OTTAWA — At the start of the movie The American President, the chief domestic policy advisor is trying to convince President Andrew Shepherd to use his sky-high 63-per-cent approval rating to push through unpopular regulations on handguns.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/10/2016 (1805 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Opinion

OTTAWA — At the start of the movie The American President, the chief domestic policy advisor is trying to convince President Andrew Shepherd to use his sky-high 63-per-cent approval rating to push through unpopular regulations on handguns.

"Sir, we may never have an opportunity like this again," he says. "Let's take this 63 per cent out for a spin and see what it can do."

With the Conservatives and the NDP embroiled in leadership contests and lacking clear policy direction, Trudeau is in a similar position to the fictitious Shepherd. Nanos this week said 70 per cent of Canadians think Trudeau has good leadership skills and 48 per cent would vote for him if an election were held today.

So this week, Trudeau took that approval rating out for a spin.

On Monday, Trudeau told the House of Commons that any provinces that don't have some form of a carbon price in place by 2018 will have one imposed upon them.

Any money generated from the new carbon price will remain in the province it is generated in, and be used by that provincial government however it wants, whether that is to cut taxes, pay down debt or invest in things such as infrastructure or green energy.

The reaction from Trudeau's opponents was swift and entirely predictable. Conservative environment critic Ed Fast flew onto his feet to accuse Trudeau of "lowering the boom" with a "massive carbon tax grab."

On the other side, NDP leader Tom Mulcair, whose 2015 campaign included a pledge to impose a nationwide cap-and-trade system, was shouting Trudeau's plan was weak and a "betrayal" of the next generation. So, in come the Liberals up the middle, looking measured and reasonable, with room in their polling numbers to take a hit from the shrinking number of Canadians who don't like it.

Public sentiment has shifted in recent years in favour of curbing emissions and carbon pricing. More than a third of the population already has a price on carbon, with B.C.'s carbon tax and Quebec's cap-and-trade system which were implemented in 2008 and 2013, respectively. On Jan. 1 that will rise to 86 per cent when Alberta's new carbon tax and Ontario's cap-and-trade system start up.

The Manitoba government is being guided by David McLaughlin, former chief of staff to prime minister Brian Mulroney, who spent five years as the Stephen Harper-appointed president of the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy. McLaughlin is a well-known advocate of a carbon tax (in fact, the roundtable was shut down by the former Conservative government because it advocated too often for a carbon tax). Manitoba will now be able to implement the tax as previously planned, but blame any fallout on Trudeau. So, Premier Brian Pallister was pretty happy with Trudeau's actions this week.

That leaves five provinces representing less than 10 per cent of the population. Several are screaming mad at Trudeau, with Saskatchewan's Brad Wall the loudest of the angry mob.

But they are on the losing end of a trajectory towards carbon pricing. Anyone even half-listening to either Trudeau or McKenna for the last year knew this was the route they were taking. They could have handled it more diplomatically — the provinces found out on Monday at the same time as everyone else — and will have to make some amends with the premiers when Trudeau meets them in Ottawa in December.

If British Columbia's example is followed, many skeptics will be won over. In B.C., all revenues from the carbon tax were more than offset by income tax cuts, and polls suggest most British Columbians are perfectly happy with the tax now.

University of Ottawa environmental law professor Stewart Elgie says B.C. has done better at cutting emissions than the rest of the country, the use of fuels covered by the tax is down sharply, and the economy has actually done better on average than the rest of the Canada. A carbon tax, Elgie says, hasn't necessarily helped the economy, but it certainly has not been the economic doomsday naysayers predicted.

With the federal tax imposed being gradually increased, and if provinces offset the hit with investments, tax cuts and help for low-income families, the result across the country should mirror that in B.C.

For the first year of his mandate, Justin Trudeau was easily accused of not doing a heck of a lot. Now he finally made a big move. Few can accuse him of being a do-nothing prime minister any more.

 

Mia Rabson is the Winnipeg Free Press parliamentary bureau chief.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mrabson