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Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre reads from last year's budget as he rises during Question Period on March 29 in Ottawa.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

You would think that a politician as hard-hitting as Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre would have something clear to say about the big initiatives that the federal government outlined in its budget.

But somehow the Leader of the Opposition can’t tell us whether he opposes the biggest thing in the Liberal budget.

He can’t say whether he is in favour of a massive, government-subsidized industrial strategy.

We’re not talking here about some baroque measure no one saw coming. We are talking about the largest feature in the government’s new fiscal blueprint.

In Tuesday’s budget, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland outlined an enormous set of industrial subsidies for green technology that reduces emissions that will total $80-billion over the next decade.

This is an expenditure for industrial subsidies on a scale never before attempted in Canada. And we knew it was coming: The Liberal government signalled it was planning to respond to the huge subsidies in the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act. Ms. Freeland budgeted more new money for those subsidies over the next decade than for health care.

Most of that money is supposed to be spent five to 10 years from now, when there could well be another party in power, possibly under Mr. Poilievre. Companies making investment decisions this year will want to know if a potential prime minister is dead set against the whole idea. Canadians should want to know too.

But on Wednesday, Mr. Poilievre was neither for nor against. Quite the opposite.

Asked whether he is in favour of the hefty investment tax credits for things such as carbon capture and hydrogen, Mr. Poilievre said his Conservatives have been in favour of carbon capture for a long time.

So that’s a yes? Well, no, not exactly.

He said his Conservatives would “study what’s in the budget and we’re going to come up with our own election platform.” Apparently it will be a year or two before we know if Mr. Poilievre thinks that a massive program launched in the 2023 budget is a good step or a colossal waste of money.

Mr. Poilievre responded to those questions by talking about the long delays for approving projects like mines – which is a legitimate point but not an answer to the question of subsidies.

And then for a moment, he made it sound like he thinks the subsidies are an outrage. “I have no doubt that Justin Trudeau will stuff the pockets of foreign multinationals,” he said. That’s pretty biting, except for the fact that we’re not sure whether Mr. Poilievre is in favour of all that pocket-stuffing.

Certainly, no one should expect that the Conservatives would release all their policies in the platform now.

And of course there’s plenty of waffling in politics. On Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau dodged questions of whether his government will ever balance the budget, to avoid admitting it never will. Mr. Poilievre refused to say whether the Conservative government would cancel a proposed dental plan.

But in this case the government of the day is launching a major subsidy program that will cost billions of dollars a year and is supposed to be the cornerstone of a decade-long industrial strategy, and key to climate-change policy, too.

The Official Opposition can’t take a pass on that for two years and claim that its mission is holding the government to account.

It can endorse the idea, but quibble over the details. Or it can oppose the very notion of pouring megabucks into subsidies.

It is evidently an uncomfortable issue for Mr. Poilievre. He has spent a lot of his time in politics railing against corporate handouts. He couldn’t help using that language on Wednesday.

But those subsidies also include a lot of money for carbon capture and storage in the oil patch that Alberta’s United Conservative Premier Danielle Smith wants. Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford will be keen on the incentives for electricity and battery plants.

Yet there’s no way around it. This is the time when the issue is being decided, if only because the Liberals have tabled the budget with hulking piles of cash devoted to it. That will set Canada’s industrial policy on a course that is supposed to endure for a decade. An opposition leader should be able to tell us if he’s against it.

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