OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is pushing back against premiers who are asking him to cancel an upcoming increase to the federal carbon price, saying they have not proposed better ideas to fight climate change.

In a reply to the seven provincial leaders on Tuesday, Trudeau said the last time they discussed the issue in 2022, their governments either didn’t propose alternative solutions or couldn’t meet federal standards for reducing emissions.

“We have made it clear that we are open to working with any and all provinces and territories that want to establish their own pricing systems (as long as they meet or exceed the national benchmark),” the letter said.

The premiers of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador all asked to Trudeau to forgo a planned increase on April 1.

The carbon price is set to increase by $15 a tonne – from $65 to $80. The increase is expected to add about three cents to the cost of a litre of gasoline.

The leaders cite inflation and a high cost of living as reasons to slow down. Most have also requested to testify before a House of Commons committee on the matter, with Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe set to appear by videoconference on Wednesday.

Trudeau said in his letter that it’s critical to dispel the “misconception” that Canada’s carbon pricing system is a significant driver of inflation, as there are many factors at play.

“According to the Bank of Canada, the carbon price is only responsible for about 0.1 percentage points of annual inflation,” he wrote.

He said his government remains open to working with provinces that provide a “credible system” for carbon pricing, so long as it meets the federal standards.

“We continue to remain open to proposals for credible systems that price pollution that reflect the unique realities of your regions and meet the national benchmark.”

Trudeau’s push against premiers is just the latest chapter in the years-long battle with provincial conservative leaders over the Liberal government’s signature climate policy.

That policy has fallen under considerable pressure in recent months, as affordability concerns drive the political agenda and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre relentlessly campaigns to, as he puts it, “spike the hike.”

Poilievre has been drumming up support for months, hosting coast-to-coast rallies, fundraising and selling party T-shirts with his pledge to “axe the tax” should Conservatives form the next government.

As he rides high in public opinion polls, Poilievre can even point to solidarity from across the political aisle as the lone Liberal provincial leader, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey, asks Trudeau for a pause.

The prime minister has defended his policy by pointing out that Canadians get a quarterly cheque to offset paying the consumer carbon price, a rebate that is most generous for low-income households.

He and his ministers have repeatedly slammed Poilievre for peddling simple slogans without providing his own plan to tackle climate change.

The Conservative leader has offered scant detail so far, including on whether he would keep in place the carbon price for big emitters that is expected to account for the most significant reduction in emissions.

He has vowed to foster new technology and speed up approval processes for clean projects.

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

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