Singh Changes Carbon Tax Stance, Criticizes Trudeau’s Climate Policy

Singh Changes Carbon Tax Stance, Criticizes Trudeau’s Climate Policy
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh delivers a speech at a three-day caucus retreat in Ottawa, on Jan. 18, 2023. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Jennifer Cowan

Jagmeet Singh is distancing the federal New Democrats from the Liberal government’s heavily criticized carbon-pricing policy, saying the much debated consumer tax is not a necessity to address climate change.

The NDP leader’s seeming about-face on the issue was highlighted during a speech he delivered at the Broadbent Institute’s annual policy conference in Ottawa on April 11.

He described the Liberal carbon-pricing plan as divisive, adding that it is targeting the wrong demographic.

“Fighting the climate crisis … can’t be done by letting working people, by letting working families, bear the cost of climate change while big polluters make bigger and bigger profits,” he said.

“Justin Trudeau has divided Canadians on who pays the cost of fighting it. He doesn’t see the climate crisis as an opportunity to unite us to take on this threat, he sees it as a political wedge. He gives exemptions where he wants to buy votes and he hands out taxpayer funded subsidies to big polluters.”

He spent considerable time during his speech and the press conference afterward criticizing both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for his consumer carbon-pricing system and accusing Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre of not having a climate change plan.

Despite his criticism of Mr. Trudeau’s methods, which included the 23 percent carbon-pricing increase on April 1, from $65 to $80 per tonne of emissions, Mr. Singh was vague about his own plan to tackle the issue.

Mr. Singh acknowledged his party doesn’t have its “full plan laid out,” but told reporters after his speech that it would include “big polluters paying their fair share” and building “unity with working people.”

Placing an industrial price on pollution would be part of his party’s overall climate change plan, Mr. Singh added during the press conference, but didn’t offer specifics on how his party would implement that price if elected.

“I want to carve out a different path, a New Democrat path. One that acknowledges working people and acknowledges the need for fighting the climate crisis,” he said when questioned again about his climate action plan.

Position Switch

Public opinion polls show Mr. Poilievre’s affordability message has been resonating with voters, particularly among those 35 and younger, as well as with those who identify as working-class Canadians—two demographics that have long been key sources of NDP support.

Under Mr. Poilievre, the Tories have been targeting NDP ridings, especially vulnerable ones in British Columbia and northern Ontario.

A January survey found 26 percent of NDP voters described the tax as “bad.” By April, support for the carbon tax among NDP voters appeared to be on the decline, with the number of NDP supporters against the carbon tax jumping to 36 percent, according to The Toronto Star.

NDP support for carbon pricing dates back to the 2015 election campaign, when the party’s platform included a country-wide cap-and-trade system. The New Democrats maintained their support for the Liberals’ consumer carbon levy during the 2019 and 2021 campaigns as well.

One of the biggest signals of the change in position was the NDP decision to vote in favour of a non-binding Conservative motion earlier this week demanding the prime minister host a televised meeting with the country’s premiers on the carbon tax within five weeks.

NDP critic for environment and climate change Laurel Collins told reporters on April 10 that the NDP decided to support the motion “in the spirit of collaboration.”

“Bringing the premiers together with the federal government to have a conversation about climate policy, that is a supportable idea,” she said.

“Canadians want to see their politicians trying to work out their differences and there are differences between the provinces and the federal government.”

Ms. Collins told reporters the NDP still believes carbon pricing is essential to climate policy, but criticized carbon pricing on consumers, saying the policy should focus more heavily on industry.

The federal carbon tax is the price placed on the carbon content of fuels to reduce CO2 emissions. It is applied across the country except in British Columbia, Quebec, and the Northwest Territories where they collect their own fuel tax.

Carbon pricing kicked off at $20 per tonne in 2019 and will increase by $15 each year until it eventually reaches $170 per tonne in 2030. Ottawa has described the tax as a necessity to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The Canadian Press contributed to this report.