. Poilievre’s refusal to take climate change seriously.

And people might also start to ask themselves whether they should trust a politician who appears to be terrified of the press.