Don Martin: Carbon tax coalition saves Trudeau

The political math never added up to an election this spring.

When one party is salivating for it, one is leery and the two parties in majority control of the House are scared to death of the voters’ wrath, there was zero chance of toppling Justin Trudeau’s minority government.

And so it came to pass on Thursday evening that the confidentially predictable failure of the Official Opposition non-confidence motion went down with 204 Liberal, BQ and NDP nays to 116 Conservative yeas.

But forcing Canada into a federal election campaign was never the point.

As Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre made clear Thursday, the real goal was to frame his party standing defiantly alone against the everyone-else tax hikers.

The NDP report to their Liberal “master,” he snapped, while Bloc Quebecois MPs merely parrot the government line as Quebec-centric Liberals.

For “true change, common sense change,” he thundered, voters have only a Conservative choice.

Well, smart stunt Pierre.

In one move, he has lumped the NDP, BQ and Liberals into an unpopular trio of tax-loving, inflation-boosting, unrepresentative, leader-whipped MPs who fail to feel the pain of the average voter.

And you can bet the Conservative push for an early election will continue and amplify as the carbon tax becomes increasingly toxic beyond the parliamentary precinct.

With experts predicting a gasoline price surge this summer even without the tax increase kicking in on April 1, carbon pricing will get a disproportionate share of public blame at the pump.

As premiers ramp up their resistance, provincial legislatures beyond Nova Scotia are likely to vote, probably unanimously, to demand the increase be scrubbed.

Even the NDP leadership race in Alberta has two candidates campaigning hard against the carbon tax while Ontario Liberal Leader Bonnie Crombie has vowed never to enact one if elected premier.

And the kicker was a report featuring new calculations from the Canadian Climate Institute think tank showing the consumer carbon tax could be replaced because it has a relatively small impact on emission reductions compared to industrial carbon pricing.

Amid all this negative noise, it’s somewhat surprising Justin Trudeau has made an unpopular and perhaps ineffective tax his hill to continue dying on. And pity the hapless NDP that has no choice but to cling to his leaky lifeboat in the raging deep Tory blue sea, which threatens to swallow them both up at the next ballot box.

It’s worth noting that the polls are so dauntingly bad that the Conservatives might want to brace for the possibility this partnership of desperation will push an election into the fifth year of this mandate, the better to delay a date with the executioner until October 2025.

That doesn’t mean the Conservatives will stop pounding the election drums, of course. You can already hear Poilievre drafting fundraiser slogans in the aftermath of this vote. He’ll undoubtedly declare there’s a three-party Carbon Tax Coalition blocking voters from a well-deserved referendum on axing a tax that’s bringing ruin and despair to millions of struggling, hungry, homeless Canadians.

It’s all hyperbole, but far from a stupid play.

In the two weeks before the increase kicks in with Parliament on (another) break, Poilievre has the field to himself as he races across the country to big crowds infected by already-high anti-carbon fever.

Poilievre’s version of the Harper plan

And he’ll use tax hike opposition to promote his version of the five-point plan Stephen Harper used in the party’s victorious 2006 campaign.

Harper promised a GST cut, open government, reduced health-care wait-times, a child-care benefit and a crime crackdown. Poilievre is echoing with a tax cut, a home-building frenzy, a fix for the fiscal mess and a crime crackdown.

It will likely be a wildly successful campaign, minus an election to actually justify calling it a campaign.

Trudeau, by contrast over the break weeks, will probably have to isolate himself to attending small fundraisers lest he be confronted by large event-cancelling protests. Increasingly, his itineraries seem to be limited to ‘no public events’ notifications.

Trudeau’s curious twist

And in refuting calls for a pause in carbon tax hikes, Trudeau’s taken a curious twist in the narrative by putting far less emphasis on it as an environmental initiative to selling it more as a wealth redistribution scheme where lower-income people get back more than they were taxed. To the average person that sounds more like the government playing a shell game with their money than comprehensive climate change action.

For as long as the NDP and Liberals share a cell on the voters’ death row, there will be no election on a carbon tax or anything else.

Safe from his government facing a non-confidence demise for the foreseeable future, Justin Trudeau can go back to being confident he’s going against public opinion and towards eventual defeat. 

That’s the bottom line. 

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