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NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh arrives to Parliament Hill on his bicycle in Ottawa on April 9.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called carbon pricing an “unpopular position” on Friday but still lambasted NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh for distancing his party from the levy and questioned the New Democrat’s commitment to progressive policies.

At a Friday press conference in Vaughan, Ont., Mr. Trudeau also accused Mr. Singh of folding to Conservative pressure on the issue.

“I understand the political pressures on the NDP leadership right now and the challenges of holding an unpopular position, but doing the right thing should be something that progressive voters in this country can count on,” Mr. Trudeau said.

“This government will continue to be steadfast in putting a price on pollution and giving that price to Canadians, to help with affordability.”

The Prime Minister was responding to the NDP’s efforts to separate the party from the government’s consumer carbon price, which includes annual increases in the levy and a household rebate. The federal policy applies in all provinces but Quebec and B.C., which have their own systems.

The Liberals and NDP both campaigned on a consumer carbon price in past elections but in the fall, Mr. Trudeau partly walked back the policy and granted a three-year exemption to the carbon price for people who use home heating oil.

In making the change, Mr. Trudeau for the first time conceded the affordability pressures connected to the system – something the Conservatives have long argued and that the Liberals had disputed.

Liberal’s rural carbon rebate boost likely delayed

New Democrats are propping up the minority Liberals in the House of Commons in exchange for policy concessions. However, they have started to put more daylight between themselves and the government over its climate policy. The NDP says that the government’s changes last fall were politically motivated to save the Liberal base on the East Coast (where home heating oil is more commonly used) and has pitted regions against each other.

Against that backdrop, Mr. Singh on Thursday walked back his support for consumer carbon pricing but did not categorically reject it in a future NDP climate plan. While he declined to take a clear position on the consumer side of the pricing system, he said the party does support the industrial carbon price.

“We believe in making the big polluters pay and not having working people feel like they are the ones that are somehow having to shoulder this,” Mr. Singh said.

On Friday, however, he released a statement saying “New Democrats have not changed our position on the consumer carbon price.” That new statement, though, did not say what exactly is the existing position.

The comments on Thursday followed a Wednesday decision from the NDP to support a Conservative motion that called on Mr. Trudeau to meet with the premiers and allow them to opt out of the federal carbon price.

Liberal support in public-opinion polling has dropped significantly since last August but that hasn’t led to a bump in the NDP’s numbers. And the party will have lost more than a quarter of its incumbent MPs, because of retirements and resignations, by the time the next election is called.

The evolving NDP policy on carbon pricing underscores the competing perspectives of their rural and urban voter coalition, said pollster Nik Nanos of Nanos Research.

“The NDP are probably sensitive on a potential rural carbon tax squeeze in the same way they have been cross-pressured on gun control between their rural and urban caucus members,” said Mr. Nanos.

However, NDP strategist and former director of communications George Soule said the New Democrats’ position is a direct result of Mr. Trudeau’s own decision last fall to exempt some households from the consumer carbon price.

“He folded to pressure, which made him give up his argument,” Mr. Soule said about the Prime Minister. “You can’t simultaneously say, ‘people on low income, make money on this plan,’ and ‘we’re going to cancel it for people who are struggling to pay the bills.’ ”

“The glass house in which he lives, he built,” Mr. Soule said.

In provinces subject to the federal carbon price, residents get costs returned to them in quarterly rebates. Once the rebate is factored in, the Liberals say the vast majority of households get more back than they pay.

However, the Parliamentary Budget Officer has said that once direct and indirect costs of the carbon price are accounted for, most households will see a net loss.

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