'Absolutely not': Trudeau closes door on more carve-outs or exemptions for carbon tax

The government is now making the case that their measure is intended to ‘phase out’ home heating oil, just like it phased out coal in Western Canada years ago

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OTTAWA —- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said any other carve-outs or suspensions on the carbon tax are out of the question, amid pressures from provinces and groups who are asking for a similar exemption than the one made to Atlantic Canadians.

Speaking to reporters, Trudeau echoed comments from his ministers who said that the temporary exemption on home heating oil was a done deal, and that there would be no other exemptions for other sources of home heating like natural gas for instance.

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“There will absolutely not be any other carve-outs or suspensions of the price on pollution,” said Trudeau on his way to question period.

Premiers in Saskatchewan, Alberta and Ontario have all asked for natural gas and other home heating fuels to be exempted from the carbon tax, whereas Indigenous groups have argued they should be exempt as part of their rights under the Indian Act.

But the federal government is now making the case that this measure is intended to “phase out” home heating oil, just like it phased out coal in Western Canada years ago.

“When we decided to phase out coal as a country, there were provinces that were long gone from coal,” said Trudeau. “It didn’t help them at all that we were phasing out coal because they had already done it. Others needed to step up to do it.”

“This is specifically about ending the use of home heating oil, which is more polluting, more expensive and impacts low-income Canadians to a greater degree,” he added.

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Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said the price of home heating oil has “escalated significantly” and that the federal government will be working with Canadians in the next three years to replace heating oil with more cost-effective, energy-effective heat pumps.

Wilkinson said that all provinces could decide to participate in the federal program, provided that they match the federal contribution of $5,000 to install a new heat pump.

Until now, residents of Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador, where significant portions of the population heat their homes with oil, have taken up the offer but the federal government is prepared to make that offer to other provinces who want it.

Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan just recently made the switch from home heating oil to heat pumps, and said the difference is “unbelievable”.

“But even for me, the capital cost of having to switch was really, really big, and the Newfoundland and Labrador government had a good program that I was able to avail of,” he said.

But the Liberals’ arguments did not stop the Conservatives from pestering them with questions on the carbon tax exemption for a second day in a row in the House of Commons.

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Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre even challenged Trudeau to call a “carbon tax election” and let Canadians decide for themselves what the future of this climate policy should be by going to the polls and voting for their preferred party.

“It is amazing to me that after three failed elections in a row by the Conservatives, they still want to fight another election on denying climate change, on denying the costs of climate change,” shot back Trudeau. “They are wrong, and Canadians are going to show them that once again.”

Conservative MP Clifford Small, from Newfoundland and Labrador, used a Halloween analogy to get his point across the aisle.

“Those who heat their homes with oil think they received a treat, but if they vote Liberal again, they are going to find out that it is a trick,” he said.

“As an Atlantic Canadian, I ask: Will the Prime Minister stop dividing the country and remove all carbon tax from all forms of heating fuel for all Canadians and give them a goody this Halloween?”

Liberals have been tight-lipped on the internal discussions in cabinet on the decision to exempt home heating oil from the government’s signature climate policy. But at least one member of cabinet, Immigration Minister Marc Miller, admitted that the decision-making was not “ideal”.

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“We have to be flexible and this is a reasonable position for the government to take. Obviously you’ll hear naysayers, people that didn’t like the carbon pricing in the first place,” he said.

Health Minister Mark Holland said that the government is trying to achieve carbon neutrality, but it is “not an easy process” and sometimes “a bumpy road”.

O’Regan said he does not understand why the focus of the discussion is on the regional exemption for the carbon tax.

“I just find it a bit rich that everybody is just getting so excited about carve-outs and exceptions in particularities to regions. That’s how this country is built.”

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