April 25th, 2024

‘He understands Canadians’: Inside what ‘axe the tax’ means to Poilievre’s supporters

By Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press on March 26, 2024.

Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre speaks during a rally in Ottawa, on Sunday, March 24, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Spencer Colby

OTTAWA – When Sarah Morin hears the phrase “axe the tax,” what enters her mind is “freedom.”

The 41-year-old is a stay-at-home mother of two who has been using a food bank amid cost-of-living pressures.

She was among those who packed into a crammed room at a convention centre near Ottawa’s airport on Sunday to listen to Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre speak.

His signature cause: The party’s long-standing vow to “axe” the Liberal government’s consumer carbon price.

With the price set to increase by $15 per tonne on April 1, Poilievre has spent the past month hosting rallies and releasing a new set of ads pressing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to “spike the hike.”

During his latest event, a clock projected on the wall ticked down the time remaining until the carbon price increases, as rallygoers waved “axe the tax” signs and Poilievre sported a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan.

But what do those three words actually mean to those who chant them?

“Freedom,” Morin told The Canadian Press.

“Axing the tax – it means that I have a chance, that there’s a chance that my family and I are going to survive.”

Although she has identified as a Conservative supporter in the past, Morin said she wouldn’t have turned out for an event like Sunday’s if anyone other than Poilievre was at the helm.

“I feel like he understands Canadians,” she said.

For 53-year-old John James, who said he voted Liberal when he was younger, the phrase simply means that “everything is too expensive” and signals people cannot afford to live in their homes or pay their mortgage.

A woman named Alissa, who declined to provide her last name, said the slogan refers to her income-tax payments as a minimum-wage worker who puts in more than 40 hours a week.

Another young man quips that “axe the tax” underscores the need to bring down “the cost of clearly everything.”

That’s just a sampling of the sentiments driving voters toward Poilievre as the Liberals struggle to convince Canadians they have the affordability crisis in hand.

Heading into spring, Poilievre has spent much of his time outside of Parliament campaigning across the country – and on social media – to keep up momentum as he rides high in public opinion polls.

He is targeting regions where his support runs deep, like with an upcoming rally in Edmonton, where the party wants to win back two seats it lost to the Liberals and NDP in the 2021 federal vote.

But Poilievre is also chasing regions where he thinks he smells success, like in Windsor, where a rally is scheduled for Saturday.

His on-the-road campaign approach has grown more sophisticated of late.

Before the event in Ottawa, the party pushed out a robocall message from Poilievre himself to locals’ phones. It followed up with a text message prompting people to provide their emails and postal codes.

Collecting names through petitions is a key feature of Poilievre’s political machinery.

Trudeau himself, along with other ministers, has acknowledged his success in tapping into people’s fears and anxieties and directing that towards the government’s signature climate policy.

Keith Stewart, senior energy strategist at Greenpeace Canada, believes the fight Poilievre is waging is an unfair one baked in “half-truths” about carbon pricing.

He said he tried to attend one of Poilievre’s rallies in Toronto, but he was tossed by security for holding up a Greenpeace banner.

The Conservative approach is full of missing pieces, said Stewart, like the fact climate change itself ends up costing Canadians more because of disasters such as wildfires and drought.

Not to mention, he added, that Canadians also get money back through quarterly rebate cheques that are more generous for low-income households.

But Stewart said the Liberals have failed to sell that part of their policy, and it can be confusing for Canadians to tell if they’ve received the payments.

“The Liberals have done a terrible job communicating.”

Last month, the Liberals announced they were attempting to remedy that by rebranding the quarterly payments as the “Canada Carbon Rebate” instead of the “Climate Action Incentive.”

Poilievre has mocked the “rebrand” and tried to make trouble for the Liberals in Parliament.

He forced a vote of no confidence in the House of Commons over carbon pricing last week. It was unsuccessful. The NDP and Bloc Québécois both support the policy.

It prompted Stewart and other environmental groups to sign an open letter against politicians “shamelessly exploiting Canadians’ very real economic pain for political gain.”

This week, it was economists’ turn.

A group of economists from universities across the country released an open letter expressing support for carbon pricing as an example of an economically sensible policy to cut greenhouse-gas emissions at a “low cost” to Canadians and businesses.

“Unfortunately, the most vocal opponents of carbon pricing are not offering alternative policies to reduce emissions and meet our climate goals,” it reads.

“And they certainly aren’t offering any alternatives that would reduce emissions at the same low cost as carbon pricing.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 26, 2024.

– With files from Anja Karadeglija.

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