Why the Liberals need to listen to a caucus colleague’s criticism of the carbon tax

Michael Taube: Carbon tax dissent growing in Liberal ranksWhen Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s federal carbon tax became law in 2018, there were plenty of Liberal politicians and party supporters who were pleased. But it’s not a big secret to reveal that a significant number of Liberals weren’t – and still aren’t.

Many anti-carbon tax Liberals have kept their opinions to themselves. Some remain loyal to the party. Others don’t want to rock the boat and attack old friends and colleagues. Still others hope things will change after Trudeau loses or steps down.

A few have spoken out. Former Liberal MP Dan McTeague, an old friend and radio cohort, is probably the most notable carbon tax opponent on his side of the political aisle. McTeague, a sensible-thinking Liberal, is fed up with Trudeau’s leadership and what his beloved party has become. His understandable frustration goes deeper than most.

Which makes Ken McDonald’s recent actions all the more commendable.

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McDonald is a Liberal MP in the riding of Avalon. Born and raised in Conception Bay South, he served as a local councillor from 1993 to 1996 and again from 2009 to 2013. After an unsuccessful mayoral run against Woodrow French in 2005, he beat the sitting incumbent handily in 2013.

When then-Liberal MP Scott Andrews was ejected from caucus in Mar. 2015 after allegations of sexual misconduct, McDonald put his name forward as a candidate. His bid was successful, and he won the riding in the Oct. 2015 election with 55.90 percent of the vote. (Andrews ran as an Independent and finished a distant second with 17.82 percent.)

McDonald was comfortably re-elected in 2019 and 2021. He’s in a safe riding. He’s well-liked by residents. He could easily remain a backbench MP for as long as he wants.

To his credit, McDonald also possesses character traits that many of his caucus colleagues lack: principles and a backbone.

The Newfoundland MP supported a Conservative motion in Oct. 2022 that encouraged Ottawa to accept Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal Premier Andrew Furey’s request to omit home heating fuels from the carbon tax. The motion was defeated.

McDonald broke ranks with the Liberals again on Oct. 4. He supported a non-binding Conservative motion that would “repeal all carbon taxes” within seven days of being adopted. As expected, it was defeated by a margin of 209-119.

His vote was notable because he was the only member of the Liberals, NDP and Bloc Quebecois to side with the Conservatives. What’s also noteworthy is that he’s voted against his own government twice for seemingly unselfish reasons.

“I did this because I believe we have to change the way we’re approaching the climate change incentive,” he said in an Oct. 5 interview on CBC’s Power & Politics. “I think what we’re using right now at this time, at this point and time, is putting a bigger burden on people who are now struggling with an affordability crisis, if you want to call it that.”

The carbon tax has hurt his constituents. They’re struggling to put food on the table and heat their homes. He sympathizes with their concerns and frustrations.

“I’ve had people tell me they can’t afford to buy groceries,” McDonald told host David Cochrane. “They can’t afford to heat their homes. And that’s hard to hear, especially (from) seniors who live alone, and tell me that they go around the house in the spring and wintertime with a blanket wrapped around them because they can’t afford their home heating fuel. And they can’t afford to buy beef or chicken. That’s heart-wrenching when you hear somebody say that to you.”

That’s why he’s voted against his government both times. (He’s received no punishment to date.) He wants to delay the carbon tax until the affordability issue has been dealt with.

In his view, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault is the “wrong” person to head this file “because he’s so entrenched in it.” McDonald’s explanation was both honest and perceptive. “I get it, where he came from, and his whole idea of making a big difference in climate change, but you can’t do it all overnight. You can’t make it more expensive on people than what they can handle. And that’s exactly what’s happening right now.”

McDonald believes Ottawa should “put a lens on it, a rural lens, for the sake of a better word, and try and come up with a plan that’s satisfactory and appealable to people who live in rural. Maybe no plan will be appealable to rural, I don’t know. But I think the government has to try, and if they do that, I think they got a chance of moving past it.”

It’s also worth pointing out this observation made to his Liberal seatmates: “Everywhere I go, people come up to me and say, you know, ‘We’re losing faith in the Liberal party. I think they will lose seats not just in Newfoundland, not just in Atlantic Canada, but indeed right across the country if they don’t get a grasp on this the way that I think they should … if an election were called today, I’m not sure if the Liberal party would actually form the government.”

McDonald has made a compelling case to either bring down or pause the carbon tax. Caucus colleagues should listen to his wise words and respect his thoughtful demeanour when making this argument on behalf of his constituents and province.

Who knows? Maybe it will convince other Liberals who’ve remained silent on this contentious issue to finally speak out, too.

Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.

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