Like most Conservative MPs, Tracy Gray has spent much of her time over the last few years railing against the Trudeau government’s carbon tax. Last Thursday morning, for example, she tweeted that “Canadians cannot afford Trudeau's carbon tax. It's time to axe the tax and bring home lower prices.” But few have had the audacity to attack the federal government’s climate plan while parts of their own riding and neighbouring communities were on the verge of burning to the ground.
Within less than a day of her tweet, the city of Kelowna and much of its surrounding area were under a state of emergency after the McDougall Creek wildfire in West Kelowna exploded to more than 10,000 hectares and incinerated an unknown number of homes and buildings, including Lake Okanagan Resort.
It wasn’t the only major wildfire chasing Canadians out of their homes and communities last week. On Wednesday, a day before huge parts of West Kelowna went up in smoke, all 19,000 residents of Yellowknife were ordered to evacuate as another huge fire bore down on their community. That same day, Conservative Party of Canada Leader Pierre Poilievre gave a press conference in Prince Edward Island where he repeatedly attacked the federal government’s signature climate policy. "Look out at these roads here,” he told reporters. “These people need to drive vehicles.”
Eventually, Poilievre got around to reading the proverbial room. His team postponed his Aug. 24 “axe the tax” rally in Whitehorse due to the wildfires — and, one has to assume, the increasingly unpleasant optics of holding a rally against climate policy in the midst of them. But don’t expect him or his MPs to acknowledge the disconnect between their relentless campaign against the carbon tax and the wildfires that have defined this summer for so many Canadians.
After all, this is a leader and party that insist the carbon tax is little more than a glorified wealth distribution scheme, one that’s apparently part of the Trudeau government’s master plan to eliminate Canada’s oil and gas industry. Never mind that Canadian fossil fuel companies are posting record-high profits on record-high fossil fuel production, or that the supposedly scheming government in question has spent $30 billion building an increasingly unpopular pipeline.
If anything, Poilievre’s version of the CPC has made its indifference to climate change a key selling feature to its base. That sales job seems to be working, too. According to an Aug. 9 EKOS poll, just 24 per cent of CPC voters assign a “high extent” of responsibility for the surge in wildfires to climate change compared to 91 per cent for people who vote NDP, 88 per cent for Liberal supporters and 81 per cent for the BQ.
If the Republican reaction to the recent fire in Maui is any indication, many Canadian conservatives will find a way to blame arsonists, renewable energy or even “directed energy weapons” or other tinfoil-heavy explanations before pointing their finger at climate change and the industries most responsible for it. Michael Shellenberger, a popular American pro-nuclear (and anti-renewables) activist, effectively summarized this approach when he blamed the Maui fires on “unhinged climatism and wokeism.”
In both countries, conservatives remain far more invested in protecting the oil and gas industry’s status quo than the people and communities its emissions put at risk. Case in point: At an event hosted by the Canadian Energy Executive Association this Thursday in Banff, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, Alberta Energy Minister Brian Jean, and Calgary Centre MP Greg McLean will participate in a “fireside chat” — oh, the irony — about “how they are going to help the energy industry and how they plan to deal with Ottawa.” The keynote speaker, meanwhile, is Alex Epstein, someone who wrote a book called — I kid you not — The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels.
It’s nearly impossible to see that case right now, especially in the smokier regions of the country. But don’t expect Canada’s conservatives to stop trying to make it, along with any number of other equally specious arguments about why climate change isn’t worth our collective attention.
In the midst of one of the worst wildfire seasons in Canadian history, Conservative MPs seem far more interested in eliminating Canada's carbon tax than doing anything about climate change. Will it cost them in the next election — again? @maxfawcett
It’s why they still cling to the fantasy that increasing LNG exports can somehow get Canada off the hook for its Paris Agreement commitments. It’s why they refuse to entertain the possibility that demand for Canada’s oil and gas could decline dramatically in the near future as any number of recent forecasts — including this recent one from BloombergNEF — has predicted. And it’s why, rather than bringing forward anything resembling a coherent policy on climate change, they’ve decided instead to cover their shame with the fig leaf of “technology.”
It’s also why Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, for all of their numerous recent failings, still have a decent chance at winning the next election. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where, after another summer of rampant wildfires, smoke, and other unwelcome reminders of climate change’s growing relevance, a federal election gets triggered. Will Canadians in Ontario and Quebec want to give Poilievre free rein to “axe the tax” and effectively hand premiers like Smith and Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe a free pass to pollute at will? And are they really prepared to go backwards on climate change right as the rest of the world accelerates ahead with their own policies and plans?
I won’t pretend to know the answer here. But I know that’s terrain the Liberals would much rather be fighting the next election on — and Poilievre’s Conservatives would desperately like to avoid.