To fend off Conservative attacks, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is planning an information campaign about the benefits of the carbon price rebate in addition to a rebrand of the contentious policy.

The rebrand does not yet have an exact plan but Canada’s National Observer has learned that beyond trying to convince banks to clearly label the carbon price rebate when it is deposited, the government is also planning an information campaign to boost awareness of the carbon tax’s benefits, expected to roll out ahead of tax season. The campaign would be part of the Canada Revenue Agency’s (CRA) efforts to alert Canadians about rebates they’re entitled to.

Each year, the CRA runs ads promoting various tax credits and rebates, ranging from the Canada child benefit to home accessibility tax credits. This year in the face of growing misinformation about the carbon price rebate, a concerted effort is being made to inform people about the money they’re entitled to if they file their taxes.

The federal government must walk a fine line when mounting an information campaign. It is allowed to advertise its policies, but it has to remain non-partisan. With the carbon price deeply politicized, for Trudeau’s government to avoid breaking the rules, it will need to stay firmly on the side of providing information to the public.

Screenshot of CRA ad on Facebook from March 2020 offering an example of the type of advertisement the federal government is considering ahead of this year's tax season. Screenshot via Meta Ad Library

Advertising spends of more than $250,000 are subject to mandatory review to ensure they align with government policy. Among the requirements are that the advertising is “objective, factual and explanatory,” does not include party slogans or images or give the “general impression or appear to promote political party interests” and does not include the name, voice or image of an MP or senator, among other rules.

“I think it's right to want to communicate the tax more effectively, but a marketing campaign that has a significant price tag associated with it definitely could end up hurting them more than helping them,” said University of Victoria associate professor James Rowe. “It just sets them up for another round of attacks.”

The expected attack could be Conservative Party of Canada Leader Pierre Poilievre saying this is Trudeau spending government money to justify taking more money from Canadians. “It’s low-hanging fruit,” Rowe said.

Catherine McKenna, the former environment and climate change minister who served in Trudeau’s cabinet when the carbon price was designed and implemented, told Canada’s National Observer the federal government should advertise the benefits of carbon pricing. That’s because the risk of the public being misled about it is a bigger risk than Conservatives launching further attacks, she said.

"It is the government's job to ensure Canadians have the facts about carbon pricing to counter the misinformation that Pierre Poilievre is spouting,” she said. “They are entitled to know that the money raised goes directly back into their bank accounts so most families are better off, while Canada uses one of the most effective tools to tackle climate change."

“You have to go and defend this policy and you have to be out there talking about how people are getting money back, and these Conservatives have no plan... You have to do that every single day," says former climate minister @cathmckenna

Blood in the water

With Trudeau trailing in polls and some in his own party openly questioning his leadership, there’s blood in the water. He’ll have to tread carefully to avoid another hit, Rowe says.

By now the story is well known. Following months of Poilievre rallying support by promising to “axe the tax” in the face of inflation and the Atlantic Liberal caucus privately, and sometimes publicly, urging the government to soften the price on pollution’s impact on people to help re-election chances, Trudeau threw the caucus a bone. In October, he carved out exemptions for home heating oil, predominantly used in Atlantic Canada, explaining that his government listens and takes affordability concerns seriously.

That rationale went over like a lead balloon. Several Liberal MPs warned the Prime Minister’s Office that such a move would feed the Conservative narrative that the carbon price is driving inflation. As predicted, opponents of the federal government across the country pounced on the opportunity and demanded their own exemptions.

“We definitely did not do ourselves any favours with the exemption for home heating oil,” said British Columbia Liberal MP Patrick Weiler. “That was just — pardon the pun — adding fuel to the fire here.”

Like McKenna, Weiler believes the government should promote the carbon price policy even if there is a risk the Conservatives will criticize it because the greater risk in his view is the public not understanding the rebates they’re getting. There could also be an upside if the Conservatives launch a fresh round of attacks, he added.

“Even if that takes place, at least it will really centre the discussion on the rebates and the more we're talking about the rebates the better.

“Starting this campaign now, if the tea leaves are to be believed, gives at least a potentially year and a half until the next election for that information to really get out to people.”

Trudeau and his most senior ministers have repeatedly said there would be no more carveouts to the signature climate policy but in recent weeks, have conceded they’re losing the communication battle. Polls show most Canadians want the carbon price either scrapped or lowered, even though most Canadians receive more money back through rebates than they pay.

Misinformation about the carbon price, often spread by Poilievre, appears to be driving voters into the arms of the Conservatives, forcing the Liberals to plan a rebrand, as first reported by the Toronto Star.

For McKenna, changing the name of the rebate is a misdiagnosis of the problem. The problem, in her view, is a lack of message discipline.

“You have to go and defend this policy and you have to be out there talking about how people are getting money back and these Conservatives have no plan,” she said. “You have to do that every single day, and you have to not have 100 other messages.”

If the main criticism of the carbon price is that the public can’t bear further costs in the face of challenging economic headwinds, the government must make it clear it benefits most people, she said. When Trudeau paused the tax on home heating oil in Atlantic Canada citing affordability concerns, that “confuses people,” she said, because it undermines the argument that it puts more money into people’s pockets.

Catherine Abreu, founder of Destination Zero and a member of Canada’s Net-Zero Advisory Body, told Canada’s National Observer that if the government does pursue a communications strategy on its climate action, the messaging should go beyond the carbon price.

“There would be a lot of value in the government communicating to Canadians the ways in which their lives are already being positively impacted by action on climate change, and the fact that many climate solutions are already inherently more affordable than the alternatives,” she said. “It's challenging for an entity other than the government to tell that kind of story with the kind of gravitas and public reach that is needed.

“So I'm hoping this might be an exercise in helping Canadians understand why this is important and the ways in which it could positively affect their daily lives.”

Keep reading

If the Conservatives scrap the carbon levy (not a tax), that primarily benefits the rich: the nation's top energy users and emitters.
"Axing the tax" will hurt mostly Canadians of modest means — the lower and middle class that political parties appeal to.

Most Canadians believe they pay more in fuel charges than they receive in rebates. For the policy to survive, the government is going to have to set them straight.
Unfortunately, it is much easier for the Conservatives and Postmedia scribes to confuse the public than it is for the government to debunk the disinformation.

To complicate matters, according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO), when economic costs (lower income and investment returns) are included, most households stand to lose (a small amount) due to the carbon levy even with the rebate:
PBO: "When the economic impact is combined with the fiscal impact, the net cost increases for all households, reflecting the overall negative economic impact of the federal fuel charge."
These extra costs are avoidable if Canadians switch their investments out of fossil fuels and seek jobs outside the fossil fuel industry. Precisely the point of carbon pricing. We do not want fossil fuel investing to remain profitable or encourage people to plan on a lifelong career in a sunset industry.
Even when economic impacts are taken into account, the bottom 40% of households come out ahead or roughly even.

Also, the choice is not carbon pricing or nothing. The two options are carbon pricing or regulations, which cost Canadians even more, though the impacts be mostly hidden.

The mischief-makers at Postmedia (e.g., The Toronto Sun) fail to draw a distinction between the levy's fiscal and economic impacts. Column after column pounds home the message that Canadians pay more in "tax" than they receive in rebates — and that any government or politician who says otherwise is lying.

With so much disinformation floating around, carbon pricing faces an uphill battle. The Liberals do not make it any easier on themselves. Exemptions signal tacit acceptance of the Conservatives' false argument that the carbon levy represents a significant financial burden. When in fact inflation is largely being driven by a host of other factors, not least the spike in oil and gas prices.

B.C. calls it a carbon tax.
The federal Liberals are terrified of the word "tax" so they call it a price on pollution, fooling no one but just making it look like they are trying to fool taxpayers.

Catherine's right I think.
Since there's a significant LIE at the heart of the conservative "messaging" I'd say hold firm and advertise; any backlash they come up with in response to a feel good message that also happens to be TRUE (AND kind of life and death) could also be an opportunity to out them AGAIN on their stupid, obdurate denialism.
People are surprisingly slow on the uptake so repetition is all it seems.
And any strategy about placating the lie is completely ignoring the results of which are STILL playing out nerve wrackingly in the U.S. as we speak.
So LET them differentiate themselves, in detail, as to what THEIR plan is for climate change then, the floor will be theirs.
Unfortunately here in Alberduh I've read that two NDP leadership candidates are suggesting getting rid of the carbon tax, to my surprise and dismay, also not surprising I guess when you recall how they never even mentioned climate change during the election. But then this place IS also prime time for outLIARS.

They should call it "cash back carbon pricing". Everybody understands and likes "cash back". Remove the word "tax", nobody likes taxes. Besides, is it really a tax if you get your money back, and more??

Excellent idea. And the deposits need an equally clear and catchy standard label.

Not a chance, in answer to the headline.

Preston Manning's comments could be used to support the government's case, if enough poorly informed conservative voters remember the father of modern conservatism. He affirmed the right of government to apply market distortion correcting mechanisms such as a carbon LEVY, because the ability of industry to pollute without absorbing the costs is a clear distortion. He just pleaded to have the LEVY clearly administered, explained and paid back in a manner that would assure consumers & taxpayers that it was not a TAX, which conservatives would be compelled to vociferously oppose. Manning did also call the climate crisis 'a private sector problem with a private sector solution', but preferred the market distortion levy to a cap.