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Rob Shaw: Manitoba NDP to ditch carbon tax as BC NDP doubles down

As Pierre Poilievre brings 'axe the tax' tour to B.C., David Eby sticks to increasingly unpopular piece of B.C.'s climate strategy
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B.C. Premier David Eby supports the province's carbon tax | Province of BC/Flickr

He’s younger, hipper and has a fresher mandate from voters, so maybe it’s not surprising that Manitoba’s NDP premier, Wab Kinew, can see what B.C.’s NDP premier, David Eby, apparently cannot: The carbon tax is sinking fast.

Kinew has hurled the unpopular tax under the bus, publicly declaring that Manitoba will seek an exemption from Ottawa and, at the prime minister’s invitation, find a different way to fight climate pollution during an affordability crisis.

“Governments like ours that are committed to solving the climate crisis, at least doing our part, we have to show that we're going to be flexible, we're going to keep life affordable," Kinew told CBC.

The move leaves Eby as the only premier still defending the carbon tax. He has little backup, except for a provincial carbon tax rebate program that only offers small-scale financial relief to very low-income British Columbians via cheques that look like they come from the federal government.

Kinew won a strong majority government six months ago, and still has his finger on the pulse of the electorate. He met with Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre last week, who is in the middle of a national “axe the tax” tour and who polls suggest is poised to become Canada’s next prime minister.

“He has said he wants to exempt Manitoba from the carbon tax, and I agree with that—I want to exempt everyone from the carbon tax,” Poilievre told reporters at a joint press conference.

“I'm obviously a Conservative, he's obviously a New Democrat, but that doesn't mean we can't share our priorities and have good conversations together.”

Complimentary words between an NDP premier and a future prime minister. That relationship does not exist in British Columbia. Poilievre and Eby have never even met.

Poilievre wrote Eby a letter last month asking him to not raise the carbon tax April 1, and cited B.C.’s unique provincial administration of the tax. Eby promptly accused Poilievre of misrepresenting the facts and living “in a baloney factory.”

So Poilievre turned his guns on British Columbia, redirecting his “axe the tax” tour here. He’s already rallied thousands and dunked on BC New Democrats all over the place. He’s urged British Columbians to vote Eby’s NDP out of office this October and “elect a common-sense provincial government.”

“I understand B.C. stands for ‘bring cash’ these days,” Poilievre said at a rally in Nanaimo on Monday.

“In British Columbia, where the federal government mandates the tax and the NDP government happily administers the tax, the government collects $9 billion over the next three years and gives back only $3.5 billion, which means the taxpayer is about $5.5 billion dollars. That's just in B.C. alone.

“My friends. I think you'll all agree that Justin Trudeau and the NDP’s carbon tax is starting to give British Columbians the Eby-jeebies.”

It’s not often you see Eby caught flat-footed on issues. But on the carbon tax, in the last month, he and his strategists have had the absolute wrong read of the public mood. Polls show support for Poilievre’s position, not Eby’s.

When the carbon tax rose 23 per cent to $80 per tonne, adding at least three cents a litre more to the price of gas and sending it well over the $2 mark in Metro Vancouver—even New Democrats could hear the grumbling. The carbon tax now accounts for 17 cents per litre of fuel.

Eby, though, remained resolute on Tuesday when I put the question to him about Kinew’s abdication of the tax.

“I understand Premier Kinew is looking at whether that would be appropriate for Manitoba. I look forward to seeing what he comes up with,” Eby replied.

“But for us in B.C., we see the price on carbon pollution as being just one piece of an overall strategy around climate.

“Given the massive impacts we've seen here in our province from forest fires and droughts and climate-related disasters like the heat dome, we have had to take a leadership role nationally on this issue, and we're going to continue to do that.”

Translation: No change in British Columbia.

Meanwhile, in Manitoba, Kinew began laying the groundwork for his new climate trajectory in Tuesday’s provincial budget. It included millions in funding for electric bus manufacturing, EV rebates and geothermal power.

“We want to make a showcase here so other jurisdictions can say: ‘That’s how you run a transit system, that’s how you bring zero-emission buses online,’” Kinew said Tuesday. “That’s how I think we can really punch above our weight in terms of fighting the climate crisis.”

Perhaps most interestingly, the Manitoba government has extended by another three months a cut it made in January to 14-cent-per-litre provincial fuel taxes, to help cash-strapped drivers at the pumps.

B.C.’s Opposition BC United pitched that same plan last year, saying it would save up to 24 cents a litre here. But the BC NDP dismissed it, arguing gas companies would swoop in and raise prices anyway.

Gas in Winnipeg was as low as $1.33 a litre on Tuesday, compared to more than $2 a litre in Metro Vancouver.

Somehow, Manitoba New Democrats are pulling it off. Maybe it has something to do with how newer, smarter, more flexible and more ambitious their New Democrat administration is. In B.C., meanwhile, our NDP is entering its seventh year in power—and increasingly showing every minute of it.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 16 years covering B.C. politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for Glacier Media. He is the co-author of the national bestselling book A Matter of Confidence, host of the weekly podcast Political Capital, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.

rob@robshawnews.com