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LORNE GUNTER: Why the Liberals are getting unhinged on climate issues

Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, May 16, 2019.
Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, May 16, 2019.

Catherine McKenna, the federal Environment Minister, became unhinged in question period on Friday. It’s easy to understand why.

The Liberals’ eco-agenda is collapsing, even as the party’s war room plans to make more climate action – not less – a centrepiece of this October’s federal election campaign.

The federal carbon tax is unpopular with about two-thirds of voters. What’s more, it’s being applied unequally across the country.

Drivers in most Liberal-friendly provinces are paying less per litre than drivers in more Conservative provinces. For instance, Newfoundlanders are paying an emission tax that works out to less than half-a-cent per litre, while Albertans are paying 6.7 cents and Ontarians 4.4 cents, according to a study released this week by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF).

The broader implication of this uneven application is that it might help convince the Supreme Court to rule the carbon tax is unconstitutional.

You may remember that last month the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal narrowly upheld Ottawa’s right to impose the tax in part because, the court said, while Ottawa was imposing the tax directly in only four provinces it was nonetheless ensuring a minimum level of carbon tax was being applied across the country.

What the CTF has discovered is a patchwork of tax rates, some very much lower than Ottawa’s claimed minimum rate.

Then there was this week’s revolt by Senators against the Liberals’ tanker ban on the northern B.C. coast (Bill C-48) and the government’s development-stopping assessment law, Bill C-69. In a surprising move, Senate committees recommended the Senate as a whole defeat C-48 and severely gut C-69.

Those are two key pillars of the Libs’ environmental temple and both are in danger of being pulled down.

Another example of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s agenda coming apart came in reports this week that Ontario Liberal MPs were asked by party strategists to rank their highest campaign priorities in this fall’s election. Preventing climate change, which party brass rank as priority No. 1 or No. 2, came in just seventh on the MPs’ list, behind the economy, taxes and economic development.

No wonder Environment Minister McKenna shouted and screamed at the opposition Conservatives in the House of Commons on Friday. She even poked her index finger into the air with such force she had to throw her shoulders into each jab.

“We’ve got an emergency here and the party opposite is not telling the truth to Canadians” about the dire predictions of some scientists, McKenna raged. “Why don’t they step up for climate action? Why don’t they step up for the economy of the future and stop misleading Canadians?”

McKenna was nearly spitting with indignation, which seemed genuine but also completely unhinged.

The conundrum for the Liberals is that voters are abandoning them in droves as a result of all their scandals. So even as their environmental agenda is also running up against concerns from voters that it will kill the energy industry and stunt the environment, the Liberals are going to need environmental voters more than ever.

The core constituencies the Liberals are counting on to keep them in power – young voters, Quebecers and residents of Montreal, Ottawa, downtown Toronto and Vancouver – demand more climate action at the same time the broad stretch of middle-class voters seem to be wondering if the Libs have already gone too far.

The NDP, too, are going deeper “green” with leader Jagmeet Singh calling for a cancellation of the Trans Mountain expansion and withdrawing his previous support for LNG. And the Green Party appears to be building support among the very voters the Liberals need.

The pressure on the Liberals to do something dramatic against climate change – force through the tanker ban or block Trans Mountain – is going to be tremendous.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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