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Premiers making 'political hay' out of carbon pricing increase, Trudeau says

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says premiers would rather complain and “make political hay” out of his federal carbon pricing program than present an alternative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Trudeau made the remarks after Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey wrote a letter urging him to convene an “emergency meeting of leaders” to discuss options.

Furey is among seven provincial leaders who wanted Trudeau to forgo a planned $15-per-tonne increase in the federal consumer carbon price, which went into effect Monday.

Many of them have long opposed any carbon levy, but say the affordability crisis plaguing Canadians is reason enough not to increase it further.

But Trudeau says the increase will also mean larger rebates, which families are set to receive beginning April 15 to help offset the higher cost of fuel.

He says the premiers have failed to propose any alternatives, and would rather just complain and “make political hay” out of the issue.

In his letter to Trudeau, shared on social media, Furey defended the actions taken by his province to date to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

“The threat of climate change is pressing,” he wrote. “There is wide consensus that decarbonization is imperative; no serious counter-arguments remain. The only question is how best, at this time, to do so.”

He says the federal government is going to have to make a “larger strategic investment” if it hopes to have “any meaningful impact” on Canada's carbon output.

In the days prior to Monday's increase, the four Atlantic premiers, as well as their counterparts in Saskatchewan, Alberta and Ontario, asked Trudeau to rethink the plan.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, who last week testified before a parliamentary committee about his opposition to the increase, tweeted Monday that the only way to prevent future increases is a change in government.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, who is riding high over the Liberals in public opinion polls, has challenged Trudeau to make the next federal vote a “carbon tax election.” The next federal election must take place on or before Oct. 20, 2025.

Poilievre has also spent the last month hosting “axe the tax” rallies across the country with the same message. He was to hold a news conference Monday in Nanaimo, B.C., before an evening rally.

At around noon Monday, dozens of people were gathered on Parliament Hill, some waving “axe the tax” signs, while others draped themselves in Canadian flags or expletive-laced messages about the prime minister.

Protesters temporarily blocked the Trans-Canada Highway linking Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

TV reports showed demonstrators near Aulac, N.B., carrying signs that read, “Axe the tax,” and “Trudeau must go.”

One eastbound lane was open for commercial vehicles only, and one westbound lane had reopened to all traffic, but motorists travelling between the two provinces were advised to expect delays, according to the New Brunswick RCMP.

Trudeau and other carbon pricing proponents say critics are ignoring the fact that Canadian families receive quarterly rebate cheques, which are more generous to low-income households, to help them offset the upfront costs.

They also point to the costs climate change has imposed on Canadians through disasters such as wildfires or floods.

Last week, some 200 economists and academics from universities across the country released an open letter defending carbon pricing as the most low-cost way to reduce emissions, as opposed to imposing stricter regulations.

The Liberal party circulated a petition on social media Monday accusing Poilievre of wanting to slash the rebate cheques, which range from $760 to nearly $1,800 per year, depending on where the recipient lives.

Trudeau has accused conservative premiers of lying about the policy's effect on inflation and challenged his provincial critics to present alternative plans to reduce emissions.

For months, he and his ministers have been struggling to find support for the years-old policy as Canadians find themselves paying higher food and housing prices, and Poilievre aggressively campaigns against the carbon price.

In February, the federal government rebranded the payments Canadians receive as the “Canada Carbon Rebate” from the “Climate Action Incentive” in an effort to boost support for the policy.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 1, 2024.

-- With files from Lyndsay Armstrong in Halifax

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