If at first you don’t succeed, lie, lie again. That appears to be the Conservative Party of Canada’s modus operandi of late, and it was on display again last week with the party’s claim the federal Liberal government is planning a new tax on large trucks.
In a video from a Calgary dealership lot, a haggard Jason Kenney railed against the non-existent tax, with the accompanying tweet asking: “Why do the Ottawa elites want to punish millions of Canadians for working, and living normal lives?”
They don’t, of course.
The Conservatives’ claim stems from the recommendations the government’s Net Zero Advisory Body made in its official submission for the 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan. Those recommendations include expanding the existing levy on fuel-inefficient vehicles to include large pickup trucks, one that’s now being spun as imminent federal policy even though there’s no evidence the Liberals have any intention of implementing it.
“This so-called fee on trucks doesn't exist,” Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault clarified in his own tweet. “It's fear-mongering, plain and simple." The Net Zero Advisory Body’s chair, Dan Wicklum (the former head of Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance), told The Canadian Press’s Mia Rabson: "We felt it was quite balanced advice and actually, we're a bit disappointed when people misrepresent it.”
If this sounds like the Conservatives’ previous bogus claim that the federal Liberals were planning to tax the equity in people’s homes — they weren’t — that’s because it should. They did the same thing in the 2019 election, claiming based on a resolution passed at a party policy convention, that the Trudeau Liberals were planning to implement a “secret” tax.
It’s more evidence that misrepresenting things is now the Canadian Conservative movement’s stock in trade.
After the Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s Kris Sims wrote a column describing the Net Zero Advisory Board’s recommendation as the government’s “latest war on working folks,” premiers like Kenney and Scott Moe, along with the Conservative Party of Canada’s official Twitter account, set out to fan the flames of the fire she started.
Supriya Dwivedi, senior counsel for Enterprise Canada (and a columnist with Canada’s National Observer), was unequivocal in her analysis of their argument. “That's a lie. It's not a mistake, it's not massaging facts, it's a lie.”
It’s one that’s built on an especially wobbly foundation, given the alleged tax in question already exists — and was first implemented by Stephen Harper’s government. Budget 2007, which was dutifully supported by Conservative MPs like Kenney and Pierre Poilievre, introduced a “green levy” on “gas guzzlers,” which started at $1,000 on vehicles with a fuel-efficiency rating higher than 13 litres per 100 kilometres.
Opinion: It’s more evidence that misrepresenting things is now the Canadian Conservative movement’s stock in trade, writes columnist @maxfawcett.
Harper’s tax rose in $1,000 increments to a maximum of $4,000 on vehicles with fuel-efficiency ratings of 16L/100 km or worse. It excluded (and still excludes) pickup trucks, but it currently covers 60 models of cars, SUVs and vans.
So why, exactly, should pickup trucks be exempted from this levy? Conservatives will tell you ramping up the fuel tax on pickups would represent an attack on working Canadians who need their trucks to earn a living. But it would be easy to build in an exemption for trucks that were actually used for business purposes and target the tax at the many thousands of people who buy and drive these trucks (like the F-350s Kenney posed in front of in his video) to commute to the office or schlep groceries from Costco.
If Conservatives truly hate virtue signalling as much as they say, they shouldn’t be arguing for a tax exemption on their own flavour of it.
It’s understandable why the federal government’s first instinct here is to knock down the lie being spread about their policies and plans. This sort of bald-faced lying is a plague on our politics, and it debases our discourse in ways that will outlive this Parliament (and this government).
But even though the Liberals weren’t planning to implement a tax on large trucks, it’s probably time to reconsider that position. If we’re going to make meaningful progress on our greenhouse gas emissions, we have to stop shielding people from the consequences of their own behaviour — especially when it’s objectively bad for the climate.
By exempting actual work vehicles from the levy and using the revenue collected from the rest to fund incentives for the growing range of electric and hybrid trucks that are about to start hitting dealerships across the country, the government could advance its climate objectives in a fair and equitable way.
The Liberals could also use it to show how far Canada’s Conservatives still are from actually taking climate change seriously — and how little they trust Canadians with the truth about it.