Pierre Poilievre and Doug Ford ignore climate change

MONTREAL — Against the backdrop of the invasion of Ukraine and a domestic cost-of-living crisis, is climate change in danger of disappearing from Canada’s political radar?

If you were to ask the current federal government, the short answer would be a resounding no.

On paper, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged to make measurable progress in reducing Canada’s carbon footprint during his third and possibly final term.

He has appointed an environment minister with a proven track record of climate activism, and the plan Steven Guilbeault recently presented is the most ambitious in the country to date.

But the plan shines only against the anemic or non-existent policies pursued by Trudeau’s Liberal and Conservative predecessors.

As time becomes more and more pressing, it is difficult to see how the federal government could achieve its objectives without a heavy workload both at the provincial level and on Parliament Hill.

According to the series of reports that the federal environmental watchdog released a few days ago, it would take no less than a massive national effort on deck to achieve the goals that the Trudeau government has set for itself. for the country.

On this point, the political stars are aligned in the opposite direction.

Take the ongoing Federal Conservative leadership campaign. A year ago, almost to the day, then-federal Conservative leader Erin O’Toole crossed something of a Rubicon by introducing a climate plan that put a price on carbon for consumers.

O’Toole’s plan was too half-hearted to yield effective results, but it still amounted to a break with party orthodoxy and a major shift toward a more consensual, bipartisan approach to climate change politics.

One election later, one of the top priorities of the leading candidates to succeed O’Toole was to retreat behind the party’s anti-carbon-tax barricades.

Regardless of who ultimately leads the Conservatives in September, the party will pledge to turn the clock on climate policy back a decade to when the last Conservative federal government addressed a carbon price for consumers as an abomination and acted as an enabler for the pipeline. promoters.

For the many provincial governments on the conservative side of the spectrum, such an approach would likely be welcome.

As Canada’s two largest provinces prepare to go to the polls, favorites Quebec and Ontario are anything but climate warriors.

A few weeks before the adjournment of the National Assembly of Quebec for the summer and the elections in the fall, the government of Premier François Legault has just presented a roadmap which, at best, would not bring Quebec only halfway to its seven-year emissions reduction target.

In Ontario, the pre-election budget presented Thursday by Premier Doug Ford’s government included little more than a mention of climate change.

What the Ontario and Quebec incumbents have in common heading into their respective re-election campaigns is a determination to treat any climate change measure that might eat into voters’ pockets as a failure. So far, polls suggest this could be a winning strategy.

In Quebec, the election of October 3 is the defeat of Legault. The opposition is so weak and so divided that the Coalition Avenir Québec could return to the National Assembly next fall with up to 80% of the province’s seats.

The only Parti Québécois that has seen a significant improvement in its fortunes since the new year is the fledgling pro-pipeline provincial Conservative Party led by Pierre Poilievre’s crony, Éric Duhaime.

In Ontario, the Conservatives are also running for office with an advantage – albeit less than Legault’s – over the competition.

Meanwhile, an inflation-fueled affordability crisis has provided the federal Conservative Party with an opportunity to reframe its longstanding visceral rejection of carbon pricing as a consumer relief measure.

Similarly, the war in Ukraine allows pipeline advocates at the federal and provincial levels to rebrand their program as a patriotic necessity in support of Canada’s European allies, even though no project could see oil and gas flow through new pipelines as long as a decade.

According to a Nanos poll released this week, the Conservative Party has built a lead in voting intentions over the Trudeau Liberals. With a federal election possibly up to three years away, those numbers don’t bode well, but they do suggest that the rhetoric offered on the leadership campaign trail is finding a receptive audience.

If the main political players in Ontario, Quebec and the Conservative leadership are prepared to bet their future on the attenuation or disregard of Canada’s environmental ambitions, it is because they are convinced that when it comes to climate change, voters – or at least more than enough of them for their purpose – are not prepared to put their money where their mouths are. And there’s a good chance they’re right.

Chantal Hébert is a Montreal-based freelance columnist who covers politics for the Star. Contact her by email: [email protected] or follow her on Twitter: @ChantalHbert

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