Liberal MP who broke ranks with Trudeau on carbon taxes says he could do it again

Ken McDonald, from Newfoundland and Labrador, said there is still much more to do to help with the cost of living

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OTTAWA — Liberal MP Ken McDonald said he has no regrets for breaking ranks with his party on the carbon tax not once, but twice, and he isn’t ruling out doing it again next week.

The Conservatives are forcing a House vote on Monday on a non-binding motion calling on the government to broaden the temporary pause on the carbon tax for home heating oil, which mostly helps only the Atlantic provinces. The motion will ask the Trudeau government to extend the tax break to all heating fuels, including natural gas.

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McDonald, who represents the riding of Avalon in Newfoundland and Labrador, told the National Post Friday he was thankful for the carbon-tax holiday on home heating oil, but said there is more to do to help with the cost of living.

“I don’t know if it alleviates all the fears of the people in my riding,” he said. “Affordability is still a big issue with or without the carbon tax on home heating fuel.”

McDonald said people living in rural areas, like his constituents, often have no choice but to burn fuel to drive long distances for basic necessities.

“I have people who drive two hours to buy groceries, or two and a half hours to have an appointment at a hospital or to visit a loved one at the hospital. So they don’t have options. There’s no bus service. There’s no subway, there’s no train,” he said.

Newfoundland Liberal MP Ken McDonald pictured on a broadcast of CBC’s Power and Politics, where he said Atlantic Canadians are losing faith in the Liberal Party over the carbon tax.
Newfoundland Liberal MP Ken McDonald pictured on a broadcast of CBC’s Power and Politics, where he said Atlantic Canadians are losing faith in the Liberal Party over the carbon tax. Photo by CBC SCREENSHOT

McDonald made news last month for being the only Liberal to vote with the Conservatives in asking to repeal the carbon tax, and also for openly saying that his party’s growing unpopularity would see them lose the next election.

The MP had also supported another motion from the official Opposition in October 2022 calling on the government to exempt all home heating fuels from the carbon tax.

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“I couldn’t vote against the two Conservative motions that I voted in favour of and feel like I could walk around my community with my head held high,” he said.

McDonald said he believes in climate change “as much as anyone else” and that we must “collectively do something about it.” But he said now is not the time to put the cost burden of federal climate action on Canadians who are trying to “get by from one week to the next.”

“I just thought it would be better stalled or delayed or pushed down the road,” he said.

After announcing the three-year carve-out for home heating oil last Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been facing demands from premiers from other regions in the country where people heat their homes with other forms of fuel, which are less carbon-intensive than oil. McDonald  said he would probably be asking for “the same thing” if he was living in those places.

Trudeau has said there would be no more carve-outs or exemptions.

The New Democrats have already confirmed they would be supporting the Conservative motion calling for the extension of the carbon tax break.

On Thursday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford sent a letter to the federal Liberals’ Ontario caucus asking them to “do the same as (their) Atlantic colleagues” and advocate for a carve-out of their own.

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McDonald said he believes every government has a “best-before date,” and that his own government might be getting there.

“Every government comes to that point and when it swings the other way, it’s hard to get it to swing back. Because the mood is out there for a change or to give somebody else an opportunity to see if they’ll do any better,” he said.

“It’s not a matter of people buying into somebody else’s policies. It’s how bad do they want this government out and a new government in, regardless of who that might be.”

Whether the Trudeau would be better to step down as leader, as suggested by Liberal-appointed PEI Senator Percy Downe earlier this week, McDonald wouldn’t say.

“That choice, I think, is up to the prime minister. I certainly won’t tell him that it is time for him to go or not to go,” he said.

He noted that others like Minister of Agriculture Lawrence MacAulay or Bloc Québécois MP Louis Plamondon have been serving for decades. “So if a person feels like they’re still able to do the job and remain as an MP or as a minister or as prime minister, good for them,” he said.

“I salute anyone that can have longevity in politics. Because it’s a horrible game, sometimes.”

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