As Liberal MPs prepare to return to their home ridings for the summer recess, they were surely hoping for better polling news. Last weekend, however, Abacus Data released its latest federal political opinion survey, and found the Conservatives still 20 percentage points ahead of the Liberals. The polling firm reports that: “If an election were held today, 42% of committed voters would vote Conservative with the Liberals at 22%, the NDP at 19% and the Greens at 5%.”

The Conservatives lead in every region except Quebec (where the Bloc still leads) and with every age cohort. Abacus reports the Liberals are polling at their lowest level since they were elected in 2015. Meaning, they have received no bounce from their most recent federal budget, nor from a host of housing announcements, nor from the well-advised increase in the capital gains tax, nor from the Bank of Canada’s long-awaited interest rate cut.


My key take-away: as the government seeks a reset ahead of its final year before the fall 2025 election, it desperately needs to shake things up. And for those of us deeply anxious about what a Pierre Poilievre majority government would mean for the climate emergency, we urgently need it to do so. I’ll leave the matter of whether Prime Minister Trudeau should stay or go to others. But on policy, what is beyond dispute is that these folks need to cease what feels like a painful death march and reinvigorate the terrain with exciting ideas that can, finally, change the dreadful script that has characterized the last two years.

Shaking things up on climate

What role can and should climate policy have in such an effort to reset the political dial?

My perception in dealings with government representatives is of a prevailing sentiment that they have “done enough” on climate, and now have a limited desire to further poke the bear.

That’s a mistake. They have not done enough, but they do indeed need a new approach. It’s time to stop being so damn boring and invite the fight with the fossil fuel industry and its political servants.

As the government seeks a reset ahead of its final year before the fall 2025 election, it desperately needs to shake things up.

Among the most intriguing findings in last weekend’s Abacus survey was this chart, showing the results when the pollsters asked those who prioritized a given issue which party is best able to handle it:

Abacus poll
Source: June 16 Canadian Public Affairs Update, Ababus Data

If the path to great leadership can be found in capitalizing upon one’s strengths, then the Liberals should lean in on climate. It is the only domain in which they strongly outperform the Conservatives and NDP.

The above also has lessons for the NDP. Its strengths are in the domains of Indigenous reconciliation, inequality and poverty, and to a lesser extent health care. But their results on climate and environment should give them great pause, where their credibility among those who prioritize this issue registers on par with the Conservatives and less than half the Liberals and Green Party.

I confess this NDP result somewhat surprised me. The party’s lead critics of this file – MPs Laurel Collins and Charlie Angus – have, in my view, been stellar performers of late, leading the charge against the fossil fuel corporations. Perhaps the party’s result is better explained by perceptions of leader Jagmeet Singh, who is virtually invisible on climate. Compounding the problem, to the extent that, for better or worse (mostly worse), the climate file is dominated by the issue of carbon pricing, the leader seems to dither and lack conviction. This is going to present a major problem for the NDP, because climate-anxious voters represent a big chunk of their potential base, yet on this issue, they find the party’s performance wanting.

While the Liberals are moving on climate, they are doing so in such a ponderous, incremental and technocratic manner that they have failed to gain anything politically. They appear desperate not to overly antagonize the oil and gas industry. And so, we have a Sustainable Jobs Act that will result in nothing for at least five years (an act that manages to suck all the lifeblood out of a widespread movement for a just transition). We have a lackadaisical stroll towards a modest oil and gas emissions cap that may or may not see the light of day before the next election. We have low-carbon business tax credits that are under-subscribed and poorly deployed (with a heavy focus on carbon capture and storage). And we have much-needed zero-emission vehicle and electricity mandates with target dates set for the next decade.

You still awake? None of this, let us agree, has the capacity to capture the imagination or excite the electorate.

If the governing Liberals wanted to truly shake things up on climate, what would they do?

First (and I know I’m a broken record here), bring in an audacious Youth Climate Corps. Kick it off with a $1 billion annual down-payment that invites tens of thousands of young people to train-up and serve in the battle of our lives (responding to extreme weather events, undertaking building retrofits, and working on renewable energy projects, etc.) Polling commissioned by the Climate Emergency Unit last fall finds such a program would be a big political winner.

Second, take Charlie Angus’s private members bill C-372 – an act to prohibit fossil fuel advertising – and make it law. Yes, the oil and gas industry will holler blue murder. That’s the surest proof of its effectiveness. But after what will be, in all likelihood, another record summer of fires, heat and other unnatural disasters, why not come back to the House of Commons in the fall ready to name the culprits and limit their ability to sow confusion on the urgent need for climate action?

Third, rethink those climate-related business tax credits (the take-up rate is weak and political pay-off even weaker), and redeploy billions towards big-ticket, high-visibility public climate infrastructure investments – renewable energy projects, public transit, inter-provincial grid upgrades, zero-emission affordable housing – that will employ thousands in well-paying jobs.

Critically, the government must link the fight for a safe climate with the battle to tackle inequality and the affordability crisis. The cost of living is what tops the public’s list of concerns. So let’s go big on items that free people from oppressive monthly utility and transportation costs – free heat pumps for households with incomes under $100,000; free transit passes for modest income households; ambitious funding for deep housing retrofits; and enhanced rebates for e-bikes.

And let’s pay for that with new taxes on wealth, windfall profits and high-emitting luxury items like private jets, outsized vehicles and yachts.

Rumour was the Liberals were considering bringing in a windfall profits tax on oil and gas companies in the lead-up to the last federal budget, but then Minister Freeland took a pass. That was a huge error. The matter should be revisited and introduced in the Fall Economic Update. Doing so could offer a sextuple win.

First, a windfall profits tax is hugely popular; polling conducted last March found 62 per cent of Canadians support such a tax. Second, it would secure ongoing NDP support; the NDP would happily vote for such a measure, giving the government time to shift the political terrain ahead of the election. Third, the climate movement would be over the moon; failure to include a windfall tax was a source of deep disappointment with the spring budget, whereas this single item would unleash that movement’s enthusiasm. Fourth, a windfall profits tax on oil and gas could raise close to $1 billion a year, enough revenues to just about double the newly-introduced monthly Disability Benefit, allowing the government to re-win support from that constituency. Fifth, a windfall profits tax would help lower inflation, given the outsized role oil and gas profits have played in rising prices. And six, vitally, a windfall profits tax would bring on a good fight with the oil and gas industry, which at this stage would also be good politics. The Liberals have almost nothing to lose in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and much to gain elsewhere. And let Poilievre rail and explain why he doesn’t want to impose this excess profits tax on the most profitable corporations in human history – it will expose him as the faux populist that he is. What’s not to like here?

If we are to stave off a Conservative majority government – something which, for the sake of climate policy and a safe future, we desperately need to do – then it’s time for progressive parties to take some big risks and make some big, bold moves. Time’s ticking if they hope to shift the dial.

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Excellent advice.
Please Liberals, for your own sake, the sake of our precious environment, and the sake of Canadians who should be avoiding a Poilievre government like the plague, do what Seth Klein has outlined here, and then do even more! It would be a win, win, win.
I said as much in my comments in one of your surveys about a year ago.
Time is ticking. No more time to waste. Come out swinging hard on climate.

For the Liberals, they are more trusted on the environment but have incredible potential to do better. Like our Northern European colleagues, we could stop being so inefficient. Heat from industry and thermal electric power plants could be captured and used. Biomass wastes and municipal waste could heat communities. They need to just open their eyes and learn from more experienced countries and pay more attention to Science. Solutions for decarbonization abound but are ignored. We need thermal networks, thermal energy storage, CHP generation and the integrated planning and operation of electricity and thermal networks.

Klein: "I confess this NDP result somewhat surprised me. The party’s lead critics of this file – MPs Laurel Collins and Charlie Angus – have, in my view, been stellar performers of late, leading the charge against the fossil fuel corporations."

MP and NDP environment critic Laurel Collins backed away from carbon pricing in April:

"NDP join Tories to demand emergency meeting on carbon tax" (CP, April 10, 2024)
"The federal New Democrats backed Conservative demands Wednesday that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau take part in a televised 'emergency meeting' on carbon pricing with Canada's premiers.
"The federal carbon price is not the 'be-all, end-all' of climate policy and New Democrats are open to alternative plans presented by premiers, NDP environment critic Laurel Collins said Wednesday.
"Collins accused the Liberal government of using climate as a political wedge issue, and that a meeting would help unite Canadians and spark new ideas."

Klein: "While the Liberals are moving on climate, they are doing so in such a ponderous, incremental and technocratic manner that they have failed to gain anything politically."

Industry "wins" merely by slowing the energy shift down. As's Bill McKibben puts it, winning slowly on climate is the same as losing.
"Bill McKibben: Winning Slowly Is the Same as Losing", (Rolling Stone, Dec 1, 2017)

Big picture please. Pan out. We're down to basic math here, so the ONLY surefire way to win against an ostensibly "united" political right wing is to join forces like they've done. There's no point in taking the fight to big oil or big corp generally until you've done that. No more narcissism of small differences where THREE progressive parties arrogantly refuse to read the bloody political room, luxuriating instead in the inherent integrity of EACH of their shadings in the same "movement," and collectively as confident that they're the natural majority as the conservatives are. The fact that they're fundamentally right makes no difference anymore than it does in the States where the majority apparently REALLY wants something done about guns AND thinks women should have the right to choose. Note the reality.
We on the left now have to "make it new" or "go viral;" it's unfortunately the current requirement in a climate of wildly scattered attention in a population busy amusing itself to death. No point in ANY "bold moves" by the boring old incumbent, the "international rules-based world order" when the centre is simply no longer holding.
Rebranding big-time as the "Progressive Party of Canada" would do the trick.
Constantly hectoring the Liberals and/or Trudeau simply succumbs to the conservative narrative, albeit "unwittingly," a word I'm hearing a lot lately, while completely ignoring the political reality they're faced with, i.e. that the majority of premiers are duly elected conservatives, some with unprecedented and open hostility who are gunning for them, but who are also regularly joined by the three progressive ones with varying degrees of the aforementioned narcissism.
We're supposed to be the smart ones are we not? So collaborate FFS.

I completely agree. "Unite The Left" should have been called for when Trudeau was first downgraded to minority government territory after one term of broken promises and fence sitting between doing the right thing (climate, housing, you name it) and protecting the LPC's corporate donors.

But the anticipation that the NDP would "fix" the Lib's shortcomings in two minority governments was never fulfilled. Why? Weak leadership on both counts. And now the people are turning away, likely not in their best intetests.

Poilievre has now captured a nearly inassailable lead in popularity because he's "acting boldly" in the guise of being a bullying, loudmouth asshole in contrast with a PM who spread himself too thin and who is straddling too many fences, and an NDP leader who seems afraid of his own shadow.

Policy superiority is invisible when leadership is weak. Big, bold policies enacted with charismatic, courageous boldness and a willingness to risk one's political career by acting with purpose to better the public good today will surely garner more respect from voters than watering down the foundation cement in fear of the reaction tomorrow.

In addition, Poilievre's angry rhetoric needs to be countered with equally vociferous responses to his face, like eyeball to eyeball. This, unfortunately, is the playoff hockey game goon part of Canadian politics that many of us detest.

In the end, hockey is only a game about winning. The only benefactors are the players who can still count their millions, win or lose. The same applies to career politicians whose only goal is winning, and it's a sad commentary on the electorate that assholes win the popularity game.

Being a winner is not anywhere close to being a good leader acting boldly for the people with an eye on the common good. That includes dishing Polievre's medicine right back in his face when necessary, but with sharp intelligence spiced with humour, qualities Poilievre clearly lacks.

The question remains, What leader on the centre-left (existing or potential) has the best leadership qualities?

Some of us have been calling for the boldness in climate and social justice policy iterated in this article for decades.

Sustainable urbanism snd electrification of the domestic economy through renewables coupled with strong social programs are a match made in nation-building heaven.

Political leadership that breathlessly states its promises to head in that direction but then refuses to step on the accelerator hard enough has been our federal reality since 2015. The electorate is obviously now fed up and willing to render punishment accordingly, no matter what the consequences are.

This old hippie can only promise to vote for the best progressive climate-social candidate able to win my riding, and that choice is split three ways to oppose the Conservative candidate.

Beyond that, keep writing critical commentary with a focus on what is practical and acheivable. And draw attention to the phenomenal rise in renewables and the destruction of carbon demand it brings beyond Canada's petro borders, the very markets petroleum exports to.

International markets will probably do the job of lowering emissions better that Canadian politics could ever do, and put the Poilievres and Smiths in their proper place.

In that, there is hope. And hope is not some kinda useless emotion. It is a prime motivator toward action, even if a little late to the stage.

Jim Stanford: Is Slow “Growth” Inevitable?

"New talk of “helicopter money” strategies (whereby a central bank would create new credit and directly inject it into the real economy, to support investment, government programs, or consumption) confirms that if we collectively decide we need it, and enforce our will on our political and monetary leaders, we could create all the money needed to finance real, productive work.

So long as millions are languishing without a job, there does not appear to be a good argument against doing so. To the contrary, if it helps us put an end to pollution (including greenhouse gases) and poverty, an all-out war-like mobilization seems like a no-brainer. Living standards would grow, taxes would be paid, the environment would be protected, and real GDP would grow rapidly....."