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Don Martin: How a beer break may have doomed the carbon tax hike


The countdown is on. It’s 17 days until the next potential capitulation by a government trying to plug the drain that’s sucking its re-election into a death spiral.

Expect the carbon tax boost set for April Fool’s Day to be axed, notwithstanding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s stand-firm-until-I-change-my-mind position Wednesday. And you can credit beer for the move.

When Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland chopped a planned beer excise tax hike to two per cent from 4.5 per cent and froze future increases until after the next election, it almost guaranteed a similar carbon tax move in the offing.

There is simply no political calculus which would allow a freefalling government to reduce beer taxation while maintaining a significant tax boost on gasoline and natural gas which inflates the cost of trucking groceries to stores and heating our homes.

A flipflop is particularly predictable for this federal government, which has proven over and over that it has the spinal fortitude of a rubber band and the moral compass of a weather vane.

Punting any and everything with the slightest whiff of poll-dropping controversy until after the 2025 election has now become this government’s modus operandi.

Be it implementing recommended Emergency Act changes, buying back banned firearms or expanding eligibility for medically-assisted dying -- and that’s just the inaction list from the last few months -- it all gets barge-poled away from the government’s toxic record in the vain hope it will change the electoral outcome.

Even the simple straightforward act of appointing judges from the hands-up lineup of lower court judges and esteemed lawyers has proven too much for this government. The result of leaving so many vacancies on the bench is to watch the infuriating injustice of potential criminals walking away without facing a trial deemed to be excessively delayed.

But I digress.

This is Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre’s defining cause and his crusade will soon be bolstered when his overflowing election warchest buys air time to amplify his carbon tax condemnation on television.

And while Poilievre’s been attracting big crowds for a while now, the estimated crowd of 3,000 who showed up for his axe-the-tax rally in the Liberal bedrock of Etobicoke last weekend should be enough for Trudeau to feel heavy footsteps on his future grave.

So, sure, surrendering to Poilievre pressure may be perceived more as a Conservative victory than Liberal empathy for hard-pressed Canadians.

But failing to axe a tax which will add 3.5 cents to a litre at the pump and boost natural gas prices by 3 cents per cubic metre overnight will place the voter’s axe on a hundred Liberal MP necks awaiting the next election, some who lack the requisite six years of service to qualify for a platinum pension.

The Trudeau communications strategy would have to pitch the backtrack as bowing to the combined heft of angry premiers, including lone Liberal Premier Andrew Furey of Newfoundland and Labrador, who are campaigning against the tax jump.

Energy and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, right, looks on as Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey responds to a question during an event, Dec. 6, 2023 in Ottawa (Adrian Wyld / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

That would signal that a half-dozen premiers have at least matched the influence of the well-connected lobbyists who won the beer tax break, although with this government you can never be sure who drives the agenda.

But to watch how quickly the government sold its soul in Atlantic Canada by removing the carbon tax on home heating oil last year suggests it’s only a matter of weeks before his government ditches the carbon tax increase.

Trudeau may note that Liberal polling popularity only went down in the region to reward this magnanimous collapse of policy principle.

And it may mean Environment Minister Stephen Guilbeault can’t stomach another reputational shredding and quit the cabinet, a move which should be encouraged by Trudeau to help national unity generally and boost Liberal fortunes specifically.

But as unrelenting pressure to defer the carbon tax mounts, expect the prime minister to say he listened to premiers and will cap or defer the hike until after the next election when, if polls persist in their current trajectory, it will mean it’s axed by the Conservative government in any event.

For that modest break, or even if they surprise me and stick with the planned carbon tax boost, voters might pause to raise a glass of lower-taxed suds to toast a flailing government as it gurgles down the drain.

That’s the bottom line.




opinion Don Martin: How a beer break may have doomed the carbon tax hike

When the Liberal government chopped a planned beer excise tax hike to two per cent from 4.5 per cent and froze future increases until after the next election, says political columnist Don Martin, it almost guaranteed a similar carbon tax move in the offing. Top Stories

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