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.

One thought on “Are Canadians surrendering to climate change?”
  1. The ‘Canadian’ you recall, Bill, is long gone. It was transformed during the implementation of neoliberal globalism. Remember when Canada was widely respected as an “honest broker” working to snatch accommodation out of conflict or when the Canadian Armed Forces led the world in peacekeeping missions, a policy for which Mike Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize? Now we no longer have leaders but administrators, petit fonctionnaires, technocrats hobbled by investor dispute settlement courts that reject instruments of sovereignty on such things as environmental and labour policies that might offend some foreign company. I recently spoke to an old friend from Ottawa, a Conservative insider going all the way back to the Robert Stanfield era. We discussed leadership, more particularly its absence from federal politics. He said the A-List talent shuns Ottawa like a plague. It’s evident in the guys who fight for the job – Scheer, O’Toole and now Poilievre. O’Toole at least had an Air Force career and a business backing. Scheer and Poilievre suckled on the Conservative Party and bring neither business nor public service experience to the party. On the other side of the ledger we find Ignatieff, who turned out to be an ineffective flake and steered the Libs from Sussex Drive to Stornoway to Motel 6 out on the Gloucester Highway. He was succeeded by an even less accomplished guy who rode to power on a name he never lived up to. Political parties now pursue one objective above all else – gaining or retaining power. The public interest is well down their list of priorities. It’s a mess.

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