Timing is everything in politics. Four months ago, the election question would have been on trust, mistrust of the prime minister because of his handling of the SNC-Lavalin request for a deferred prosecution agreement. Not anymore.
By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on July 15, 2019.
OTTAWA—Timing is everything in politics.
And the lifespan of a political trajectory is about six months.
Bluntly put, if the cabinet exit by Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott had occurred this month, the Liberal election goose would have been cooked.
The government would have had too little time to turn around negative public reaction to the loss of two high-profile women ministers.
In the fullness of time, people forget about internal party feuds and bloodbaths. They make voting decisions based on the future. They also mark their ballot based on their own economic self-interest.
In the olden days, the Conservative carbon tax mantra would have carried that day. A hike in gas prices used to be the line that politicians crossed at their peril.
Back in 1979, the short-lived government of prime minister Joe Clark fell when finance minister John Crosbie introduced an 18-cent a gallon excise tax on gas.
His budget was voted down, and leaderless Liberals convinced prime minister Pierre Trudeau back from retirement to win another four-year mandate that ended in 1984.
The next politician who dared to tackle the issue of carbon pricing was Liberal leader Stéphane Dion, who launched a bold election platform called the Green Shift, less than four months before the 2008 election.
Conservatives attacked the plan with the same vehemence they are now reserving for the current Liberal carbon-pricing plan.
Pre-election Conservative advertising was effective in caricaturing Dion’s geeky leadership style and Stephen Harper eked out a minority government.
But that election also saw the edges starting to fray around the Conservative anti-environmental message.
Jack Layton’s orange crush fell short of lapping the Liberals, but the New Democratic leader’s surge deprived the Conservatives of a majority.
More than a decade later, the sides on this environmental fight have not changed much. But the population has.
Multiple examples of extreme climate change have convinced Canadians that the warming of the planet is real, and caused by human activity.
Spring flooding gripped Eastern Canada this spring and the ongoing risk is so great that the Insurance Bureau of Canada is calling for an integration of flood planning into the National Emergency Plan. The bureau is recommending government support for homes in flood-prone zones to be raised or relocated. The bureau is also proposing a change in land use planning rules to ban all construction projects on identified flood plains.
Summer fire evacuations are becoming the norm. Just last week roughly 4,350 residents from two northern Ontario communities, Pikangikum First Nation and Keewayin, were airlifted to safety. That follows similar evacuations this year in British Columbia, Alberta, and Manitoba.
People can’t forget the most destructive wildfire in Alberta’s history, which displaced 88,000 people and razed the town of Fort McMurray.
More than a decade ago, these predicted catastrophic events had not become the norm.
Now, even the most hardened anti-environmentalist is usually not a climate change denier, at least not in Canada.
Canadians understand that while there is certainly a cost in pricing carbon, there is also a bigger cost in doing nothing.
A study released last week by EnviroEconomics and Canadians for Clean Prosperity says the Conservative climate plan would reverse Canada’s greenhouse gas reductions and cost the average household $295 in provinces where the federal government is backstopping the provincial refusal to price carbon.
Tories are banking on the fact that, according to a recent CBC poll, most Canadians do not want to be personally out-of-pocket more than $100 to fight climate change.
But the more Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer aligns himself with provincial leaders like Jason Kenney and Doug Ford, the more his party’s numbers are dropping in the polls. Liberal numbers are on the rise.
Kenney cannot lose in Alberta by playing to his base, but he risks losing the rest of the country. His recent decision to hold McCarthyesque hearings into foreign environmental influences, coupled with the multiple unsuccessful carbon pricing court challenges, have caught people’s attention and not in a good way.
The general consensus is that the Liberal government has a serious plan to price carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Critics on the left say the government is doing too little too late.
Four months ago, the election question would have been on trust, mistrust of the prime minister because of his handling of the SNC-Lavalin request for a deferred prosecution agreement.
Now the composition of the next Parliament will depend on how much Canadians are willing to nurture the health of our ailing planet.
Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.