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LORNE GUNTER: Why campaigning on climate is riskier than the Liberals seem to think

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna.

I think climate change will be an issue in this fall’s federal election, just as the governing Liberals are hoping. I just don’t think it will be an issue in the way the Liberals want.

The Trudeauites are hoping concern for the environment will solidify the “progressive” vote behind them and enable them to hold on to power. If anything, they’ve recently upped their alarmist rhetoric on climate.

However, I think the Liberals’ carbon tax and their over-the-top hysteria, their economy-choking bills banning oil tankers from B.C.’s northern coast and making pipelines more difficult, will drive away more voters than they attract.

Instead of worrying whether the rise of the Green Party and the deepening environmentalism of NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh will steal votes, the Liberals should look at what happened last weekend in Australia.

On Saturday, the right-of-centre Liberal-National coalition defied all the pollsters and won a majority government.

The opposition, left-of-centre Labour party had made climate action the centre of its campaign, as the Liberals appear set to do in Canada’s general election this coming October. Labour castigated Liberal-National for getting rid of Australia’s carbon tax and for not taking drastic enough measures to reduce emissions and prevent climate change.

Instead of getting caught up in a bidding war on environmental concern, the Liberal-Nationals focussed on the economy, while giving a nod to climate change (in much the same way Andrew Scheer and Canada’s Conservatives are doing). They actually increased their seat total while moving from a minority government to a majority.

Recent poll results from Canada’s Angus Reid Institute indicate we may be headed for something similar here.

More than 40% of Canadians surveyed said “rising (gasoline) prices where I live have made it harder for me to afford necessities.”

That makes the Liberals’ proposed climate action agenda a pocketbook issue, which is almost always a vote loser for the party proposing to raise taxes or spend tax money to clean beaches. It’s like running campaign ads saying, “Pay more to save the planet, now!”

Voters might tell pollsters they want action to prevent global warming, but when that action includes taxing them to such a level that they have to decide between a family vacation or groceries versus gasoline for their daily commute, you can bet a lot of them will take out their frustration on eco-friendly parties.

Remember, too, that the vast majority of Canadians still rely on personal vehicles to get around. StatsCan and Angus Reid both show that over three-quarters of us drive daily.

As a nation, we’re not into biking to work in the middle of winter or crowding onto buses or trains. We might tell pollsters we’re OK with higher environmental taxes, but in reality they make us cranky when they hit is in our bank accounts and infringe on the way we want to live.

The temptation for the Trudeau Liberals will be to go even “greener” to keep the NDP and Greens from splitting the left-wing vote. But that then puts the Libs at odds with the suburban middle class.

The one ray of light for the Liberals is that while Conservative voters, Westerners and residents of smaller cities and rural areas believe higher gasoline prices recently are mostly caused by increased taxes, young voters, as well as voters in Montreal, downtown Toronto and Vancouver tend to blame greedy corporations.

That split might convince the Liberals to campaign on climate as planned. It might even encourage them to do something drastic, such as kill the Trans Mountain pipeline.

But Angus Reid also found half of Canadians think Trans Mountain would lower gasoline prices. That makes the pipeline as much a pocketbook issue as a climate issue, which makes meddling with Trans Mountain politically risky for Trudeau and his party.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019


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