Hyperbole is one of those irresistible urges that gets us in trouble every time we cave into the impulse. Especially when the blood runs hot, it’s hard for anyone to resist kicking their argument up a notch with a dollop of exaggeration.
Steven Guilbeault, Canada’s environment minister, let loose a bit of it this week when he took a run at Ontario Premier Doug Ford.
Ford, as usual, was slagging the federal carbon-pricing program, a mainstay of the Liberal government’s climate policy, claiming it is hurting families.
Guilbeault took the bait and fought back, noting that rebates offset much of the pain. An Ontario family of four will get back almost $1,000 from the federal carbon-pricing system, he said. That, for the most part, is true.
But Guilbeault couldn’t resist one parting shot: “I find it incredibly rich coming from a premier who has no plan to fight climate change.”
This, of course, isn’t true. Ontario — in spite of Ford, who has run roughshod over climate initiatives since the day he was elected — does have some climate projects on the go. Ford was quick to list them off, noting Ontario has recently signed a deal with Volkswagen to build a battery production company in St. Thomas, is spending billions to wean two steel plants off coal and is dumping billions more into transit.
Still, anyone looking back at Ford’s climate record can forgive Guilbeault for bristling.
This, after all, is the premier who rolled back electric vehicle (EV) charging stations and halted Ontario’s EV rebate program as soon as he got elected in 2018. This is also the guy who announced last year that Ontario was upping its use of natural gas to generate electricity, thereby upping carbon emissions.
And let’s not forget Ford’s eagerness to pave part of the protected Greenbelt to make way for sprawl, an eco-nightmare that leads to more roads, more traffic and yes, higher emissions.
When Steven Guilbeault accused Doug Ford of having no climate plan, it wasn't quite true. But it was close to it. #onpoli #cdnpoli #CarbonTax
To be fair, you can hardly blame the federal climate minister, whose bona fides show he cares about climate progress, for being frustrated by the likes of Ford, who clearly does not.
But Guilbeault’s overstatement was also probably born of frustration over his own failure to convince many Canadians, particularly those in oil-producing provinces, that federal rebates to families more than offset the financial hit of carbon pricing. That message has been drowned out by the constant drumbeat from Opposition leader Pierre Poilievre and like-minded premiers like Ford who generally resent federal taxes but have a particular loathing for this one.
The Liberal rebate retort lost further steam this week with the release of a report by Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer, which concludes most households will come out behind on the carbon tax. The reasoning was based on a big-picture look at Canada’s sluggish economy. It looked at the broad impact of the carbon price and its contribution to dropping overall investment and incomes and concluded average households would experience a “net loss.”
Most provinces resisted the tax from Day 1, and this latest report will only heighten their resolve to kill it, should they get the chance. Ontario, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan had to be forced, kicking and screaming, by the Liberals to adopt the federal tax regime. Alberta caved in but only after it, along with Ontario and Saskatchewan, went to court to battle the tax and lost.
Anti-carbon-pricing sentiment factored large in the so-called “Freedom Convoy” protests that blocked borders and ground the city of Ottawa to a halt last year. And more recently, Poilievre and Alberta Premier Danielle Smith have been hammering away at the tax, and the message resonates with many people financially strapped by inflation and a looming recession.
All that must have Guilbeault and the Liberals worried at a time when polls show them neck and neck with the Conservatives.
So sure, Guilbeault was guilty of hyperbole when he tore the strip off Ford. The anti-tax sentiment is running high, and it most certainly will be an election issue.
Fighting carbon pricing, which is a proven measure to draw down a country's emissions, is a losing battle for humanity. Ford probably knows this, but talking up the benefits of taxation, especially this one, doesn’t play to his base. So he’ll no doubt keep on the offensive, and Guilbeault will be forced to respond time and again.
A close look at Ford’s record shows Guilbeault’s remark is one of those cases where hyperbole comes pretty close to the truth. Still, next time he goes on the attack, it would be better to stick to straight facts.