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PM rebuffs Poilievre's carbon tax non-confidence threat, setting stage for Thursday vote


Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is poised to move a motion of non-confidence in the prime minister with the aim of prompting a "carbon tax election," after Justin Trudeau affirmed he doesn't intend to back off the April 1 price hike.

Amid climate action groups imploring the Conservatives to stop scapegoating the carbon price to score political points, the prime minister embraced Poilievre's challenge during question period on Wednesday.

"An election on the price on pollution? We had three Mr. Speaker, and we won them all," Trudeau said.

"Then he shouldn't be afraid to have one more," Poilievre shot back.

Rallying his caucus on Parliament Hill on Wednesday morning, Poilievre spoke about his party's ongoing efforts to pressure the federal minority Liberals over their stance on pollution pricing.

"Today, I'm announcing that I'm giving Trudeau one last chance to spike his hike. One last chance and only one more day," Poilievre said. "If Trudeau does not declare today an end to his forthcoming tax increases on food, gas and heat, that we will introduce a motion of non-confidence in the prime minister."

After question period, there was a vote on Tuesday's opposition day motion that called on "the NDP-Liberal coalition to immediately cancel this hike," citing the "70 per cent of provinces and 70 per cent of Canadians" opposed to the 23 per cent increase to $80 from $65 per tonne of carbon emissions.

It failed to pass — with team Trudeau, as well as the Bloc, NDP and Green parties, rejecting the proposal — setting in motion what's expected to be a contentious debate on Thursday.

All week, emboldened by the growing cross-Canada resistance to the April 1 hike from premiers both Conservative and Liberal, Poilievre's party has been pressing Trudeau on the carbon price, including through a failed attempt to spark an emergency debate on the issue.

Now, with Trudeau rebuffing this request, and another opposition day and vote scheduled for Thursday, it appears the Conservatives are ready to up the ante, even if the move is unlikely to succeed.

Poilievre has given notice of intent to present a motion that reads in-part: "That the House declare non-confidence in the prime minister and his costly government ... and call for the House to be dissolved so Canadians can vote in a carbon tax election."

The parliamentary "confidence convention," as it is known, outlines an expectation that if a government is defeated on a question of confidence, it is expected to resign or seek the dissolution of Parliament in order for a general election to be held.

Though, since March 2021, the Liberals and New Democrats have been operating under a supply-and-confidence agreement designed to keep Trudeau's government in power until June 2025, in exchange for progress on NDP priorities.

The two-party deal requires the NDP to vote with the Liberals, essentially propping up their minority standing, on confidence motions such as motions of supply or money votes; motions declared by the government to be questions of confidence; and "explicitly worded motions which state that the House has, or has not, confidence in the government."

CPC 'looking for clips': Nanos

This is not the first time the federal Conservatives have threatened an attempt to bring down the Trudeau government.

In 2020, just 20 sitting days into the last Parliament, the party looked to table a motion of non-confidence, before backing away. 

It is also not the first time the party has called for a "carbon tax election."

In November, amid a week of heavy political scrutiny over Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's carbon-price carve-out for home heating oil, Poilievre called on Trudeau to pause the carbon tax on all home heating until Canadians go to the polls. 

At the time, the Liberals welcomed the idea of fighting the next election on the marquee pollution-pricing program, with Trudeau stating Canadians are "deeply concerned about the need to continue to fight climate change."

In the months since, the government has focused its communications around the reimbursement component of the carbon tax system, rebranding the climate incentive as the Canada Carbon Rebate.

Meanwhile, as Poilievre maintains what pollster Nik Nanos calls a "massive advantage" over the Liberals in the polls, the Official Opposition leader has been touring the country holding "spike the hike" and "axe the tax" political rallies.

"For the Conservatives, to have an election now would probably be very good news, and they're trying to put pressure and up the ante on the carbon tax, which is a key dividing line between the two parties," Nanos told CTV News on Wednesday.

Asked why he thinks the Conservatives are going this far, polling numbers in mind, Nanos suggested that Poilievre's camp is "looking for clips for their attack ads in the next federal election."

"What they do is draw out the prime minister and the Liberals to defend the tax, to show that they're not going to change anything. You can bet your bottom dollar they will be front and centre come the next election."

Climate groups decry politicking

The carbon tax and corresponding rebate system has been in effect since 2019. It applies a levy on greenhouse gas emissions, making it more expensive to burn fossil fuels, in an effort to encourage Canadians to change their habits.

The rebates are given to Canadians through direct deposit or cheque every three months, in provinces where the federal backstop system applies.

Amid the recent calls for him to climb down from the latest increase amid persisting cost-of-living concerns, Trudeau has taken the stance that the rebate returns more money to most Canadians than they pay in the carbon tax, while declaring his job is "not to be popular," but to do "the right things for Canadians a generation from now."

As Liberal MPs say they remain confident in the government's approach, noting they ran and were elected on a pledge to lower emissions and tackle climate change, they also point out that in provinces where the federal backstop is in place, it is typically because the provincial plan didn't meet the national standard.

Echoing this, in a joint statement issued Wednesday reacting to Poilievre's carbon tax gambit, a series of high-profile climate groups, including Climate Action Network Canada and Greenpeace Canada, panned the attacks on the carbon price as undermining "Canada's climate plan as a whole, forcing everyday Canadians to shoulder the burden of both the affordability and climate crises."




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