Maybe federal Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre is on to something. He shows little interest in the overarching issue of the day—climate change—while trashing the carbon tax, a key instrument in dealing with it. And the popularity of his party continues to grow. The Conservatives now lead the Liberals by 11 points in the polls, majority government territory.
Perhaps Poilievre can trash the tax simply because Canadians are giving up on it. According to a recent Angus Reid survey, a plurality of Canadians (42 percent) now want the tax to be abolished outright. Seventeen per cent would lower it temporarily, one-quarter would hold off on any increases, and only 15 percent say it should continue as planned.
A number of reasons present themselves to explain the lack of support. A big one is the new financial environment. The high rate of inflation has created cost of living concern and altered a lot of Canadians’ priorities. Many simply think the tax is ineffectual in reducing emissions while others don’t believe they are getting back in rebates what they pay.
Even the unpopularity of the prime minister could have an effect, given that it’s one of his signature policies. Most voters, including many in his own party, feel he should step down before the next election. Even among Liberal voters it’s 50-50 as to whether he should stay or go. (Of course Poilievre isn’t all that popular either with barely one out of three voters viewing him favourably.)
Perhaps it’s largely a failure to communicate. Angus Reid found a profound lack of awareness about the program and misconceptions about how much tax people believe they pay. Apparently improved communication would help.
Maybe, but the survey also showed a steady decline in interest in climate change as a whole. The proportion of Canadians saying climate change is among the top issues facing the country has dropped from 40 percent in 2019, to 34 percent in 2021, to 22 percent in the latest survey.
This is not encouraging. Dealing with climate change is the biggest challenge of our times. And to most economists, putting a price on greenhouse-gas emissions is the best way to tackle it. The tax is efficient—the cheapest units of carbon-dioxide equivalent can be identified; and it is fair—polluters pay while the proceeds can be redistributed. And it forces companies to track their emissions and investors to work out which of their assets are the dirtiest.
In 2019, over 3,500 economists, including 28 Nobel laureates, signed the Economists’ Statement on Carbon Dividends in support of carbon pricing, the largest public statement in the history of the economics profession.
Canadians are, by and large, a sensible people. I would hate to think we’re abandoning our sensible nature on the major issue of the age and at a time when it couldn’t be needed more. Unfortunately, electing Poilievre and his fellow climate change slackers would suggest we have done just that.