Rural Economic Development Minister Gudie Hutchings says if Western and Prairie provinces want to secure carve-outs in the federal government’s carbon pricing policy, they should elect more Liberal ministers who can share their concerns with the government.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced major changes to the Liberals’ marquee climate policy this week, namely that the Canadian government is doubling the carbon rebate for rural households — from 10 per cent to 20 per cent — and implementing a three-year pause to the federal carbon price on heating oil.
Trudeau also announced the federal government will be rolling out new incentives to make it more affordable to transition to electric heat pumps, with a pilot project in Atlantic Canada that includes an upfront payment of $250 for eligible households, and an affordability program in partnership with the provinces.
Hutchings told CTV’s Question Period host Vassy Kapelos in an interview airing Sunday that Canadians living in rural parts of the country know first hand what it’s like to feel the impacts of climate change, from flooding, to droughts and fires.
“We know there’s an issue with climate change,” she said. “I just wish every party realized there was an issue with climate change.
“Since day one, our focus has been solid,” she added. “We want to protect the environment, we’re going to combat climate change, and we’re going to be there for people.”
Hutchings also said the “overall message” of Trudeau’s announcement this week is about “putting more money in people’s pockets” and reducing carbon footprints.
But when pressed repeatedly on the timing of the prime minister’s announcement coinciding with slumping polling numbers for the Liberals in Atlantic Canada since the carbon price was introduced in that part of the country, Hutchings said “this isn’t about polls, this is about people.”
Polling from Abacus Data shows the Liberals losing six points in Atlantic Canada from June to September, after the carbon price came into effect, while the Conservatives gained 11 points in that same timeframe.
And when asked whether the federal government is looking into carve outs in the policy for people outside of Atlantic Canada, or for other types of home heating, Hutchings said it depends on the success of the new pilot project.
“That’s a discussion that we’ll have down the road when we know that this one is working, but I can tell you Atlantic Caucus was vocal with what they’ve heard from their constituents, and perhaps they need to elect more Liberals in the Prairies so that we can have that conversation as well,” she said.
When asked whether she believes it’s fair that people in Western Canada will have to live a more unaffordable life than Atlantic Canadians if they are not represented to the same extent around the cabinet table, Hutchings added the doubling of the rural rebate will apply to all rural Canadians across the country, and that it was the Atlantic caucus that “came with these options,” presenting them to the prime minister and cabinet.
“We’re always open to conversations to help all Canadians on the affordability issue, and especially when it is reducing the carbon footprint,” Hutchings said. “That’s what we have to do for all families.”
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has been a vocal opponent of the Liberals’ carbon pricing policy, holding “axe the tax” rallies across Canada in the last several months, and characterizing Trudeau’s announcement this week as a panicked “flip-flop.”
Poilievre has yet to unveil his party’s climate policy, but when asked this week to expand on his broad pledge to pursue technology, not taxes, to reduce emissions, he said if he was prime minister he would “greenlight green projects,” citing nuclear reactors, hydroelectric dams, tidal wave power, and natural gas liquefaction projects, as examples.
With files from CTVNews.ca’s Senior Digital Parliamentary Reporter Rachel Aiello and CTV’s Question Period Senior Producer Stephanie Ha