Poilievre pans Trudeau's carbon pricing pivot, Liberals pitch pause as 'great news'

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre holds a press conference regarding his “Axe the Tax” message from the roof a parking garage in St. John’s on Friday, Oct.27, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Daly

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre came out swinging Friday, panning Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for what he characterized as a panicked "flip-flop" on his carbon pricing policies, as Liberal MPs pitch the pivot as "great news" for their constituents.

"Justin Trudeau is in total panic mode," Poilievre said, speaking to reporters in St. John's, Nfld.

Late Thursday afternoon, Trudeau announced the Canadian government is doubling the pollution price rebate rural top-up rate, implementing a three-year pause to the federal carbon price on heating oil, and rolling out new incentives to make it more affordable to transition to electric heat pumps. 

"What caused Justin Trudeau to freak out yesterday and hold a sudden press conference to announce that he was going to pause the carbon tax on home heating oil? The answer is that he was plummeting in the polls, and Pierre Poilievre was holding massive rallies in Liberal-held ridings to axe the tax," Poilievre said, referencing his weekend plans in the region.

The Official Opposition leader then drilled down into a new line of criticism that's likely to be restated repeatedly in the months ahead.

"Justin Trudeau announced yesterday that if you re-elect him, he will put the tax back on your home heating oil," Poilievre said, referencing the fact that the temporary pause is only slated to be in effect until 2027. He was also critical that the freeze won't apply to natural gas. 

"Justin Trudeau is not worried about cost of living, he's worried about the cost of votes," he said, calling the plan "a scam." 

"So my message to Atlantic Canadians and all Canadians: don't be fooled by Justin Trudeau's latest panic maneuver. He still plans to hit you with a 61 cents a litre carbon tax," he said, noting that just over one year ago Thursday, Liberals voted against a Conservative motion to create a tax exemption on home heating fuel.

"This is not about environmental science, it's about political science," Poilievre said, vowing as he has repeatedly, that if elected he would "axe the tax entirely and forever."

"There will be no flip-flopping, there will be no turns of corners. There will be no little targeted exemptions here, or gimmicks there," Poilievre said.

Asked to then expand on his broad pledge to pursue technology, not taxes, to reduce emissions, Poilievre 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.

PRICING PIVOT 'GREAT NEWS': LIBERALS

Meanwhile, Liberal MPs have begun to make their pitches to constituents about how in their view, the prime minister's decision to reconsider and roll out a three-pronged response was the right call.

After Trudeau was questioned on what impact his easing off will have on the Liberals' stated emission reduction goals and whether he was caving to political pressure, the prime minister said he was acting now specifically to recognize the realities rural Canadians have raised when it comes to the unique challenges they face amid the current cost of living crunch.

Atlantic Canadian Liberal MPs and cabinet ministers were then quick to take to social media, posting about how they "couldn't be prouder."

"This is leadership in action, affordability and environment together," said Nova Scotia MP and Atlantic Liberal caucus chair Kody Blois. 

"Great news for folks in Atlantic Canada today," posted Minister of Rural Economic Development Gudie Hutchings.

Speaking on CTV's Power Play, Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan denied that this move was a result of the Liberal minority government responding to sinking poll numbers.

"It's actually, look, if you believe in affordability and you believe in in tackling emissions, you have to have buy in from people," O'Regan said. "So we had a problem, we knew we had a problem."

Asked how much Poilievre's attacks informed the Liberal rethink, O'Regan said "come on."

"God bless him, but you know, he's not going to budge on this. I know that. We have listened to people, We have responded, and I think we've come up with a smart plan that ultimately lowers emissions and makes it more affordable for people to do that," he said. 

-With reporting by CTV News Senior Digital Parliamentary Reporter Rachel Aiello