With Canadians losing confidence in Trudeau, his legacy as Prime Minister hangs in the balance amid dwindling support and caucus unrest. Photo: SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANADIAN PRESS
Justin Trudeau is in trouble. His polling numbers are at rock bottom, his caucus is losing faith in him, and some don’t even want him as leader anymore. His legacy as Prime Minister is going down in flames.
Last month marked eight years since the Liberals swept across Canada to form a majority government. Since then, the tides have changed, and the Liberals have strung together two more minority governments. Now, it seems that Canadians have entirely lost their faith in the Prime Minister, and the possibility of another Liberal government is somewhere between slim and none.
Back in 2015, during the first mandate, the government was focused on improving the economy for the middle class and strengthening Canada’s environmental regulations. For the Prime Minister, he was going to hang his hat on how he reformed Canada’s environmental footprint while improving the lives of all Canadians.
During these years, the government’s favourite line was that “the economy and the environment go hand-in-hand.” It was said over and over again in question periods, press conferences, and interviews. If one were playing bingo, this talking point would be a free space it was so often.
Fast forwarding to the present day, this line has nearly been forgotten about. Maybe the government had a point, the economy and the environment go hand-in-hand as both seem to be in the toilet these days.
Cost of living, rising inflation and high-interest rates are the only things politicians can talk about these days. On the environmental front, the government has delivered several tough blows. Last month, the Supreme Court of Canada found the government’s Impact Assessment Act unconstitutional and required the federal government to find a solution.
Just last week, a Federal Court judge ruled that a federal government decision to list plastic items as toxic was “unreasonable and unconstitutional.” Meaning that Canadians could soon see the return of plastic straws, plastic cutlery, and plastic bags. However, the government is likely to appeal this decision to a higher court and battle out the law one last time.
The most significant blow to the government’s environmental agenda has been self-inflicted through the carbon tax exemption for heating oil in Atlantic Canada for the next three years. This has upset many caucus members, environmentalists, Liberal supporters, and everyday Canadians. The government has hurt itself by not extending the exemption outside of the East Coast or other forms of home heating.
A recent poll by Abacus Data found that 6 in 10 Canadians are aware of the exemption of home heating oil from the carbon tax. Awareness at this level for a government policy is quite high, and in Atlantic Canada, the awareness is even more heightened. Across Canada, the public’s reaction to the exemption is quite favourable, with 65% of Canadians saying it is a good idea.
The policy to exempt all home heating sources has broad support across Canada and political beliefs, making it a political winner for the government. An exemption for all could warm Canadians back up to the Liberals. The Abacus poll found that the new policy will help drive up support for the government from former Liberal voters and weaken support from current Conservatives and NDP supporters. That said, it does not create enough momentum for the government to stop the bleeding.
A simple solution is to respond to voters and expand the exemption. Instead, the Prime Minister and the Environmental Minister, Steven Guilbeault, have ruled this out. Guilbeault went as far as to say that there will be no more expectations of the carbon tax for as long as he is the Minister.
Given that the Senate is expected to vote, and likely pass, a Private Members Bill this week that would exempt farm fuels from the carbon tax, the Minister will once again be eating his own words. On the flip side, this could give him and the government the chance to do the right thing and offer relief to Canadians for heating their homes this winter.
If not, it could be a long and cold winter for the Prime Minister, his government, and even some Canadians.
Daniel Perry is a consultant with Summa Strategies Canada, one of the country’s leading public affairs firms. During the most recent federal election, he was a regular panelist on CBC’s Power and Politics and CTV Morning Ottawa.