Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault says misinformation and Pierre Poilievre threaten climate progress

Two of the biggest threats to Canada’s progress on climate policy are misinformation and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, says Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault.

Guilbeault made the remarks Wednesday during a keynote address to the Canadian Club of Ottawa.

Poilievre’s approach to climate policy goes beyond a “casual disregard of facts and science in pursuit of partisan advantage,” Guilbeault said.

He highlighted the Conservatives’ current oppositional stance on pollution pricing, also known as the carbon tax, and clean fuel regulations, which require companies to gradually reduce the carbon content of their fuels.

“Let me be clear, in the last federal election, Conservatives, including Mr. Poilievre campaigned on a platform that included pollution pricing and a clean fuel standard very similar to the one our government enacted,” said Guilbeault.

“It wasn't much, but it was at least an acknowledgment of the issue. Today, they say that they're adamantly opposed to both these climate measures.”

Guilbeault faces high levels of opposition from premiers across the country, who like Poilievre, say the carbon price will only hurt Canadians. The pricing system has two parts: a federally imposed charge on gasoline, diesel and home heating fuel and a performance-based system for industries, called the output-based pricing system.

Guilbeault stressed eight out of 10 households will receive more money back from rebate cheques, paid quarterly, than what they’ll pay on the tax, but you won’t hear Poilievre spreading that information.

His speech followed an address he made earlier this month outside the Conservative Party of Canada’s policy convention in Quebec City, where he said Poilievre’s approach to environmental issues is “very easy to attack.”

“Obviously, the Liberals are under a lot of pressure to send a minister to go out on the attack,” Alex Marland, a professor of Canadian politics at Acadia University, told Canada’s National Observer at the time.

“They're worried… They see Poilievre and the Conservatives as a threat. If they did not see them as a threat, then they wouldn't bother.”

Guilbeault took time to highlight progress from the federal government on cutting pollution, Canada’s goal of protecting 30 per cent of land and water by 2030, “funding for heat pumps and home retrofits and zero-emission vehicles rebates and charging stations,” and more.

While talking about Poilievre, he warned that climate progress can’t happen overnight: “Any charlatan who comes along promising quick fixes can set progress back by years, even decades.”

While Canada’s emissions dropped in 2020, they rose again in 2021, but still managed to remain at a level that was lower than pre-pandemic. Most of the increase was due to increased emissions from the oil and gas sector. However, Canada was highlighted in a report by Oil Change International this month, which found the country’s oil and gas extraction plans are the second-largest in the world, behind the United States.

Overall, Guilbeault said “a noisy minority of climate deniers has managed to dominate the public discourse” which has “wide-ranging repercussions.”

While climate deniers may be outnumbered by those who believe in the science behind climate change, they are nonetheless still a threat. Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned, "Climate science has been undermined significantly" by co-ordinated climate misinformation campaigns, many fuelled by social media.

“Our climate plan is working. There's much to do still, but we are heading in the right direction at long last, after much hard work. We must continually challenge ourselves to do more, not less, because no amount of misinformation can change what we have accomplished,” said Guilbeault at the end of his speech.

“The challenge now is to ensure progress doesn't slip away in smoke.”

— With files from Natasha Bulowski

Cloe Logan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Canada's National Observer