Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has a problem: the only way his government can keep a promise is to make millions of voters angry just as the next federal election rolls around. It’s a pickle, but it’s one of his own creation.
The promise (threat?) was to impose a federal carbon tax next year on any province that did not develop a version of its own that met federally dictated benchmarks. The tax would begin at $10 per emitted tonne of carbon dioxide before rapidly increasing to $50 per tonne by 2022 — estimated to be equivalent to more than 11 cents per litre of gasoline. This is all, of course, in the name of meeting Canada’s international pledges to reduce our CO2 emissions.
The problem is that Prime Minister Trudeau now faces a much different political environment than he apparently took for granted. A year ago, nine of 10 provinces were on board with the Liberal plan (though in some cases this meant agreeing to implement provincial versions). Today (as anti-carbon-tax campaigner Jim Karahalios happily pointed out this week in the Financial Post) Saskatchewan, the original renegade, has been joined in opposing Trudeau’s carbon-tax plan by Ontario and Prince Edward Island, with Newfoundland and New Brunswick signalling they too might bail. Alberta’s NDP government is four-square behind the plan, of course, but it’s very likely be toppled by the United Conservative Party next year, in part over this very issue.
The federal Liberals certainly can push ahead with their threat to “backstop” unco-operative provinces, which is a polite word for imposing a federal tax against the popular will. But doing so during an election year cannot be an appealing prospect. Their softening poll numbers suggest the election will be competitive and that the Liberals will need to be strong in Ontario. Does Trudeau really want to spend an election campaign telling Ontarians he’s going to force a tax on them over the sustained (and, no doubt, loud) objections of Premier Doug Ford? Does he want to risk his Atlantic Canadian stronghold by going to war with P.E.I., New Brunswick and/or Newfoundland? And if Alberta defenestrates it’s pro-carbon-tax government, does Trudeau suppose he’ll stand a chance even holding what little he has now in Alberta in a federal election shortly afterward? And most importantly: Does any of those bode well for federal-provincial co-operation or national unity?