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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have a tremendous problem at hand: the Conservatives’ war chest is overflowing with cash, their popularity is soaring, and Canadians appear exhausted with his government that will be approaching a full decade in power by the next scheduled election.

With Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre launching daily attacks at the Trudeau government, typically focused on inflation or housing issues, the Liberals are looking for ammunition to fight back. Liberals will need the high ground, and it’s here that the usually soft-spoken Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault has ratcheted up his rhetoric and is turning into something of an attack dog for the Liberal government on climate change, a file where they sense the Conservatives are vulnerable. Close watchers of Parliament Hill say this is likely a preview of the Liberals’ re-election strategy.

On social media, Guilbeault repeatedly brands Poilievre as #NoPlanPierre for the Conservative leader’s lack of credible climate policy, has highlighted the cancellation of Poilievre’s anti-carbon tax rallies due to wildfires and states Poilievre is jeopardizing up to 700,000 jobs for Canadians by opposing net-zero emission goals. Off social media, Guilbeault has repeatedly swiped at the Conservative leader.

On Wednesday, he said two of the biggest threats to climate action are misinformation and Poilievre, warning: “Any charlatan who comes along promising quick fixes can set progress back by years, even decades.” Earlier in the month, he travelled to Quebec City to hold a press conference outside the Conservative Party of Canada’s annual convention where he accused Poilievre of being a climate denier.

Poilievre is “someone who claims to be a political leader in 2023 who doesn’t even believe in climate change,” Guilbeault told reporters on Sept. 8. Someone “who does not believe we should be doing anything about climate change. Who accused me of being the source of some of the forest fires we’ve seen.

“I suppose environmentalists are also responsible for tropical storms that we’re seeing… The floodings in Nova Scotia, is that environmentalists’ fault? Ice storms? I mean it’s really easy to attack Pierre Poilievre.”

Showing up to criticize Poilievre was premeditated and represents the start of an informal election season, University of Victoria associate professor James Rowe told Canada’s National Observer.

“This was one of the first clear volleys from the Liberals that there's a bit of a change in gear,” Rowe said.

“Right now, Trudeau is the prime minister and there's a certain air and comportment that's required with that position that keeps him from getting in the mud and in the fight that he might want to,” he added. “So it makes complete sense there would be some proxies that would be deployed, and Guilbeault is the right one given that climate is a front where [Poilievre] has tremendous vulnerabilities, and so it makes sense to hammer him at this point.”

Climate Minister Steven Guilbeault seems ready to duke it out with right-wing politicians hell-bent on trying to block climate action. With climate change increasingly important to Canadians, is this a preview of the Liberals' re-election strategy?

Experts interviewed by Canada’s National Observer believe the Conservative Party is weak on climate change, an issue that is increasingly important to Canadians. It’s also an area where the Liberals don’t have much competition from the left, with the NDP’s climate plans roundly dismissed as inadequate in the last election.

For his part, Guilbeault denies the Liberals are concerned about their poor polling, but he’s still taking the political shots where he can. “There will be new polls in the future… We’re working to make Canadians’ lives better,” he said to reporters at the press conference outside the Conservatives’ convention. “What does Pierre Poilievre have to offer? He’s against everything.”

But moments later while responding to another question asking if the Liberals are worried about the polls, Guilbeault said, “No, I think we have to work hard for Canadians. That’s what we have to do, not worry about Pierre Poilievre.”

The message Guilbeault is trying to convey is that Liberals are still governing, not campaigning. But his actions suggest the party is actually attempting to do both.

‘Can’t ram policy down the provinces’ throats’

A broader look at the political landscape shows Liberals are fighting on several fronts that get at what Rowe calls the distinction between governance and electioneering. But Ottawa’s multiple spats with premiers, where Guilbeault often finds himself a lightning rod, is a governance problem that is making it more difficult to implement policies the Liberals want to be able to show off to voters in a year or two.

Nonetheless, the Liberals can’t ram policy down the provinces’ throats without risking their popularity, to say nothing of the expensive and lengthy court battles that could follow. That’s one reason why the federal government launched a working group with Alberta to discuss energy policy, knowing full well that Premier Danielle Smith has built her political brand attacking Trudeau’s government.

“From a governance perspective, even though you can be running into a brick wall with the current regime of Danielle Smith's government in Alberta, you have to be in conversation,” Rowe said. “But from an electioneering perspective and being able to win favour with a majority of Canadians to be able to be re-elected come 2025, they have to have positions of principle and be seen to be fighting to defend the national interest.”

Guilbeault has a ready answer when asked about Ottawa’s relationship with provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan, whose premiers attack federal climate policy at every turn. Canadians don’t have the luxury of time to wait for those premiers to understand the threat of climate change before taking action, he says.

“I would love to be able to do these things collaboratively with all the provinces and territories, the fact that I can't only means that I have to work harder because the federal government has to do more of the heavy lifting,” he said. “The trust that the prime minister has put into me, and the mandate he's given me and the way I need to serve Canadians, doesn't change because of what Danielle Smith says or doesn’t say about our climate strategy.”

Dropping the gloves

Two recent polls, taken together, illustrate the Liberal dilemma. An Ipsos poll published in early September found a majority of Canadians want the federal government to do more to fight climate change and believe Ottawa would be failing them if it didn’t act now. At the same time, a Leger poll published this week found the Tories, whose stated climate plans mostly involve undoing legislation, are leading the Liberals by 12 points. With Poilievre climbing the polls by hammering Trudeau on bread-and-butter economic issues, Trudeau is under the gun. He needs to find ways to lift his popularity — and drag Poilievre’s down.

Once an election is called, Trudeau can get into the ring with Poilievre, Rowe says. When he does, Rowe expects the Liberals will attempt to brand Poilievre as extreme by pointing to things like his links to the deeply unpopular Freedom Convoy.

“What you saw with Guilbeault in Quebec City is the beginning of a fight of positioning Poilievre as extreme and out of step with Canadians,” Rowe said.

With Liberals having been in government for close to a decade, there’s a “complacency” that can set in, he added. But Canadians like to see their government fighting for popular policies, and it makes sense for the Liberals to choose climate change as an issue to highlight the differences between them and the Conservatives, Rowe said.

Keith Stewart, a longtime climate campaigner with Greenpeace Canada who knew Guilbeault before he went into politics, said Guilbeault’s first instinct was always to try to have a conversation to find common ground, “but at a certain point, he will get frustrated.”

“When you're dealing with people who are bargaining in bad faith — which I would say is entirely the position of Danielle Smith's government on discussions on climate change — at a certain point, you've got to stop playing along with someone who is trying to play you for a fool,” Stewart said.

“There's an increasing dropping gloves and squaring off, which I think is a good thing to see. We need to be pushing back on people whose answer to the climate crisis is to make it worse by doubling down on oil and gas and opposing every action to address it,” he said. “But I think it's also interesting politically because it's clear he's been given space to do this.”

With Guilbeault one of the few ministers who survived this summer’s cabinet shuffle unscathed, close watchers of Parliament Hill take it as a sign Trudeau supports his efforts, even if frequent feuds with right-wing premiers like Danielle Smith, Scott Moe and Doug Ford may be politically challenging at times. Not backing down from conservative premiers is a smart move, Stewart says, and reflects Liberals having a better sense of how Canadians feel about climate change than their competitors.

“One of the big shifts I don't think Conservatives have wrapped their heads around is that climate change has gone from an abstract future problem to a real and present danger for a lot of Canadians,” he said.

“It's no longer, ‘Someday your grandkids might be affected by drought, wildfires and more extreme storms,’ it's we're cleaning up in Nova Scotia this week and more of B.C. is burning today because the wind shifted.

“It's a daily litany of unfolding disasters, which Conservatives have no answer to other than burn, baby, burn.”

Keep reading

It’s true, it’s easy to criticize Poilievre and the Conservatives. The world is in transition and the Conservatives are the party of self-interest and the status quo. When the world was making plans to move away from fossil fuels Harper’s plans were to expand them and become an oil superpower. To do that he had to muzzle the experts who were warning him what was coming! Well it’s here! To vote for the Conservatives is a vote for never ending disasters an easy choice if you’re not a disaster capitalist.

I agree, but think your last sentence should end: 'an easy choice if you're a disaster capitalist'.
If you aren't a disaster capitalist, I think you get that continuing with capitalism as we've experienced it under the neoliberal banner has been the chief driver of rapid anthropogenic warming.

Largely true, but us lowly citizens dwelling far, far below the lofty penthouse cororate boardrooms have a huge role in this dilemma too as willing consumers.

I am surrounded by a majority of households with needless second cars, some of them that fit the term 'urban assault vehicle.' Some friends and colleagues are busy making up for lost time through the pandemic booking overseas vacations, well into their second or third dozen over their lifetimes, some even two or three a year. The National Observer flew 11 journos to the failed COP 26 for a couple of weeks of non-essential repartee with fellow frequent flying climate fighters. Millionaire writers who write extensively about "disaster capitalism" and climate have never and never will publish how extensive their own personal carbon budget truly is, considering their willingness to participate in and be photographed at climate protests in lovely places like Paris.

The pot and kettle come to mind.

Some good points Alex. As climate activists (to the extent 70 year olds can be active) we've given up flying...tent all summer in short jaunts into the back country. Have a garden, solar panels and EV....and donate to land defenders what we can.....real change starts at home, but it doesn't need to stay there.

Far too many of us are growing more afraid of what extreme weather is promising for our future....but we still prefer to dine out more than to cook, travel here there and everywhere for short escapes (reality must be hard) and stay as politically neutral as possible.

Individual action isn't going to be enough to save us. But waiting for governments to do all the heavy lifting while clinging to that mythic centre isn't enough either.

It remains the fact that when the people lead, politicians follow. We all have some real opportunities going forward...and the more we fly...the more room we have to participate in the Great Shift needed.

The Deniers face off against the Backsliders. Who will win?
Big Oil, the Big Banks that back fossil fuels, and Corporate Canada.
Climate loses. Canadians lose.

Hugely ironic to brand the Liberals as climate leaders.
The Liberals look good only when they stand next to the Conservatives.
Justin "new-pipelines-for-climate" Trudeau is serving Corporate Canada's agenda. Not the IPCC's.

Big Oil couldn't ask for a better setup. Terrified by the Conservative bogeyman, progressive voters run into the arms of Trudeau's Liberals. CAPP sets their Conservative hounds on the Liberals, while the Liberals give the O&G industry just about everything on its wishlist. The Liberals play the fear card every election to limit the NDP and Green vote.

Progressives fall for it every time.
And here we go again.

Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development Jerry DeMarco criticizes the Liberals' "policy incoherence" on climate.
"But perhaps most concerning to the environmental watchdog is ongoing 'policy incoherence.' DeMarco had previously used that phrase against the federal government after publishing a series of scathing reports in 2021 that took aim at some of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's major initiatives, including Trans Mountain.
"DeMarco compared the effort to reduce planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions to pushing a boulder up a mountain. Pushing the boulder up involves pushing against market forces, market failures, individual actions and other factors that make climate change worse. But the government is also pushing against itself, he said."
"Canada's billions in fossil fuel subsidies under mounting scrutiny" (National Observer, 2023)

"Canada is a continually bad actor on the global stage, despite protests that Justin Trudeau is ruining the oilsands. Drawing on research from Quebec's French-language newspaper Le Devoir, the New Democratic Party has argued Trudeau has been kinder to Big Oil than Stephen Harper ever was. He has also been crueller to the most vulnerable."
"Oil and gas approvals spell ecocide" (National Observer, 2023)

"REALITY CHECK: Climate crisis: Justin Trudeau worse than Harper
NDP, 2021
"For six years in office, Justin Trudeau has pretended to care about the climate crisis, 'the climate crisis is real, and we have the best plan to fight it', but, under Justin Trudeau:
- "Subsidies to oil companies are higher than they were under Prime Minister Harper.
- "$4.5 billion of public money was used to buy a pipeline.
- "Canada has the most GHG emissions in the G7 per capita.
- "Greenhouse gases emitted by the federal government have increased by 11%.
- "Canada is the only G7 country where GHG emissions have increased since the Paris Agreement."

The centre-left is not blameless in the backlash against climate policies. Backsliding petro-progressive governments are instrumental in the rise of right-wing extremism and denialism.

The petro-progressive provincial NDP and federal Liberals are not in a tug-of-war with Conservatives over climate. They are dance partners. The NDP and Liberals promote fossil-fuel expansion and take science-based options off the table. This allows the "conservatives" to shift even further right, doubling down on denial and fossil fuel intransigence. But it's Notley and Trudeau who shift the Overton window. It's Trudeau, Notley, and Horgan who shut down the space for effective science-based climate policy.
The climate plans of the Liberals and provincial NDP are premised on fossil-fuel expansion. It's the Liberals and NDP who ignore the science and undermine the climate movement.
When Danielle Smith jams a wrench into the spokes of renewables, or Poilievre promises to axe the tax, progressives fight back. When the NDP and Liberals build pipelines, progressives applaud or stay silent. "At least, it's not the Conservatives."

Trudeau and Notley moved the ball on the Trans Mountain pipeline down to the ten-yard line. Their signal achievement was to "push country-wide support for pipelines from 40% to 70%." Something Harper, Scheer, Kenney, Smith, and Poilievre could never dream of doing.
Trudeau, Notley, and Horgan did something else Poilievre and Smith could never do: lead progressives over the climate cliff. Many of their acolytes now embrace fossil-fuel expansion.
When Poilievre and Smith say no to a shift away from fossil fuels, the progressive option is still ON the table.
When Trudeau and Notley say no, they took the progressive option OFF the table.
When Poilievre and Smith deny the science, progressives reject their arguments and head in the opposite direction.
When Trudeau and Notley deny the science, progressives accept their arguments and enable their climate sabotage.

"For all of [Naomi] Klein's blistering critiques of right-wing conservatives, it's the liberal moderates who elicit in her a particular frustration. Last year, she wrote that the Biden administration had to be 'dragged kicking and screaming into passing the Inflation Reduction Act — flawed as it is.' The I.R.A. is the biggest climate legislation in American history, garnering comparisons to the Green New Deal, but in an email to me, Klein maintained it isn't enough: 'We can't afford to celebrate half measures in an emergency.' This has been a consistent talking point in her work: that incrementalism is not just insufficient but often damaging. In 'Doppelganger,' she declares that the political chaos of the last several years is partly the fault of centrists who sound the alarm about problems like climate change but then fail to act accordingly. 'One form of denialism feeds the other,' she writes. 'The outright denialism in the Mirror World is made thinkable by the baseline war on words and meaning in more liberal parts of our culture.'"
"When Your 'Doppelganger' Becomes a Conspiracy Theorist" (NYT, 2023)

The Liberals and Conservatives both plan to fail on climate. Which is worse? Climate sabotage on the right — or betrayal by "progressive" parties?
Who's worse on climate? The deniers who deny their house is on fire, or the deniers who accept their house is on fire, but throw fuel on the flames — then stand back and watch it burn?

Yes, yes, but we're repeating ourselves here but the evaluation of Liberals in the context of "standing next to the conservatives" IS the political reality! So under those circumstances, i.e. the ones that happen to exist in Canada at present, it is the CPC alone who deserve to be pilloried. Your refusal to do this OR even acknowledge the real threat of their existence (again, what about all those conservative provincial governments?!) suggests that you're just another version of a conservative troll, and so part of the problem.
It's not like there isn't a constant albeit unconscious stream of "bothsidesism" in the media already that undermines the rather stark reality of what we're faced with.

The "political reality" is that neither of the two main parties are climate champions. Neither respects the science. One pays lip service to the science; the other denies it. Both will lead us over the climate cliff. Climate failure under the Liberals is not preferable to climate failure under the Conservatives. Climate failure under a progressive banner does far more harm to the progressive movement.

It is simply false to portray the Liberals as climate champions vs the Conservative climate change deniers. The two parties offer Canadians two different flavors of denialism: implicit and explicit. They are dance partners, not opponents. Both parties agree on fossil-fuel expansion and climate failure.
In fact, the federal Liberals and provincial NDP parties (AB and B.C.) have proven far more effective than the Conservatives in delivering on Big Oil's agenda.

The Liberals are devious. Say one thing, do another. Climate policy totally incoherent. Deceiving Canadians en masse.
With the Conservatives, what you see is what you get. Far more coherent.
Blatant denialism is out in the open. Easy to spot. No confusion in the message.
Implicit denialism is much harder to identify and counteract, unless voters pay close attention.

Don't blame Conservatives for the Liberals' failure on climate. That's all on Trudeau's Liberals.
The Cons have not been in power since 2015. Trudeau's Liberals have won three consecutive elections.
Trudeau does not need to win votes from Alberta or seats in Saskatchewan to win federal elections. Conservative premiers do not sit opposite Trudeau in the House of Commons. Liberal victories depend on Atlantic Canada, Central Canada, and the Lower Mainland. Votes from the Prairie provinces not required. The Liberals have nothing to gain electorally by pandering to intransigent Albertans and the oilpatch.
In recent elections, a majority of Canadian voters have voted for parties other than Conservative. In 2015, Trudeau handily won a majority government with a strong mandate from voters on climate action.

Far from being polar opposites, the two parties agree on and promote fossil-fuel expansion and climate failure. The Liberals' duplicity on this file enables the Conservatives to move further right.
One can scarcely overestimate the importance of this dynamic. When petro-progressive parties abandon science-based policy, that allows conservatives to shift further right. That initial failure is on petro-progressives like Trudeau and Notley and Horgan — not Harper, Scheer, Kenney, Smith, and Poilievre.

@Tris Pargeter: The slander from Trudeau and Notley supporters against climate activists who dare to criticize Dear Leader is absurd. Criticizing the Liberals on climate in no way signals support for Conservatives. Obviously, if I reject the Liberals' plan to fail on climate, I also reject the Conservatives' efforts to do likewise.

When I criticize the Liberals on climate, I stand in good company. I stand at the back of a long line of progressive critics. Unless you believe that the federal NDP, Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development Jerry DeMarco, Climate Action Tracker, Naomi and Seth Klein, Observer's columnist Barry Saxifrage, Greta Thunberg, and UN Secretary General António Guterres are "conservative trolls".

Climate Action Tracker's 2022 report rates Canada's efforts overall as "highly insufficient". Same rating since 2011 -- in every year but one.

"UN leader slams 'dangerous radicals' increasing oil and gas production"
U.N. Secretary-General Guterres: "It is a file of shame, cataloguing the empty pledges that put us firmly on track towards an unlivable world."
"Some government and business leaders are saying one thing – but doing another."
"Simply put, they are lying. And the results will be catastrophic."
"But high-emitting governments and corporations are not just turning a blind eye; they are adding fuel to the flames."
"Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness."
*
UN Secretary General António Guterres: "We cannot afford slow movers, fake movers, or any form of greenwashing."

When world leaders claimed to truly understand the perils of climate change, Greta Thunberg rebuked them: "I do not want to believe that. Because if you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil." (2019)

"The Irvings got caught using the same tax loophole for the last half-century, allowing them to get out of paying millions in taxes. Big oil companies have never had such a reliable partner as this government, having received over $15 billion in subsidies in 2022 alone.
"…When I proposed a motion in Parliament calling on the government to close the loopholes that benefit the ultra-wealthy, Conservatives and Liberals wouldn't even let me finish reading it.
"While the Conservatives and Liberals may cosplay as political enemies, when it comes to defending the interests of the one per cent against yours, they're on the same team. Look no further than Ontario, where Doug Ford treated education workers the same way Justin Trudeau treated Port of Montreal dock workers or postal workers in Canada.
"Or when Liberals and Conservatives voted together against an NDP motion to ensure people making more than $20 million didn't have to pay a one per cent tax.
Niki Ashton, MP: "Message to Freeland: Disney+ subscriptions are not the reason Canadians are struggling"
Geoff Dembicki: "How Trudeau's Broken Promises Fuel the Growth of Canada's Right" (The Tyee)

Neil Chantler, a defence attorney who represented numerous clients arrested at protests of the Trans Mountain pipeline: "These environmental disputes, these resource extraction cases that have been before the courts so often in the last 10 years, are a failure of government, and the failure of government is a result of people voting for these governments." (The Narwhal)

All Canadians who understand the science (and climate science isn't rocket science; it has no escape hatch to offer) need to support politicians who get it too........understand the urgency, and are willing to take off the gloves.
I don't understand PP's rising popularity, but I suspect a large part of it comes from a certain demographic, that gets frustrated easily, senses that big changes are in the air, but doesn't actually do politics.

I have friends like that. They are good people, on side, but the actual details escape them....so its not hard to imagine that on the right, a lot of good people just don't get the implications of voting for the same party (its not) that their parents supported.

The %age of Canadians who like pitchfork politics is likely quite low...but that is the demographic PP is courting.....believing that a lot of centrist conservatives who dont' follow things very closely will just do what they've always done, and vote Conservative.
Those of us who understand the climate emergency........and how actions to shut down awareness of that emergency......in favour of fighting over high school curricula, or rising up against the trans threat....could be lethal for our country's future.
We have to transition off fossil fuels, ramp up clean energy alternatives ASAP.....because even if we do so, the CO2 we've already put into the atmosphere is going to cause us grief for decades to come. Doubling down on our rising emissions for another decade could well mean 'game over'.
And I'm not trying to be alarmist saying this. Though I am alarmed by the direction our politics is taking.

Well said but no, go ahead and be alarmist I'd say.
I think it makes perfect sense that women seem to be leading the way on this existential threat; who better than the truly tough AND deeply emotional to do so?
So making the male "low-drama narrative" the only acceptable one, particularly politically, largely because politics is primarily treated as just another competitive sport for guys REALLY isn't serving us well as a society anymore, any more than the tough guy persona itself has all these years.

I really want to vote Green or NDP for the next federal election, But I am scared to death of the conservatives getting in and doing nothing for climate action. (among other things. Do I really have to vote liberal again? Getting so tired.

Yup you do, as you know. This isn't about the next new thing anymore; it's kind of more basic survival.
But maybe feel a bit of righteous indignation that the Greens haven't folded their tents already and seen what's needed, something the NDP has already done.

Bit disingenuous, Tris. The real answer is:

CHECK YOUR RIDING.

First past the post is a LOCAL thing. In many ridings, voting Liberal could be voting for a candidate with no chance, and enable a Conservative to squeak past the NDP candidate. In others, the Conservatives will win no matter what, so vote your conscience. In still others, yeah, it might be good to hold your nose and vote for the damn Liberals. So glad I'm not in one of those ridings.

Some of us are in those competitive ridings. Last election the NDP candidate came within 4% of the Lib candidate, with the Con candidate a close third. Totally agree that in this case one has to actively look for daily polls to guage support for non-Con parties and make a judgement call on which one has the momentum. If strategic voters gave up the effort and voted for their heart instead, the Conservatives would have won at least two of the last three elections.

Climate is a huge issue. But so are responses to COVID and child care demand. And transit. And reconciliation with Indigenous people. These are just some of the issues being addressed by winning progressive candidates and Lib MPs.

Hammering the Libs on climate is well deserved, but removing them from active voter consideration in competitive ridings threatens the very important and sometomes life-threatening non-climate issues that the Cons will never address.

The best thing the Liberals can do is replace Justin Trudeau with a new leader. Trudeau has outlived his usefulness as PM and has not done much about climate change other than talk the talk and undermine everything Steven Guilbeault has been trying to do.

Failure to do that will ensure the conservatives will get in and you can kiss any climate change action good bye under Pierre Poilievre the snake oil salesman. We know the conservatives won't recognize climate change is real, they have made that clear. If you are serious about climate change, you DON"T vote conservative.

Voting for the Greens or NDP will only split the vote and also result in a conservative win.

If Justine Trudeau is really listening to Canadians, please step down and put in place someone serious about climate change as the next PM.