Say what you want about Justin Trudeau, or his policies, but he’s a big-call risk-taker. He is taking what is arguably the most controversial policy of last year’s election campaign, the carbon tax, and more than tripling it.
It’s almost like he is daring opponents to fight him on it. In fact, that’s exactly what he is doing. He pretty much said so.
Conservatives cried foul because Mr. Trudeau had ducked and weaved evasively during the last election campaign about whether he’d keep raising the carbon tax after it reaches the planned level of $50 a tonne in 2022. Now, he is not just proposing further increases, he’s increasing the pace, so they’ll reach $170 a tonne by 2030. The Tories basically called him a liar.
Mr. Trudeau’s retort was that the Conservatives will have a chance to fight an election on it before the policy goes into effect.
The announcement immediately riled up the provincial governments that had once bitterly fought the carbon tax, but left it on the backburner over the past year. Alberta Environment Minister Jason Nixon called it an attack on the province’s economy. Ontario Premier Doug Ford called it “the worst thing you could ever see.” Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said the feds never consulted him.
That last part is no accident. Mr. Trudeau had held a day-long meeting with the premiers about health care only the day before. As a rule, Mr. Trudeau’s advisers tend to prepare the ground for every announcement, but not so much this time. As much as the Liberal government had promised a more stringent emissions-reduction plan, the $170-a-tonne carbon tax was a stunner.
It had the Prime Minister’s critics rushing to attack him. Mr. Trudeau would have known to expect that.
It will make a lot of people angry. Especially a lot of already alienated folks in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Mr. Ford said it’s going to cost ordinary folks a bundle and called it “the Prime Minister versus the people.” But Mr. Trudeau is clearly betting that more people want to see action on climate change and no longer fear the tax-and-rebate scheme is going to cost them dearly. And that the fight will push those people into the Liberal camp.
This is Justin Trudeau the gambler, the one whose willingness to make big political calls peeks out every now and then between more cautious calculations of Liberal strategists.
He did it in opposition when he unceremoniously booted senators from the Liberal caucus. He did it in government when he announced Ottawa would buy the Trans Mountain Pipeline.
In 2018, the $4.5-billion pipeline purchase was a bid to salvage his grand-bargain promise that he would both get Canada’s resources to market and act on climate change. But it didn’t do him any political favours. The Liberals were clobbered by Conservatives in Alberta and Saskatchewan in the 2019 election while the NDP, Greens and Bloc Québécois offered the pipeline as proof the Liberals weren’t serious about climate change.
This time, Mr. Trudeau has obviously decided he would face more political risk if voters don’t see his climate plan is serious.
But it is a big gamble. For starters, Ottawa’s carbon tax-and-rebate scheme is still being disputed before the Supreme Court, a risk even if the feds are seen as the likely winners of the case. And in the last election, the fight over the carbon tax between Liberals and Conservatives was basically fought to a draw.
In the 2019 campaign, the Conservatives’ own climate plan was widely panned by experts, but the Tories had a retort on that point: The Liberal plan wasn’t going to get Canada to its Paris Accord emissions-reduction goals, either. The proposals announced Friday, including a proposal for $15-billion in environmental program spending, allow Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals to say they would reach those goals.
That’s now a preparatory step for an election that is coming early in the New Year, barring a spike in the coronavirus or a dip in Liberal polls.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has to come out swinging against the carbon tax, for his own base, but offer some climate policy of his own. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh who has attacked the Liberals as non-credible on climate, will have to show he isn’t being outflanked. Mr. Trudeau is daring them to fight on this ground.
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