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Crisis Of Carbon
On The Carbon Tax Exemption
As an electoral strategy, pissing off people who aren’t going to vote for you isn’t the worst idea in the world.
If the Liberals lose 15 seats in Atlantic Canada – which is the kind of result that current polling points to, and that would make sense given the (all together now) Global Fucking Realignment – the Carbon Tax is dead. This isn’t said happily, but the Tories will win at least a half dozen seats off the NDP in regional BC, and even without a single LPC to CPC loss in Ontario, that would be government for the Tories. Obviously, the idea the Liberals would lose 15 seats in Atlantic Canada and hold everything in Ontario is absurd, but it illustrates the point – holding out east is a necessary but not sufficient part of winning the next election, and so the Liberals threw the East a bone.
Whether it’s smart policy I’ll leave to others - though it’s fair to remember this is a policy carveout for 3% of this country – but the claims it’ll be a political disaster for the government seem self-evidently stupid. The idea this will hurt the government at an eventual election seems to rest on some fanciful notion that voters in places that matter electorally will be offended on behalf of the Prairies, and enact a price in absentia. The problem is, of course, that this is a fiction.
Remember when Doug Ford reimbursed the cost of new license plate stickers and car registration right before the 2022 election in a blatant attempt to bribe the electorate? I remember it well, a chorus of well intentioned people (including myself, I’m pretty sure) said that it would backfire, because voters who benefitted from it wouldn’t be bought, and those who didn’t own would remember it.
It ended up being a nothing burger, an issue the Opposition tried to make into something but the voters couldn’t be persuaded to care. They cashed the checks willingly and never gave it another thought. And that’s what voters will do, on masse. Some voters will see their bills come down, most won’t, and maybe this brings 5% of the Atlantic back from the CPC to the LPC. Whether that’s enough to justify breaking the informal promise of the carbon tax, that it applies everywhere, is up for debate. But I really don’t think anyone finds that principle important.
There is this weird oscillation between people thinking that the small shit will hurt this government and a (correct, IMO) understanding that the only thing that matters is whether housing starts are up and rate cuts happen between now and the election. I say it’s weird, but the thing is, it’s not, because it’s a lot of bad faith actors at right wing publications pretending that Justin Trudeau has just committed treason by doing for the East Coast a fraction of what he did for Alberta by, say, buying a fucking pipeline
I get the anger from some on the left, especially those who have given their lives to the cause of climate action and good governance. I get the anger, and do not think they should have to accept “but the polls” as a mollification of their anger. But I do think those of us who accept that this is a political move and can judge it accordingly have a right to point out that governments always protect their own flank, and that the over the top denouncements are absurd in that context.
What we’re seeing right now is a world that feels like it’s falling apart on us – be it the end of a generation of cheap money, wars on two fronts, the consequences of failing to build housing, the instability to our south, and obviously yearly climate disasters – and so we’re grasping for control where it feels impossible. We’re prone to like clear answers to difficult questions, which is why we default to the Great Man theory of history so often, and look for the One Neat Trick school of answers to complex problems.
We’re all guilty of selecting choosing when we care about context – supporters of this Prime Minister would argue that anyone would have fucked up at times, given the totality of things he’s had to go through, but that defence is also true of Stephen Harper and yet none of the people who make it for Trudeau would make it about Sweater Vest Stephen.
It’s frustrating because the carbon tax exemption can just be what it is – a fairly transparent attempt to bribe the east coast to try and save a dozen seats. It doesn’t have to elicit all of this other bullshit, but the commentariat and Twitter have decided this is a dead government so everything must be analyzed through one lens. It’s a bad, rote argument where everything is proof the Liberals are dying. If they u-turn, they’re weak and reversing because of the polls, if they stay stubborn it’s proof they’re out of touch and tin eared. It’d be fucking nauseating if it wasn’t so fucking pathetic.
You can think this is just defence of a government I like all you want, but spoiler alert: everything I’ve said also applies to the wishful thinking of much of the left about Doug Ford. The story of modern politics is that the cake is baked later and later, memories are shorter and shorter, and yet we still pretend that governments are dead years before elections. And we use bullshit like this to pretend that the Liberals didn’t back down on pretty substantial taxation changes for small and medium businesses in the majority Parliament because of one backbencher causing a stink.
For some, the carbon tax reversal will be seen as a pivotal moment in the story of this Parliament, but it’s not one. It’s the Canadian edition of the many dogshit and indefensible columns I wrote in 2020 saying Trump couldn’t win, because the merits of the indignation isn’t important, it’s whether any actual people change their actual votes on the basis of the thing that has everyone indignant.
The Liberals might be fucked worse than a white girl on a certain … racially specific adult site, let’s say, but if they are, the carbon price exemption won’t be why. It’s a funny lie that justifies the hysteria and the over the top commentary, but if you genuinely think that if the Liberals get the big things right between now and the election this will still matter, you’re either a liar or an idiot.
The Liberals will live or die on housing starts, rate cuts, and whether Poilievre can stay on message when the lights are brightest. The carbon tax exemption might be bad policy, but it’s not a sign of the end of days. These ideas can be held together, as can the idea that dishing a little pork to voters who need some is a normal part of the game.
And if people genuinely believe a carveout for less than 3% of households will matter at an election beyond at best saving a handful of Atlantic seats, then they should reacquaint themselves with how much this country has tolerated Alberta and Quebec getting in special concessions before they think the East Coast getting one will suddenly enrage Central Canada and BC.