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Don Martin: It's flip-flop or die as Trudeau retreats on universal carbon pricing

Panic has set in.

With this week’s flip-flop lifting carbon pricing for heating oil until 2027 (pushing increases beyond the next election) and a doubling of the rural tax rebate, the severely rattled Liberals are chipping away at the load-bearing wall beneath their environmental platform.

The change raises questions about the two cornerstones of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s carbon pricing policy. It suggests the cost is indeed becoming a financial burden to average Canadians and, by boosting the rebate, the government seems to admit its plan was not revenue-neutral.

There is logic to the announced changes, which will largely benefit Atlantic Canadians. Homeowners there are uniquely dependent on oil for home heating and have few mass transit options for getting around.

But there’s no easy way to ignore the gall in Trudeau aiming this tax break and rebate squarely at the East Coast Liberal stronghold where polling numbers are palliative for his incumbent MPs.

The most jaw-dropping explanation for this policy softening is Trudeau insisting it represents a “doubling down” of his government’s commitment to fight climate change.

Huh? Either Trudeau doesn’t understand that "doubling down" and "watering down" are not synonymous or he’s deliberately misleading Canadians. Either way is not a good look.

And it goes straight to the heart of a prime minister’s character when, after eight years of selling carbon pricing for all while demonizing those who dare question it as knuckle-dragging climate change deniers, he’s suddenly open to poll-driven exemptions in voter regions of Liberal importance.

As commentator Chantal Hebert notes, this surprise retreat would be akin to former prime minister Brian Mulroney, having picked up the smell of death hovering over his government, suddenly trying to save his skin by ending the GST in a bid to win the 1993 election.

Mulroney, to his credit, opted to keep the GST and quit as leader the year before his Conservative party was reduced to electoral rubble under Kim Campbell.

Trudeau has taken a polar opposite approach by sacrificing parts of a very unpopular policy while stubbornly sticking around as leader.

That doesn’t mean a Liberal decimation election result won’t still happen.

Atlantic Canadians might not re-embrace the Liberals just because crass geographical politics delivered them a $250 tax break. Judging by the large Maritime crowds at meet-and-greet events for Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, many voters have already shifted their Liberal loyalties.

Carbon pricing is either a solid environmental position imposed equally on all fossil-fuel-burning Canadians or it’s a policy plaything for Trudeau to use as a carrot or a stick, depending on which voters he needs to win over.

By taking a universal tax on pollution and targeting exemptions on electorally-important voters, the Liberals have slapped this sacred cow on the barbecue of political expediency.

That leaves them under the leadership of a prime minister putting policy principle behind self-interest while following a moral compass that only points in the direction of re-election.

That’s the bottom line.



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