On climate, the federal government should play offence, not defence

Photo by: European Parliament via Flickr (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

It’s time to flip the script on climate action.

The federal government has brought to bear an impressive suite of climate measures — for which it has never received enough credit — but rather than wielding all this hard and noble work like the political sword it should be, our Liberal leaders are parrying attack after attack from the Opposition.

There’s every reason to expect they’ll be parrying a whole lot more on April 1 and afterwards.

But while the federal government is right to point out the economic efficiency of carbon pricing and the fact that most Canadians get more money back than they pay, these are also defensive rebuttals. And in politics, the best defence really is an offence.

It’s useful to introduce some communications jargon here. A sword issue is essentially a topic you want to be talking about because you believe you’re stronger on it than your opponent. By contrast, a shield issue is one your opponent feels strong on — their sword issue — putting you on the defensive.

There is no question that the Conservative Party of Canada is wielding the carbon tax as, well, an axe.

But the governing Liberals should spend less time raising their shields and more time striking first. Striking against the Opposition and certain provinces that have skirted their responsibility on climate action for too long, simply letting the federal government do the work for them, only to complain about carbon pricing for perceived political gain.

Indeed, politics is the ultimate funhouse mirror: a grain of sand can become distorted into a mountain and a mountain into a speck on the glass.

So it has become with carbon pricing — a policy that leaves most households better off and is responsible for a minuscule 0.3 per cent of food price increases — and the real mountain that has somehow retreated to the horizon: climate action. (By which I mean the myriad measures we’re taking to help prevent the greatest threat to our way of life. That little thing.)

What’s more — and sadly ironic in all this — is that climate change has never been more present, more real and more disastrous for Canadians from coast to coast, to coast.

Last year was Canada’s worst wildfire season ever, resulting in the full-scale evacuation of a capital city, Yellowknife. Things aren’t necessarily looking up in 2024, as Alberta declared an early start to the wildfire season in February.

In Ontario, where extreme heat days are expected to triple, the health costs alone from last year’s wildfires clocked in at an estimated $1.28 billion in a single week in just one province.

And in B.C., also no stranger to record-setting wildfires, the province’s wine and cherry industries are worried about a “catastrophic” and “devastating” year due to recent extreme weather events. While on the opposite coast, Nova Scotia is recovering from $170 million in insured damages from last year’s floods.

The summers are bad enough, but even our winters are increasingly less Canadian. Ottawa’s Rideau Canal was closed entirely to skating in 2023 and was open just 10 days this past winter. It’s normally open January, February and sometimes March. An Ontarian I spoke with recently mentioned the pond by his house didn’t freeze over this year.

What’s more Canadian than a game of hockey in the great outdoors?

Perhaps the biggest funhouse mirror distortion of all is the suggestion that clean energy threatens our way of life as if driving an EV is really so different from driving a gas car.

The reality is that climate action is, of course, the only way to protect our way of life — the pastimes we treasure, the experiences we grew up with and want to pass down to our kids. It’s also the only way to build a sustainable economy and lower energy bills long term as we free ourselves from the volatile geopolitics of fossil fuels.

This shouldn’t be a shield issue for the federal government.

After April 1, the real question on repeat should be: What would the Opposition and certain premiers do instead, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rightly recently asked?

How would they protect us from the environmental, economic and costly impacts of climate change?

How would they help Canada keep up as the world transitions away from fossil fuels?

Silence should be a scandal.

This post originally appeared in the National Observer.

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