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In the latest development threatening to upend Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s signature climate policy, almost half of Canadians want the carbon tax abolished, according to a new poll from Angus Reid.
The polling outfit found 42 per cent of Canadians want the carbon price eliminated altogether. While not technically a majority, the support for the carbon tax has all but disappeared: 25 per cent of Canadians think the price should stay at current levels rather than increasing each year, and 17 per cent think the carbon price should be lowered for the next three years. Only 15 per cent of those polled believe the carbon price should continue as is.
The public’s understanding of the carbon price is the main determinant of support. Eighty per cent of households get more money back through rebates than they pay with a carbon price. Of those who say they receive more than they pay, support for the carbon price reaches 79 per cent. Among those who believe they spend more than they get back, the results are flipped: 82 per cent oppose the tax. The findings imply Trudeau’s government is failing to communicate the benefits in a way the public understands.
Having fallen behind Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre in polling for months, the findings represent the latest challenge to Trudeau’s popularity. The carbon tax has become a lightning rod for his government. Opposition leaders and right-wing premiers have relentlessly attacked the tax. And in a bid to respond to affordability concerns in Atlantic Canada that threaten re-election prospects in this Liberal stronghold, Trudeau paused the tax on home heating oil there last month.
Since then, Trudeau said there would be no more carveouts and Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault has said there would not be any further exceptions to the carbon tax on his watch. On Thursday, when asked if he would resign if the Senate passed a Conservative private member’s bill extending the carbon price pause to natural gas and propane used by farmers, Guilbeault dodged the question, telling reporters: “We will see what decision the Senate comes to on this bill and act accordingly."
Alberta Sen. Paula Simons, who sits as an independent, told the CBC she’s never been lobbied to this extent before on a private member’s bill, adding: “This bill has become symbolic and it's being used as a wedge issue.”
The Angus Reid findings suggest she may be right. At the same time Canadians are roundly displeased with the carbon price, a recent Ipsos poll also found a majority of Canadians want the federal government to do more to fight climate change and believe Ottawa would be “failing” the public if it didn't go further. That same Ipsos poll found 30 per cent of Canadians across income brackets are willing to pay more income tax to help address climate change.
“The carveout was a strategic blunder that put wind in the sails of opponents raising affordability concerns,” University of Victoria associate professor James Rowe told Canada’s National Observer. “The government could have left the tax untouched while finding other ways of addressing affordability more universally across the country.”
One measure could have been a windfall tax on oil and gas companies, and using the money to lower the cost of living, he said. The Parliamentary Budget Officer found last month that a windfall tax on fossil fuel companies, which made nearly $40 billion in profit last year alone, could bring in $4.2 billion in revenue for the federal government.
“The carveout was a strategic blunder that put wind in the sails of opponents raising affordability concerns... The government could have left the tax untouched while finding other ways of addressing affordability," says @JKimmittRowe. #cdnpoli
But Rowe concedes climate policy is difficult to achieve, and while he supports the carbon tax, it’s far from perfect.
“It basically punishes consumers for fossil fuel use before the alternatives have adequately been built out,” he explained. “I would have preferred more of a public investment approach that would have directed large amounts of government spending to building out alternatives and driving their costs down as the opening gambit, with a possible carbon tax to fund and incentivize the alternatives as a second act.”