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How did the Trudeau government’s signature climate policy turn into a political albatross? As Ernest Hemingway might say: gradually, then suddenly.

Pierre Poilievre’s pledge to “axe the tax” has helped him open up an increasingly massive lead in the polls, while almost every provincial premier — including the last remaining Liberal one, Newfoundland’s Andrew Furey — is now calling for the carbon tax to be paused. Even progressive heavyweights and potential future premiers like Ontario Liberal Leader Bonnie Crombie and Alberta NDP leadership contender Rakhi Pancholi have announced climate plans that don’t include a consumer carbon tax, presumably guided by the assumption that the federal carbon tax won’t be around much longer. If the Trudeau Liberals don’t cut this increasingly heavy political anchor loose, it’s going to drag them even further underwater.

This would be an incredibly bitter pill for the prime minister to swallow. Poilievre would become even more insufferably smug, and he’d spend months serving up the supposed victory to his anti-climate policy supporters. Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault might well follow through on his widely reported threat to quit if the carbon tax is altered again. These are both better outcomes for Trudeau’s Liberals than getting absolutely blitzed in the next election and potentially being reduced to a third- or fourth-place standing in the House of Commons.

It’s also a bitter pill for those of us who care about good climate policy and have spent far too much time over the last few years trying to explain the carbon tax and rebate. That we ever had to do it is, of course, the problem here. The federal government largely abdicated its responsibilities on this front until the last few months, failing even in the most basic aspects of communication.

They couldn’t get the banks to label the rebates consistently or clearly, which should have been the most basic of table stakes here. They never used their clout — and yes, resources — to help Canadians understand exactly how and why the carbon tax worked. And they were far too reluctant to push back against the tidal wave of misinformation coming from any number of official and unofficial conservative sources.

And then there’s the decision last summer to exempt home heating oil from the carbon tax, one that spelled the end of any chance they might have to defend the policy. That validated the criticism that conservatives had been making, in various degrees of bad faith, ever since Poilievre took over: that the carbon tax was driving the affordability crisis. In granting relief to Atlantic Canadians (and, yes, an equivalent number of Ontarians) from the carbon tax on the basis of its impact on their cost of living, the Liberals effectively surrendered the ground they’d been trying to defend for years.

That ground is now lost. Continuing to wax rhapsodic about the intellectual virtues of carbon pricing isn’t going to help the Liberals recover any of it. Neither will trying to point out the hypocrisy in the Conservative attacks on it and their implicit preference for regulations, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did recently. Instead, it’s time for a full strategic retreat — ironically, to the very political territory Trudeau was accusing the Conservatives of occupying.

His government should scrap the consumer portion of the carbon tax and focus instead on the programs and incentives that can help consumers reduce their emissions. It should maintain the industrial carbon tax and proceed with policies like the oil and gas sector emissions cap and clean electricity regulations that put the onus on heavy emitters. It should invite Poilievre and the conservative premiers backing him to protect the oil and gas industry from paying for its pollution. And it should challenge the Conservative Party of Canada to finally come up with its own plan that goes beyond mere slogans and achieves some measure of substance.

This is much steadier ground for the federal government. Trudeau can replace Guilbeault as environment minister with Nate Erskine-Smith, who’s actually shown some talent for spotting and attacking nonsense arguments against climate policy. He can tie Poilievre’s CPC to Danielle Smith and Scott Moe and use their ongoing fealty to oil and gas industry executives and hostility towards climate policy and clean energy as a different kind of political anchor. And he can deprive Poilievre of his favourite political weapon and dull his broader attack around affordability issues.

With almost everyone turning on the carbon tax, it's time for Justin Trudeau to make the ultimate political sacrifice. How eliminating the carbon tax could end up saving good climate policy in this country — and maybe even his government.

Trudeau might not have the wherewithal to do any of these things. Governments in Canada tend to die of political fatigue, and his is showing all the signs of needing a long, long nap. He may even want to fall on his carbon tax sword, perhaps thinking that it will somehow escape his own fate the way the GST did a generation before. But if he has one last trick in his political bag that can fundamentally change the political mood the way his pledge to run deficits did in 2015, this is probably it. Kill the carbon tax and live to fight another day. If he plays this card right, Canadians might still get the climate change election we deserve — and his party desperately needs — in 2025.

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agree. scrap consumer portion and massively tax windfall oil and gas profit and spend that on free to low and moderate income people for installs of heat pumps, good insulation , windows and doors .to lower their emissions.
tht puta polluter pay back in proper perspective

and make election reform!

not rocket science

I think it should be scrapped as well and a windfall profit tax imposed on oil companies who are raking in record profits at the expense of the environment and consumers. Use this money to help individuals and businesses lower their emissions.

I just found out that I have been receiving $183 every three months directly into my bank account, and I was not aware that it was the credit for the CO2 tax that I have been paying. It is not labelled in any recognizable manner. Now we just bought a full electric vehicle, and the payments will continue!
I also think the CO2 tax is dead; Bonnie Crombie is talking about reinstituting the Emission Trading Exchange, as Québec and BC have. This would be an easy thing to do and remove the badly organized carbon tax for individuals that is certain to defeat the Liberals. Trudeau should eliminate the tax immediately if he is more serious about saving the environment than his pride.

I don't believe BC has an emissions trading policy. It's been a straight carbon tax since 2007, but does have some annoying exemptions for some industries.

There was a loud conservative campaign blaming the CT for BC's high petrol prices a few years ago, but then premier John Horgan commissioned a highly visible study and, lo and behold, the oil industry jacking their prices to the sky for no explicable reason was the culprit. Fuel taxes remained steady, and they directly fund useful things like transit.

Horfan, unlike Trudeau, fought back hard and won the argument. Trudeau seems to be aloof or not forceful enough in fighting back. Has he become too tired of the job?


I disagree. The Liberals should hold the line, continue with the planned increases for the next 2 years as they announced in 2020. They should explain the program, and point people to their bank accounts. The world is on fire, they have nothing to lose politically, and they should just do what is right, never mind the short term political consequences.

Unfortunately, the short term political consequences will likely lead to four years --at least! -- of a Poilievre government who will then gleefully host a demolition derby over all Trudeau's climate policies AND childcare, pharmacare, and several big social ministries, and won't stop until he drains the treasury to subsidize the oil industry and runs out of rage.

He is banking on rage because his policy cupboard is empty. Besides, empty anger is easy and gets results.

It's a sad day when one of the National Observer's top journalists raises the white flag on the most effective climate policy in the country. And it's delusional to think all those other policies can make up the difference in achieving our net zero goals - especially when the conservative and radical right crowd backed by their fossil fuel funders destroy those policies as well. We need some stronger backbone in climate journalism to counter the propaganda campaign set to destroy any hope for a livable world in coming years.

It's only the most effective, if it is, because there haven't been any other serious climate policies. I support the carbon tax, it's good in that it could in theory help with a lot of little corner cases like gas powered lawnmowers and drying grain (oh wait, they're exempting that, but anyway). So far it's been too small to have that much impact, but it probably has made some difference to someone's decisions somewhere.

But the carbon tax is not the cure-all it has often been advertised as, and the Liberals' support for it has tended to come down to taking the easy way out--they have that crutch to lean on so they don't have to come up with actual policies or behave like a (horrors) activist government. What if, instead of a piddly little home improvement incentive hedged around with tons of bureaucracy and a spending cap, they had a major program for converting buildings from fossil fuel heating to heat pumps? What if they had a nationwide ban on new buildings using natural gas heating? What if they got serious about promoting electric vehicles? What if they spent a stack of dough on transit and rail transport? What if instead of continuing to this day to subsidize oil companies they instead developed a subsidy for new renewable power that would apply in all provinces that didn't have ridiculous restrictions on developing renewable power (i.e. everywhere but Alberta)? Or, what if they poured serious cash into a crown corporation for building renewables? What if they got seriously to work on developing a model of agriculture that would not depend on carbon-intensive practices and would regenerate the soil, put work into training farmers to use it, and started a well funded crown corporation to produce all the inputs farmers would need to practice that model, at reasonable prices, including electric heaters for that grain and competition for John Deere unless Deere got serious about going electric and the right to repair? I'm just saying, there are a lot of policies, a lot of things the government could do, that would have direct, concrete impacts, and it may be partly because they've got the tax that they've largely called it a day instead.

We have the tax, so let the "free market" do all the work, seems to have been the attitude for the most part. That has not been producing amazing results so far. True, if it weren't for the fossil fuel producers themselves, emissions from the tar sands and whatnot, we wouldn't look like nearly such a terrible outlying failure, but we still wouldn't be great. And while a higher carbon tax would produce somewhat more results, there are a lot of things a tax can't do.

Well said. Kudos!

Italy's federal government went all in and initiated a program to pay 100% of the cost of converting gas-fired central heating in all buildings to heat pumps. They were motivated by Putin's weaponization of Russian gas, which the EU was so naive to become addicted to.

Joe Biden's Inflation Reduction Act has stimulated the entire US economy, mainly around made-in-US (and in US trading partner's) renewable energy and electrification products and infrastructure. He also called a moratorium on LNG expansion.

No guarantees at this point, but Biden and the Democrats seem to be gaining a marginal edge electorally as MAGA Republicans paint themselves into an increasingly radicalized corner on women's reproductive rights, insurrection fallout, and as their highly gerrymandered GOP district boundaries are increasingly overturned in court.

That's a long winded way to say that Poilievre could be PM while American Democrats eek out a majority in all levels of their federal government, and quickens the speed of the transition in the economy of Canada's largest trading partner.

Joe Biden will not tolerate Poilievre's petulent bullshit as Alberta's primary export market for its oil sees demand plateau, then enter a long period of decline.

Ironically, a Democratic US government may force the Canadian Conservatives into a conversion experience on climate change.

If Trump somehow escapes jail time and magically gets elected again, maybe with one branch of Congress (not likely...but possible) then all bets and conjecture are off, and we will see how much of a MAGA wannabe Poilievre really is.

Will we see a Poilievre government hand the keys to Canada to a Trump dictatorship?

These scenarios light up the need to have a strong, progressive national government north of the US border. We have until the fall of 2025 to make it so.

This article also greatly disappointed me. In no way should Trudeau back off! I, like many seniors, see a great profit with this and have an opportunity to help. Any publications pretending to be fighting for the environment should be cheering this on, not throwing in the white towel!

The Liberals don't have a communications problem. They have policy problems, scores of them, if only electoral reform hadn't been abandoned, we wouldn't be staring down the barrel of CPC rule, but alas.

CPC rule would be terrible, but the LPC needs a round thrashing to wake it from its state of reactionary appearance-obsessed stupor.

Didn't work last time. They spent years in the wilderness under Harper's misrule, and all they did was find a fresh face for their next frontman.

I find it so damn frustrating, you know--these two bad parties take turns forever, every time people realize how bad one of them is, the only thing they can think of is to try the other for a while until they remember how bad they were. Everyone knows the NDP has less bad policies, is less beholden to corporations that want to screw us, is generally less evil than the Libs or Cons, but nobody seems to want to make that leap from "they'd probably be better" to "gosh, maybe vote for them". Practically every leader the NDP has ever had has been a better person and usually more competent than the leaders of the other parties, but to actually pull attention and votes they'd have to be Superman. So take right now--Jagmeet Singh is no Jack Layton. I voted for Charlie Angus in the leadership race Singh won. But he's not a vile bully with no plans to do anything except grind people's faces into the muck, like Poilievre. And he's not a pathetic mix of vague good intentions with massive hypocrisy, desperately tiptoeing around the moneyed interests he's beholden to, like Trudeau. He's a really nice guy and a pretty good man. If he were leading the Liberal party, the Liberal party would be in significantly better shape. But he's leading the NDP so he's not good enough. It depresses me.

Punishing the Libs on weak climate action will not guarantee anything less than two terms of Poilievre. Even one four year term could wreak very extensive damage to Canada's moderate climate successes to date and tear the social fabric to pieces.

MAGA copycats and convoy attitudes cannot possibly attain power without major negative impacts to our country. Moreover, if just one or two right wingers in the Conservative caucus actually have some intelligence, they could play it cool with a long game and set traps for anything remotely "liberal" or beneficial for the "common good " for years, most especially climate policy. Eight years of insidious erosion would probably damage federalism beyond repair.

And that's not even considering the possibility that Poilievre's Messiah (Trump) could get elected in Canada's closest neighbour

My best advice: Stop the extremely myopic thinking about punishing the Libs and start thinking about the consequences of a Poilievre government

This means encouraging the Libs, NDP, Greens and Bloc to unite to keep the Conservatives out of power. Just agree on the top five priorities (climate, social programs, fiscal priorities, etc.), act on those policies and have some kind of supply agreement. Extend the agreement as necessary.

If the Libs and NDP need to change out their leaders, then so be it.

Then tell them that, why waste your keyboard energy on me?
Kindly don't accuse me of myopia; I'm fully aware of the disastrous consequences of a CPC government, thanks.
I am also fully aware that there is almost zero chance of a leadership change without a sound electoral punishing, and I subject as evidence Notley, Wynne, O'Toole, Scheer, and Ignatieff.

"Then tell them that."

Been doing that for years, starting in Harper's Dark Decade.

Great article! We can only hope that Trudeau will follow these suggested political moves and build a stronger cabinet while cutting the consumer penalty carbon tax.

Glad that Max at least acknowledged that the real problem with this policy has been the communication from the Liberal Party. Not saying that this is a great policy, or that it couldn't be better, but it was at least a defendable policy, had the Liberals chosen to do so.

The trouble with coming up with a new policy is that we signed the Kyoto Protocol almost 30 years ago, yet now we're back to the "plan to make a plan" stage of discussion.

This is not a great strategic move, it's an admission that the Conservative Party, and their provincial affiliates, have the political left on the run with regard to this issue.

Fawcett: "If the Trudeau Liberals don’t cut this increasingly heavy political anchor loose, it’s going to drag them even further underwater."

Not buying it. For the reason Fawcett states:
"Poilievre would become even more insufferably smug, and he’d spend months serving up the supposed victory to his anti-climate policy supporters."

Cancelling the carbon levy now would hand simply hand a big victory to Poilievre and Conservative premiers in thrall to the fossil fuel industry.
Such a move reeks of fear. Axing the tax will be seen as just another act of desperation — presaging the Liberals' defeat.

No good economic reason to cancel the levy. 80% of households receive more back in rebates than they pay in fuel charges.

Politically pointless. The Liberals cannot save themselves by axing the tax. The Liberal ship is going down, regardless, unless they turn the ship around on on affordability issues.
Contrary to conservative messaging, the carbon levy with rebate is not an affordability issue.
The Liberals have 15 months to drive that message home.

Fawcett: "He can tie Poilievre’s CPC to Danielle Smith and Scott Moe and use their ongoing fealty to oil and gas industry executives and hostility towards climate policy and clean energy as a different kind of political anchor."

Who bought the Trans Mtn pipeline? Who built TMX?
Who has signed up the taxpayer for billions of dollars in subsidies for useless carbon capture and storage (CCS), SMRs in the oilsands, LNG, and blue hydrogen.
Who insists to this day that selling fossil fuels will fund the transition away from fossil fuels?*
The notion that Liberal energy policy is not dictated largely by the O&G industry and the Big Banks that back them is laughable.

Fawcett: "It should invite Poilievre and the conservative premiers backing him to protect the oil and gas industry from paying for its pollution."

Trudeau should politely thank Max Fawcett for his well-intentioned advice — and ignore it.

*As TMX neared its completion and the costs piled up, Trudeau was still flogging his Orwellian pipeline arguments:

Trudeau: "Buying the Trans Mountain pipeline wasn't about hoping to turn a profit for the government. It was about making sure that Alberta crude was not landlocked and was not prisoner to one single customer in the United States.
"I took a lot of grief across the country for buying a pipeline. But I knew that if we want to be able to pay for the innovation, the transformation of our economy to be greener, to be cleaner, we need to get the best possible price for our oil products now, and that means getting out across the Pacific. That meant twinning the Trans Mountain pipeline.
"That's why we bought the pipeline, because it was good for Alberta and it's good for the country."
"Braid: Trudeau doesn't look like a Prime Minister who's ready to quit" (Calgary Herald, 21-Feb-24)

Indeed. Trudeau did take a lot of grief over TMX, and he didn't pay any attention to the most intelligent independent economic analysis that questioned the numbers he chose to believe from day one. Solar alone will, no doubt, counter any supposed gains in oil prices and diversified markets. But Asian refineries are not currently and will never pay premium prices for the toxic goo known as Alberta diluted bitumen. They are not a valid counterweight to American refineries. And that argument perpetuates the CAPP-generated mythology from 2015.

Trudeau is his own worst enemy. But he is a pipsqueak next to Poilievre on support for all oil, gas and coal, and has no valid climate, social or economic policy framework, all of which is doubly bad when you witness Poilievre's daily fountain of rage, like clockwork. That presents an electoral dilemma that is unresolvable at present.

This is a perfect example why our society is heading towards collapse. We cannot, as a species, agree to a simple and relatively easy method to reduce our carbon output let alone something actually substantial and required to slow our fate.

Good luck.

Max you are way off the mark. The carbon tax is a a fundamental tool supported by and large by economists, the IPCC and large emitters like Europe. The latter are bring in border tariffs that will be a good start towards a climate club with the US considering similar policies. Political trading may be justified on some occasions but not on a major international policy like this. Unfortunately a very unhelpful, and poorly considered, article.

You are correct. But pricing carbon is not the only tool in the toolbox. Trudeau has yet to directly finance large renewable projects beyond issuing limited grants. Ditto smart grids, transit and EV charging networks. A carbon tax is incomplete when it stands nearly alone on the field.

Bingo. If your climate platform only has one pillar, it's going to have to shoulder a lot of load, and it crumbles more easily. Unfortunately, the LPC is not beholden to the climate, nor even to the electorate. It's beholden to appeasing the fossil fuel industry (you can tell me I'm wrong once we spend as much on public transit as we have on TMX) and the people they think are most likely to vote for them i.e.; urban homeowners and people whose climate action is limited to buying Tesla stock (and, to be clear, Alex, I'm not saying that that's your viewpoint, I'm agreeing with you that having only a single notable climate policy in place is terrible practice).

I stand by my hypothesis: we won't see a significant change in policy talk from the LCP or the NDP until they get decimated at the voting booth.

This absolutely sucks.

I watched the parliamentary discussions on the carbon tax. I had to laugh at Mr. Poilievre's coo-coo clock refrain ax- the-tax, building-the-homes, fixing-the-budget ditty. I particularly enjoyed how a little nodding chorus of supporters would suddenly materialize behind whichever Conservative was speaking at the time. What can I say: I don't get out much. Meanwhile, I did appreciate the efforts of the grown-ups in the room like Kristina Michaud, Chris Bittle, Jean-Denis Garon, Laurel Collins, and others who easily defended the carbon tax and clearly care about things like fires, heatwaves, floods and the growing costs of climate disasters. They were far too witty to be quoted in mainstream media, unfortunately. Maybe they need to dumb it down like Mr. Poillievre.

I don't agree with caving in to ignorance. Where would Ukraine be now if Zelensky caved in to Putin the way this article wants us to cave in to Pollievre?
It could be many months yet until an election and it's up to all of us to explain to anyone who will listen that giving up on the climate is a cowards way out.
There are other things we can do in the face of the climate catastrophe, but no single policy is as smart and effective as putting a price on pollution.