The big election winner? The carbon tax

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Carbon taxes have been under siege in recent years in parts of the country, particularly with the election of premiers Doug Ford and Jason Kenney, who both campaigned hard on fighting the policy.

To this day, the only way Alberta’s Kenney describes carbon pricing is as the “job-killing” carbon tax.

Despite the sharp rhetoric and some signs of electoral momentum against a carbon tax, Monday’s federal election results suggest a different mood among many Canadians. 

We learned that a large majority of Canadians support political parties that promote a carbon tax, in one form or another. Roughly two-thirds of voters marked an “X” by the name of a Liberal, NDP, Green or Bloc Québécois candidate.

So, while some political parties had good results on Monday — the Liberals and the Bloc, for example — the big winner was the carbon tax.

Stephen Carter, who has managed municipal, provincial and federal campaigns, said the Conservatives couldn’t make gains in key parts of the country because they lacked a robust carbon pricing policy, while the Liberals should have put greater emphasis on theirs.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Grégoire Trudeau wave as they take the stage at Liberal election headquarters in Montreal after the votes were counted. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

“I think one of the reasons the Liberals didn’t win bigger is because they didn’t emphasize their support for the environment in the last five days of the campaign, when a lot of people were making up their minds, and that gave permission for a lot of Canadians to move to the Greens and the New Democrats.”

There are many reasons why a vote is cast for one party or another, but the environment seemed to be a top issue from the campaign’s start to voting day.

Carter went so far as to call it the “climate change election.”

Varying degrees of a carbon tax

The Liberals introduced the country’s first national carbon tax on greenhouse gas-emitting fuels earlier this year, but faced pressures on how high to raise it.

On one hand, environmental advocates wanted to see it escalate enough to help the country reach its carbon emission reduction targets and spur more change in society away from fossil fuels.

But the Liberals also faced critics who complained about the added expense of the carbon tax on Canadians, even though much of it would be rebated. The escalating cost of living was also a key issue during the campaign.

The NDP, Greens and Bloc all supported a carbon tax rate that’s higher than what the Liberals propose.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is greeted by cheers from supporters in Regina on election night. Scheer came up short in his attempt to unseat Trudeau as prime minister. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

The Conservatives pledged a carbon tax of their own, but only on heavy emitters, such as some oilsands facilities, manufacturing centres and power plants. The party’s environmental plan was criticized as the weakest of the bunch, and may have contributed to the Conservatives’ failure to capitalize on the many stumbles of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau during the campaign.

Experts say Sheer should have been ahead in the race — much further ahead.

“Andrew Scheer ran without a climate plan,” said Duane Bratt, a political science instructor at Calgary’s Mount Royal University.

“[The Conservatives] better wrap their heads around that. This issue is not disappearing, so if they want to regain power, whether that’s two years, three years, four years, six months, they better come up with a real climate plan.”

Political science instructor Duane Bratt of Mount Royal University says the lack of proposed action on climate change hurt the Conservative Party’s campaign performance. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

The Conservatives captured about 33 per cent of the vote in Ontario and about 16 per cent in Quebec, the two vote-rich provinces that play a crucial role in deciding who governs the country.

Provincial battles rage on

Regardless of Monday’s result, the fight against the carbon tax continues.

Some provincial leaders will continue to hammer home their message about how destructive the policy is for the economy.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe lost his constitutional challenge of the federal carbon tax, but has appealed to the Supreme Court to weigh in. The hearing is set for January.

Even if the courts continue to rule in favour of the federal government, the political opposition will remain.

In a letter released on Tuesday morning, Moe urged Trudeau to cancel the federal carbon tax “right away.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford may have a different tone. Before Monday’s vote, Ford said he would have to reassess Ontario’s position on launching its own court challenge, depending on the election result.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs was quick to signal on Tuesday he’ll look at how to comply with the Trudeau government’s federal climate plan.

“I will,” Higgs said. “I can’t ignore the obvious here. The country has spoken.”

Green Leader Elizabeth May and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau marched in Montreal’s climate rally, while the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh marched in Vancouver. Andrew Scheer spent the day promising to prioritize infrastructure projects in federal spending. 2:02

During the campaign, Scheer said he not only planned to scrap the federal carbon tax, but he argued broad-based carbon levies don’t work. He pointed to B.C. as an example. 

It is true that B.C.’s emissions have remained flat since its carbon tax was introduced a decade ago, but over the same period, the province’s economy grew by 23 per cent and the population increased by 17 per cent. That suggests the carbon tax is achieving lower emissions per capita.

On Monday night, many of the parties had hoped for a better outcome.

The only landslide victor, though, was carbon tax policy.

While an anti-carbon tax campaign has worked for some provincial leaders in recent years, it fell flat for Scheer on the national stage.

“The lack of action in the campaign on climate really contributed to the defeat of the Conservatives,” Bratt said.

“Canadians spoke quite clearly.”



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