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Justin Trudeau: The Speech He Never Gave
Canada's Prime Minister has been having a very bad week. One speech won’t turn things around for him, or for his climate plan. But this one would have been a good start.
In the not too distant past or future, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rose in the House of Commons to deliver a hypothetical speech aimed at putting to rest the continuing, manufactured controversy over the federal carbon tax.
It was similar in tone and direction to another speech he never gave in May, 2018, promising Canadians he would stand up to an extraordinary ultimatum from a Houston-based pipeline company rather than making taxpayers the involuntary owner of what soon became a $31-billion pipeline megaproject.
This is the full text as we’ve imagined it.
Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members, and my fellow Canadians:
It’s time to set the record straight, and to declare the national emergency that most of us already know is unfolding before our eyes.
That begins with sorting through and putting to rest a manufactured controversy over our government’s price on carbon. A sustained attack meant to derail Canada’s response to the climate crisis and divide us at a moment when we need to be united as never before.
It would be foolish and dishonest to deny that years of relentless, often fact-free messaging have had their effect.
We still face the same underlying truths—that we are indeed in a climate emergency, an orderly transition away from fossil fuels is upon us, and a price on pollution is one of the main tools in our toolbox to build a healthy, prosperous, net-zero future.
But the one thing these attacks have proven, to my great sorrow and dismay, is the master propagandist’s maxim that “if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”
That chilling reality, as much as any other challenge we face as a nation, is the reason I stand before you now.
Today, I’m opening a conversation that is long overdue. About how we join together to take on the climate emergency and win. About how we respect and support and reconcile with each other, all of us, across diverse cultures and geographies and divergent histories.
But this conversation won’t be complete if we don’t also address what the great Alberta energy writer and thinker Markham Hislop recently called the “enshitification” of the climate and energy dialogue. I apologize, Mr. Speaker, that this is not exactly parliamentary language. But as we’ve seen far too often lately, and as you yourself have tried to point out, we don’t live in particularly cordial or parliamentary times.
So let’s be clear about what has actually happened over the last couple of weeks.
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Two Crises, One Response
This latest round in the Great Canadian Carbon Wars began when my government did what every government is supposed to do: we listened closely to our constituents, recognized a problem, and came up with a targeted response that not only addressed the immediate symptom, but crucially, pointed toward a more durable solution.
We know that our country is simultaneously in the grips of a mounting climate crisis and a pervasive affordability crisis. Over the last year of record temperatures and shocking ice loss, much of Canada has been on fire, our coastal communities have been battered by severe storms, too many of our farms have seen their output threatened by crippling heat and drought, and each of those realities could be taken as a metaphor for the condition of too many household budgets across the country.
So here’s what we did.
We increased our oil-to-heat-pump conversion grant to low-income households from $10,000 to $15,000, and we’re piloting the new program in the Atlantic region, home to the largest number of families that are paying too much for oil heating that also drives up climate pollution.
We suspended the carbon price on home heating oil for three years, to give vulnerable households some breathing room while they get their heat pumps installed.
And we increased the rural top-up on quarterly carbon price rebates from 10 to 20%. Alberta and Saskatchewan already get the highest rebates, so they’ll also see the biggest increase in their top-ups.
Could we have done more? Yes, and we shall. No single announcement will solve a crisis as wide and all-encompassing as climate change or affordability. Some of our country’s best minds have called for a national low-income energy efficiency strategy that puts lower-income households first, serves all regions, encompasses all fuel types, and gives every Canadian a realistic, permanent pathway out of fossil-fuelled heating and cooling.
We’ve heard those calls, Mr. Speaker, and I’m pleased to confirm today that our Green Building Strategy will devote serious funding to heat pump conversions and deep energy efficiency retrofits in rental and public housing when it is released in the weeks ahead. We’re also looking at practical measures to help small and medium farmers replace the natural gas they depend on for essentials like grain drying, rather than just dropping the carbon price and making it cheaper to emit climate pollution that is already making farmers’ lives even harder.
This Isn’t About Heat Pumps or Retrofits
But let’s be clear. This controversy is not about heating and cooling. It isn’t about heat pumps, batts of insulation, or whole-building retrofits. The Leader of the Opposition and some provincial premiers have shown they aren’t interested in practical, front-line solutions when it serves them politically to amp up fear, anxiety, and mistrust. And for years now, the price on carbon has been their weapon of choice.
They want you to believe we’ve introduced some unproven, radical formula meant to put climate change ahead of the country’s economic health and prosperity. They certainly don’t want you to know that the front-line cost of the carbon price comes back to Canadians in a quarterly rebate, so that most households actually come out ahead.
(And while we’re here, we know government is at its best when it’s at its most transparent. So henceforth, every Canadian will receive notification by post or email every time a carbon rebate cheque is paid to their bank account, and the line on your bank statement will read “federal carbon rebate cheque”. This change is long overdue—we should have done it from the start!)
In reality, as my former Cabinet colleague Catherine McKenna pointed out in an op ed this week, “using pricing to change behaviour is a strategy drawn from any conservative playbook.” It’s been deployed to good advantage by distinctly conservative politicians like former prime minister Brian Mulroney, former premiers Gordon Campbell and Jean Charest, and California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger. Carbon pricing is the climate strategy that economists like best, and if anything, it’s open to criticism for being too cautious, indirect, and incomplete a response to an emergency as big and immediate as climate change.
Let’s also be clear that the chief culprit behind high energy costs is record profiteering by fossil fuel companies, not carbon pricing. The independent governor of the Bank of Canada, Tiff Macklem, says carbon pricing has added just under one-sixth of 1% to the inflation rate, and that’s before factoring in the quarterly rebate. Energy prices are going through the roof because they’ve been driven up by Vladimir Putin’s brutal war in Ukraine. Oil and gas companies have been only too happy to pass those gains on to their shareholders. That largely explains the higher bills you’ve been paying for energy, and for food and other essentials whose price is influenced by energy costs.
‘Big Lie’ Propaganda
But you wouldn’t know any of that if you tuned in to the Leader of the Opposition’s “Axe the Tax” rallies—except, of course, for the ones that had to be cancelled last summer because of local wildfires. Or if you listened to the “big lie” propaganda coming from provinces like Alberta, where Premier Danielle Smith is pitching the preposterous threat that you’ll freeze in the dark if we move to decarbonize Canada’s electricity grids by 2035—a necessary, forward-looking step that we fully intend to take.
Ask yourself this: Why would any national government want any region or any household to freeze in the dark? By what logic, and to what end? If that were really our nefarious hidden agenda, why would we have set up a carbon price rebate that benefits households in Alberta and Saskatchewan more than in any other province?
And if Premier Smith were really out to protect her province and ensure its economic prosperity, why would she steadfastly dismiss solar, wind, and storage technologies that are practical, ready for prime time, and less expensive in Alberta than a new gas plant built today? In a province that was leading the country in renewable energy deployment before she introduced a seven-month project moratorium that rural mayors didn’t particularly want, imperilling business activity worth $33 billion and 24,000 jobs in communities desperate to diversify their economies?
Seize the Opportunity
Even if you don’t believe the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change, the innovative, can-do spirit in places like Alberta can be our starting point to launch new clean energy enterprises, add 700,000 new jobs through 2050, and build a diversified economy that insulates us from the next oil price crash—which may be coming sooner than you think. Wherever you live in Canada, you can seize the opportunity and help build the momentum of a global energy transition that is accelerating by the day. Even if you’re in a province where your premier can’t or won’t.
And by recognizing that the transition off carbon is about opportunity and gain, not loss and pain, we can all come together to treat climate change as the emergency that it is, as British Columbia author Seth Klein urges, with proven solutions that can tackle the affordability crisis at the same time.
Both of these challenges have been building for decades. At one time or another, federal, provincial, and territorial governments of all political stripes have either embraced or passed up opportunities to build durable solutions. Our actions over the last couple of weeks are one part of our continuing effort to make that right.
I have no doubt that some provincial premiers will interpret our commitment on these issues as an affront to their authority. That many of them will launch court challenges, and some may even threaten to secede from the country.
Let them answer to their constituents for their endless obstruction and their deliberate, performative divisiveness. I have no desire to feed their narrative at a moment that calls for unity of vision and purpose. I know, and I’m confident most Canadians will agree, that we’re at our best when we confront our greatest challenges together. And we face no challenge more profound than the nexus of climate change and affordability.
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Mitchell Beer traces his background in renewable energy and energy efficiency back to 1977, in climate change to 1997. Now he and the rest of the Energy Mix team scan 1,200 news headlines a week to pull together The Energy Mix, The Energy Mix Weekender, and our two weekly e-digests, Cities & Communities and Heat & Power.
You can also bookmark our website for the latest news throughout the week. work.
Graph of the Week
Suncor plans to pump 1 billion barrels of oil from a wetland — but vows to protect the other half with a wall (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)
Carbon pricing is a conservative policy that works: McKenna (Toronto Star)
Ex-BOC governor Carney questions carbon price break on home heating oil (The Canadian Press)
Solar Alberta campaign fights renewables moratorium (Taproot Alberta)
PCL Solar secures $1.4 billion in new projects (Sustainable Biz)
Telus signs deal with EV charging company Flo to provide real-time data (The Canadian Press)
As Coal Mines Close, Displaced Miners Find Work in Renewable Energy Boom (Capital and Main)
Canadian Solar to build $800-million solar panel factory in southeastern Indiana (The Associated Press)
The world isn’t spending nearly enough on climate adaptation, UN says (Washington Post)