Playing Coy with Climate Change

3 minute read

The fires and the smoke blanketing big cities in Canada and the United States have again brought climate change to the forefront — and with that pressure on politicians of all stripes to demonstrate exactly what they would do about it, particularly those who seem unwilling to articulate their plans. 

The governing Liberals have taken advantage of the crisis to try to contrast their record on fighting climate change with the opposition Conservatives. This was highlighted by a contentious exchange in the House of Commons in which the Prime Minister asked if Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre “has a better plan” on climate change adding that “we have been waiting a long time for it. He has no plan to fight climate change. He still questions whether it exists while Canada is burning.”

Poilievre rarely spoke about climate change during his successful leadership bid last year and the Conservative Party has struggled over the last two election cycles to articulate a policy vision on climate change that resonates with Canadians. In 2019, Andrew Scheer campaigned on a climate platform that upheld a 2030 emissions target established under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper but didn’t provide any substantial insight into how this goal would be achieved. He did vow to scrap the carbon tax and replace it with a plan to introduce emissions caps for different industrial sectors. The Conservatives seemed to pivot under Erin O’Toole’s leadership with the party seemingly embracing a version of a consumer carbon levy while denying that it constituted a “tax.” The plan would have capped the levy at $50 per tonne of emissions and put the proceeds into accounts that Canadians would use to purchase a range of environmentally friendly products.

Although he has remained non-committal when it comes to his plan to tackle climate change, Poilievre has been clear on what he opposes. Under Polievre’s leadership, Conservatives have once again taken to arguing that a carbon tax won’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions, bringing the party in conflict with the position that carbon taxes are the cheapest way of reducing emissions. He has pledged to scrap the carbon levy on consumer fuels, as well as oppose incoming regulations which would force producers to make cleaner fuel, a policy which he contends is just another “carbon tax” that will hurt Canadians. 

When pressed on what a Conservative government would do during a recent House of Commons debate, Poilievre stated that “our approach will be to deploy technology, not taxes.” He went on to cite an experimental tidal power project in Nova Scotia that was forced to shut down as an example. 

Many Canadians rank climate change as one of the most important issues facing the country. The question remains whether it will be top of mind as voters head into a polling booth. As seen by the parties’ existing messaging, Poilievre and the Conservatives will focus on the economics behind Trudeau’s climate change plans, linking it to the rising cost of living. The Liberals will try to wedge the Conservatives on the credibility of their climate plan, or lack thereof. If the Conservative Party continues to play coy about its plans to tackle climate change, the Liberals may see the issue as a rallying cry for its increasingly fragile progressive coalition.

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