Feds are sending out carbon tax rebates to Canadians, but no one is noticing

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Most confused Canadians received the payment with no explanation. If they already receive direct deposit payments, the climate bonus arrived with a simple annotation: Climate Action Incentive Plan. Talk about a missed opportunity.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on January 22, 2024.

OTTAWA—Last week, 80 per cent of Canadians found a new year’s bonus us in their bank accounts.

The surprise deposit came from a quarterly rebate which is part of the federal government’s pollution pricing program to tackle climate change.

The numbers are impressive.

According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, the average family of four in Alberta received $386, followed by Saskatchewan with $340, and Newfoundland and Labrador at $328.

Manitobans received $264, with Nova Scotia, Ontario and Prince Edward Island netting $248, $244 and $240 respectively. New Brunswickers received $184.

That was a quarterly, tax-free payment from the Climate Action Incentive Program destined to buffer the adjustment to the price on carbon prompted by an effort to reduce greenhouse gases.

Most confused Canadians received the payment without any explanation.

If they are already receiving direct deposit payments, the climate bonus arrived with a simple annotation: Climate Action Incentive Plan.

Talk about a missed communications’ opportunity. Most Canadians don’t have an idea what CAIP is. Somebody in government should have been able to come up with a sexier moniker to explain the new price on pollution.

A name like POP, price on pollution, would have served to refute the Conservative claim that this is a carbon tax.

Most Canadians don’t make money from a tax.

But the rollout was so quiet that many people were calling their banks to find out whether a mistaken deposit had been made.

The silent deposits were a missed moment to refute the narrative that Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has been peddling all year on his carbon tax.

He may be using unorthodox methods like YouTube videos and other social outreach measures, but compare that to the work of the government.

Why did nobody even write a letter to all climate action recipients explaining the basics of why they were getting the money, and how it would help them offset increased costs associated with the price on pollution?

The supply chain is facing hikes in transportation costs which ultimately get transferred to the consumer. Fuel, especially home heating, is also facing a hit.

But a payment that in some cases will amount to more than $1,500 a year should ease the pain. Poilievre has promised to cancel this payment should he form government.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau brought some new faces into cabinet last fall, with the specific aim of upping the communications game.

He also brought in a new director of communications, which some saw as a signal that he was finally going to get serious in combatting the Conservative storyline.

Some new faces have been very successful in getting out their individual messages, but when a government is floundering in the polls, ministerial announcements simply won’t be enough to turn the tide.

Instead, the government needs to invest real cash in explaining to Canadians what is at stake.

We have a planet that is burning itself up by the use of fossil fuels, and governments around the world are working to try to reduce carbon consumption.

A price on pollution is the way that the Canadian government has chosen in an effort to move the dial toward carbon reduction.

The quarterly rebate is an attempt to protect more vulnerable Canadians from the financial hit they could face because of pollution pricing.

Everyone needs to do their part, but getting a quarterly cheque from the government is not a bad political move.

If a tree falls in the forest, and nobody hears, did it really fall?

If a payment goes into your bank account with no explanation, did the government really send it?

The fact that people had no idea how this money ended up in their bank accounts is proof positive that the Liberal communications strategy needs an enema.

Either the government gets serious about using paid means, including major advertising and direct communication with each taxpayer, or the Liberals might as well cede the next election.

They have a great story to tell. But the old way of ministerial announcements is outdated and ineffective.

In the last century, when families received the baby bonus cheque to help with family expenses, the payment went directly to women and was clearly marked “Baby Bonus.”

Pretty hard to mistake that payment. That was a program that people still remember.

Now is the time to POP the question. Are Canadians ready to help in the battle to put a Price on Pollution?

The answer is yes. But the question has not even been asked.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.