Since the carbon price carveout for home heating oil was announced in October, political pressure to further unravel the centrepiece of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s climate policy has grown.

Now the federal Liberals face tough choices over the future of this signature policy. Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is hammering Trudeau’s government day in and day out over the levy, and virtually every region of the country (aside from Quebec and British Columbia, which have their own provincial carbon price policies) is also calling for exemptions.

The premiers of Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have written letters to the federal government calling for the carbon price to be removed from all forms of home heating. Most recently, Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew said his province has a “strong case” for an exemption, and some First Nations leaders in Ontario, with support from the Assembly of First Nations, are demanding a judicial review of the policy.

Perhaps most striking is Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe’s government saying its Crown utility SaskEnergy will stop collecting the carbon levy. That move is a conscious decision by Moe to break federal law that risks fines and jail time for executives but crucially sets the stage for an unprecedented fight between the provincial and federal governments.

“This is an extraordinary moment in Canadian democracy that a government, a provincial government, would choose to break a constitutional federal law,” University of British Columbia political science professor Kathryn Harrison told Canada’s National Observer. “It’s horrifying to me.”

SaskEnergy has until the last day of February to pay the levy to the federal government. It’s unclear who will blink first, but if the due date comes and no payment has been made, tough choices are inevitable.

Trudeau’s government is sinking in the polls. A poll published by Abacus Data on Thursday found higher disapproval ratings than the polling firm has measured since the Liberals were elected in 2015. Under Poilievre, the Conservatives now enjoy a 17-point lead over the Liberals with cost of living issues at the forefront of people’s minds. For Trudeau, restoring public confidence in his government is a top priority before any potential election.

“Our first poll of 2024 finds one of, if not the worst, opinion environments the Liberal government has found itself in,” said Abacus Data CEO David Coletto in a statement. “The prime minister’s personal numbers are as negative as they have ever been, and the desire for change has never been as high. The result is a big Conservative lead nationally.”

Experts interviewed by Canada’s National Observer say the Liberals have options to try to change the narrative that their government is out of touch with everyday affordability concerns but after nearly a decade in power, their political capital has all but evaporated, making it harder to manoeuvre when being attacked left and right.

“There's no good outcome right now. Whoever came up with the bright idea of the Atlantic carveout is probably now getting their fingers rapped because it hasn't won them many friends and has now opened up the floodgates for everybody else." #cdnpoli

Opening the floodgates

The floodgates for this conflict were opened in October when Trudeau, surrounded by the Liberals’ Atlantic caucus, announced home heating oil would be exempt from the carbon price in a move that disproportionately benefited Atlantic Canadians who, on average, pay more in heating costs than other parts of the country.

Though the Liberals tried to dodge appearances of playing regional favourites by saying the pause applied to home heating oil across Canada, not just in Atlantic Canada, the optics of announcing the decision surrounded by the Atlantic caucus didn’t help sell that argument. The message was further undermined when Rural Economic Development Minister Gudie Hutchings said if Western and Prairie provinces wanted exemptions to the carbon price, they should elect more Liberals.

University of Prince Edward Island political science professor Don Desserud said the announcement was “clearly” a way the federal Liberals were trying to help Atlantic MPs hold onto their seats, but the benefit of that move didn't last long.

Regardless of the fact the carbon price rebates put more money in most Canadians’ pockets than they pay, the perception among many is they’re being punished during an affordability crisis by being made to pay more for heating their homes and filling up their tanks. So when relief is offered, people may be grateful but they’re not enthusiastic about it.

“You don't say, ‘Wow, I really like you now because you stopped hurting me.’ You say, ‘Thank you for stopping that, but jeez, you shouldn't have done it in the first place,’” he said.

“At the time, [I remember] thinking that's a really dangerous thing to do politically because when one region is seen as getting something other regions are not getting, you do expect the other regions and other provinces to say, ‘Wait a second. What's going on here?’”

Greenpeace Canada senior energy strategist Keith Stewart said the Liberals have never had good communication on the carbon price, but the fallout from the carveout will go down in history as a case study on how to mismanage an issue.

“There's no good outcome right now,” he said. “Whoever came up with the bright idea of the Atlantic carveout is probably now getting their fingers rapped because it hasn't won them many friends and has now opened up the floodgates for everybody else.”

Liberal options

Desserud said he was “mystified” by the “lack of political savvy” and questioned where the advice is coming from in the Prime Minister’s Office.

The carbon price is “not a vote-getter, in fact, it’s huge vote-loser … but it speaks to a much bigger issue of a government that doesn't seem to get the point that asking everyday ordinary Canadians to pay a price for something they don't feel responsible for … is just going to lose them votes,” he said.

Desserud emphasized that the actual impact of the carbon price on planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions is a separate issue politically. One can accept the argument it’s an important tool for reducing emissions, but nevertheless, it’s not a vote-getter. And if the Liberals lose to the Conservatives and Poilievre forms government, there’s little doubt the carbon price will survive.

He said his advice would be to ditch the carbon price, take the hit for flip-flopping and replace the program with ones that clearly reward people and help reduce emissions.

But this is also a government that has defended its carbon price in the past two elections, and internationally uses the policy to signal its climate credentials, making the reputational hit of backing down even higher.

Despite the mounting political challenges for Trudeau’s government, Harrison said she doesn’t think it’s a given the Liberals will walk the policy back further.

For her, the question in the minds of voters waffling between the Conservatives and Liberals may not be as straightforward as whether they like or dislike the carbon price, but rather how important Canada having an overall credible climate strategy is.

“The irony is people are opposed to a policy that is in most cases putting money in their pockets,” she said. “So the question on my mind is whether we will see not just an effort to deflect by saying we have a credible plan, the Conservatives don't … but also a more transparent campaign to help Canadians understand what they're really paying and what they're getting back.”

But it promises to be an uphill battle.

“There's just this natural challenge of explaining [the policy], and then on top of that, it creates a really ripe ground for a populist campaign to amplify voter misunderstanding,” she said. “We have seen that time and again from the Conservatives, and really ramped up under Pierre Poilievre.

The Prime Minister’s Office routed questions about the future of the carbon price to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s office, who told Canada’s National Observer the government is committed to no further exemptions.

“The price on pollution puts more money back into the pockets of the majority of Canadians and fights climate change,” said Freeland’s press secretary Katherine Cuplinskas. “In 2023-24, a family of four on the Prairies is receiving up to $1,544 back through pollution pricing rebates. And starting this spring, families living in rural communities will see a 20 per cent top-up.

“This direct support to families is contingent on a province having the federal price on pollution.”

Therein lies a clue about one way the Liberals may be able to flip the script. If the public can develop a better understanding that rebates put more money back into their pocket, then the implication of axing the tax is to eliminate those rebates.

Emphasizing rebates from the carbon price, and the subsidies being made available for electric vehicles and heat pumps, is one way Harrison thinks the Liberals could defend their climate record ahead of an election.

But changing minds is likely to be difficult because support and understanding of the carbon price follow partisan lines, she said.

“The research I've done with colleagues finds that almost everyone underestimated how much money they're getting back, Conservatives much more than Liberals, and people don't have a very good understanding of how much they're paying,” she said.

“So a question on my mind is whether the Liberals themselves or independent think tanks want to decide before the next election to help voters better understand how much they're paying and how much they're getting back because it's a pretty simple thing.”

Keep reading

I should never have been called carbon pricing. It should have been called a Carbon Rebate from the get go.

No way out for the Liberals.
At one blow, the Liberals torpedoed their signature climate policy and sealed their fate in the next election.
By granting an exemption on heating oil, the Liberals tacitly accepted their opponents' argument that the carbon "tax" increases the financial burden on Canadians.
The obvious solution was to increase the rebate for the 30% of homeowners in the Atlantic region and 3% of households nationally who use furnace oil to heat their homes.

If the Liberals cancel the carbon tax, this spells defeat on the climate issue and in general. Poilievre wins on the carbon "tax" on his way to winning the next election.
If the Liberals do not cancel the carbon tax, Poilievre continues to hammer them with an unpopular policy, wins the next election, and cancel the carbon "tax".
The Liberals are likely to lose support even of voters who support climate action. A government so woefully inept does not deserve another term.

What were the Liberals thinking?
An own goal.

At this point, the best hope for the Liberals is to hold a summer election — in the midst of Canada's worst wildfire season, with voters choking on smoke, losing their homes, and forced to evacuate from their communities.
For the Liberal government including its climate policy to survive, the choice for voters must be inescapable.
Make it a climate election.

None of these polls makes Canadians look even remotely rational OR intelligent but can we please recall that they're just snapshots, and have been quite wrong repeatedly? They really should be banned under the current inflammatory circumstances, like we need any further shots of adrenaline to OUR systems or THE system.
But it's like the AI stuff and the algorithms, it's just assumed that we're all helpless and addicted to it even as it destroys our sanity and our society, so this relatively new frantic quality shown by OUR media around election excitement when ONE HASN'T EVEN BEEN CALLED is more of the same. Mesmerized by the unfolding disaster in the American democratic system, we seem bent on duplicating their perpetual campaign mode now? WTF?
Fortunately a lot of us have enough perspective to see right through social media and recognize how it's been the perfect vehicle for the ham-fisted Reform Party conservatives, tailor made really. It has enabled them to not only create but also reap the ensuing whirlwind's exponential rewards. A natural affinity for deceit is the obvious pre-requisite.
But on the relative wisdom of a summer election in the context of 40 degrees, smoke and drought, no.
I think they'll go the sober, second thought route, which is going the full period like we used to when things were more civil and civilized, and politicians like the nightmarish PP hadn't been invented yet.

My comment makes no reference to polls.

Long list of early elections in Canada going back decades.
Including federal elections in 1984, 1997, 2000, 2008, and 2021.
"List of snap elections in Canada"

"Minority governments are less likely to last a full four-year term than majority governments. Governments can fall to confidence votes, or the Prime Minister can request an early election in the hope of winning a majority."
Majority and Minority Governments (Parliament of Canada)

"When the majority doesn't rule" (CBC, Nov 17, 2008)
"Minority governments are usually short-lived. They last an average of about 18 months. The last Conservative minority government, led by Joe Clark, lasted only nine months."
Many minority governments end early.
Pierre Trudeau won a majority in 1974 after a minority govt that lasted 19 months.
Joe Clark's PC govt fell after seven months in 1979.
The Liberals went down to defeat under Paul Martin after 17 months in 2006.
The Conservatives secured a majority after their first minority in 2008.
In 2019, the Liberals won a minority of seats and repeated that result in 2021.

The Liberal's failure to recover from their clumsy missteps will result in a Poiliere government. A Poilievre government will last two terms if the Liberals cannot reorganize within a year, two at best, from defeat whatever that may entail.

Poilievre will provide 10X more fodder for climate critics who thrive on negativity and revenge than the Liberals are capable of.

The first year of Poilivre's rule will be about demolishing, destroying and dismantling everything Trudeau touched. After that, poievre and his crew cannot capitalize on destruction and will have to start showing their mettle.

Poilievre is not as smart as Harper who at least was able to hold off the demolition crew until he had a majority. Once that was achieved, out came the social program and anti-science nukes and in came the 50-year old pro-oil and pateralistic social policies.

Poilievre will probably start with a majority, and he will aceive it on an anti-Trudeau ticket. Having a viable set of policies suitable to guide a national government will have nothing to do with it. Cue the demolition derby.

The problem is that the risk of promoting the Lib's defeat is unknown and potentially too high. One term with Poilievre on a wrecking spree with few reasonable alternative policies may be enough to stimulate enough voter regret to get rid of him. But some progressive critic's zeal to get of Trudeau is at the foaming mouth level equal with rabid rightwinger's, and the Libs may be disheartened when key leadership candidates refuse to enter the race.

Two terms of Poilievre's war on anything left of right-wing extremism will nuke not just climate policy, but social and financial policy too.

I don't care to see convoy truckers and mouth foamers in government and will vote ABC regardless of the blasts from climate pontificators.

Sorry for the typos. Small phone keypad. No time to properly edit. No edit button available to commenters. No plans by the NO to improve its digital policies even with a healthy subscriber's list and $100K in additional donations.


It was legible, no worries, and a good summation.

It is a great comment & I copied it into this article I posted in our group called the Canada Waking Up the Masses (2014-2024)

It is sad to see the electorate, and the media get sucked in to the right wing narrative regarding the carbon pricing.
I am not usually a Liberal supporter, but if wasn't hard for me to understand and rationalize the nuances to the exemption that was given to those using, the much more expensive, heating oil to heat their homes.
When you get on the affordability, the majority of us who pay the carbon pricing enjoy a rebate of greater value which can even be improved on through individual actions.
As a retiree living on a limited income, I have no problem selling the benefits to the carbon pricing regime, even in Saskatchewan where the premier is possibly about to break the law!

It is still a year and a half till the next federal election. The NDP are not going to pull the plug that has given them the most power they have ever had. PP is not going to make any more hay unless he changes his tune and his deminer. I can see a repeat of the last election all over again... Liberal minority. And should it be a Conservative minority it would last just a few months.

Perhaps the best policy for the Libs at this point is to switch to carrots from sticks. Taxes are easily portrayed as sticks. If the carbon tax is to be whittled down to suit one geographic area of this highly diverse nation, then new climate initiatives should take its place ASAP.

Instead of just taxing, start building. The list of possible renewable energy and affordable housing projects to fund is long and offers a plethora of choice, all in-ground tangible projects folks can touch, ideal for campaign photo ops. The need for an improved narrative and intelligent critical counterpunches in defence of these projects is great.

I'd start with deeper funding for heat pumps, residential solar, larger grants to improve energy efficiency, then extend the planning into serious feasibility studies on long-term projects, like a national smart grid for clean power, directly funding offshore wind on three coasts in co-operation with provincial public utilities, a national affordable rental and co-op housing program and so on.

Taxes and regulations have their place, but it's time to build some legacy projects that have plenty of return in political capital, common good and financial return.

Trudeau has a battle of 10 on 1, the premiers are fighting Trudeau against everything, climate mitigation, healthcare, housing, homelessness, immigration, EV's and the charging stations, APP/CPP, heat pumps...
If Pierre Poilievre thinks that he can sell Canadians that he can just wave a magic wand and it will all be fixed is really just selling snake oil.
There is way too much aggression coming from Premiers against the Federal systems that we need installed and or repaired.

Unfortunately, much of the confusion, anger, ignorance and vehemence around the carbon tax is due to the misinformation and disinformation emanating from Pierre Poilievre’s mouth, Danielle Smith’s mouth, Scott Moe’s mouth, other Conservative politicians, and the pro-O&G lobbyists. That, coupled with the bungling by the Liberal government in explaining how the rebate system works is why the anti-carbon tax movement is enjoying its moment in time.

The federal government needs to quickly rethink their messaging around this issue and relentlessly and aggressively call out those spreading the lies, especially Pierre Poilievre and the CPC.