On Monday, Bloc Québécois MPs will decide the fate of Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre’s motion to exempt all fuel for home heating from the carbon price. The motion is non-binding but is significant because it serves to keep the hot-button carbon tax debate alive and in the public eye.
Because Quebec has its own cap-and-trade system, the heating oil exemption will have no effect on residents, not to mention, that the Opposition motion is symbolic and cannot compel the federal Liberal government to make any changes.
However, this has not stopped Conservative MPs from rising during question period to say the federal carbon price is too costly for Quebecers.
Quebec has had its own cap-and-trade emissions system since 2013, well before the federal carbon pricing system that covers many provinces came into force in 2018. Provinces have the option to create their own equivalent carbon pricing systems, like B.C. did, for example. If provinces don’t meet those minimum standards, then the federal pricing regime will apply.
BQ Leader Yves-François Blanchet has not yet signalled his party’s voting intentions, but when asked on Oct. 30 what he thinks about the Liberals’ temporary exemption of home heating oil from the carbon price said: “I’m so glad this tax, whatever the Conservatives say, does not apply in Quebec.”
He added that Quebec’s cap-and-trade system with California still works. Blanchet did not return a request for comment by deadline.
The Opposition motion to exempt all home heating from the carbon tax came at the end of the Conservatives’ week-long offensive after the Liberals announced a three-year exemption on the carbon price for home heating oil and additional measures to help those households afford and install a heat pump. The Conservatives and NDP were both quick to criticize the decision as unfair to Canadians using other forms of energy to heat their homes and called it a show of favouritism towards Atlantic Canada where the Liberals hold 24 seats.
The Liberals point out the heating oil exemption applies across the country, and say they want to expand the heat pump supports to provinces willing to partner with them. The federal government is currently working with Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador and is in talks with B.C. and Manitoba.
NDP House leader Peter Julian said Thursday his party will support the Conservative motion because "the reality is we need to make sure that affordability is available to all Canadians.”
On Monday, Bloc Québécois MPs will decide the fate of Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre’s non-binding motion to exempt all fuel for home heating from the carbon price. The big question remains, will Liberal MPs show a united front? #HoC #carbontax
The federal government’s decision was “panicked” and “pits one region against another,” Julian told reporters in Ottawa on Nov. 2.
Julian pointed to his party’s efforts last year to get the GST taken off home heating across the country, which both the Liberals and Conservatives shot down. He thinks that would be a more equitable way to approach the issue because GST applies to provinces with their own carbon pricing plans that won’t be affected by an exemption in the federal pricing system.
He added that the NDP tried to amend the Conservative motion to remove the GST from home heating on Nov. 2, but the Conservatives refused.
Green MPs Elizabeth May and Mike Morrice told Canada’s National Observer they will be voting against the Conservatives’ motion.
There is some precedent for co-operation between the NDP, Conservatives and Bloc. Earlier this year, the BQ, NDP and Greens teamed up to pass a Conservative private member’s bill that would exempt fossil fuels used for certain agricultural activities from the carbon price. That bill is now working its way through the Senate.
Among the Bloc’s considerations on Monday’s vote is likely a desire to maintain a progressive position on the environment and climate, said Daniel Béland, a political science professor at McGill University. At the same time, it's risky to vote with the Liberals because they are unpopular right now and brought this situation on themselves, he added. Supporting the Liberals could open the Bloc up to criticism from the Conservatives that they are propping up the Trudeau government, said Béland.
“I think they want to send a message that they care about the environment and that they support carbon pricing, but at the same time, they don't necessarily want to be perceived as people who support the Liberals,” said Béland.
With the Conservatives’ constant statements suggesting the federal carbon price applies in Quebec, Béland said the party could also abstain from the vote to underscore it is completely unaffected by this debate and counter the Conservatives’ narrative aimed at Quebecers.
Another possible move for the Bloc could be presenting an amendment to the motion that emphasizes its environmental credentials and support of carbon pricing, said Béland. The Bloc and Conservatives are frequently at odds in the House of Commons, and Alex Marland, a professor of Canadian politics at Acadia University, mused that the party could choose to shake things up by proposing an amendment that causes problems for the Conservatives. A hypothetical Bloc amendment specifying “ongoing support for carbon pricing” or something similar, could put the Conservatives in a sticky position.
But no matter what the Bloc does Monday, the Liberals are in a tough situation.
While the Bloc holds all the power over the outcome of this symbolic vote, the Liberals are under tremendous pressure to present a united front, said Marland.
Poilievre’s motion is non-binding, meaning even if it passes, the federal government has no obligation to act on it. These types of motions are all about posturing, soundbites and generating media attention, he said. He’s waiting to see how Atlantic and western MPs will vote, because whether or not the motion passes, parties can point to the voting records of certain MPs to criticize or corner them down the road.
If the Liberal caucus is divided — like it has been in the past on carbon pricing — the Conservatives will have plenty of material to work with.
Atlantic Liberal MP Ken McDonald recently shook things up by voting for a Conservative motion to repeal the carbon tax and for months, a group of Atlantic MPs lobbied their party to make adjustments to accommodate the needs of their largely rural constituents.
“The worst situation for the Liberals isn't losing the vote … [it’s] having a divided caucus that's publicly visible,” said Marland.
“What the Liberals need more than anything on this file is for all Liberals to show that they are united, and obviously, the purpose of this motion in some ways is to break that apart.”
In question period Friday, Conservative MPs called out Liberal MPs from different regions, like Alberta and Ontario, urging them to break from their party and vote to “axe the tax” on home heating.
“Atlantic Canadians want fairness, not divisive politics,” said Conservative MP Rick Perkins, whose riding is South Shore-St. Margarets in Nova Scotia. “I challenge the Atlantic Liberals to vote for the Conservative motion to remove the prime minister's costly carbon tax from all forms of home heating so that Canadians can keep the heat on.”
It remains to be seen to what extent Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals will have to enforce party discipline on this contentious issue, Marland said. “The fact that we're even having this conversation is a reflection of the fact that the Liberals are down in the polls,” he added.
On Nov. 2, Morrice told MPs in the House that while the carbon price went up two cents a litre in the last year, “it is corporate profits of the oil and gas industry that went up 18 cents a litre.”
“There is never a word about those,” he pointed out. “In fact, when we talk about inflation, 47 cents of every dollar of inflation is directly attributed to massive increases in corporate profits. If we are going to have an honest conversation in this place about addressing affordability for Canadians, we need to talk about where inflation is directly coming from.”
Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer