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Rob Shaw: David Eby needs to realize Justin Trudeau doesn't want to be friends

B.C. finds itself out of step with the country on the carbon tax all of a sudden
Justin Trudeau, down in the polls, is using the carbon tax reduction to save votes in the Atlantic, Rob Shaw writes.

Premier David Eby has put significant effort into making nice with the federal Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He’s travelled to Ottawa four times, and hosted Trudeau at least twice more, just within the last year. Always, Eby goes out of his way to make complimentary remarks about the progress the two governments are making on the big issues facing voters today.

What did all that relationship-building get our premier? Blindsided Friday by Trudeau’s announcement on changes to the carbon tax that will put British Columbia in a financial and political jam.

There was virtually no heads up for the B.C. government that Trudeau was exempting home heating fuels in rural areas from the federal carbon tax for the next three years. The change applies to most provinces and territories, except B.C., where we’ve already had our own provincial carbon tax for 15 years.

Provincial New Democrats were left stunned and angry at the news. Suddenly, B.C. is now one of the only provinces out-of-step with the national carbon tax framework.

B.C. rural homeowners on oil furnaces will pay significantly more than most of the rest of Canada, unless the province scrambles to match Ottawa’s move or develops its own rebate and incentive program.

Both provincial measures will take time. In the interim, the Opposition BC United party is attacking the BC NDP for leaving rural homeowners out in the cold.

There is a lesson here for BC New Democrats that they are unfortunately slow to learn: The Liberal government is not a friend of this provincial government. It never has been. It never will be. B.C. is always the collateral damage in whatever vote-buying scheme the Liberals have cooked up for another part of the country.

It’s a difficult realization, because the provincial NDP and federal Liberals, on paper, share many of the same voters in British Columbia. Both rely heavily on the middle-class urbanites of Metro Vancouver.

It’s also a bitter pill to swallow for BC NDP cabinet ministers, who often see more in common with the fence-straddling positions of the governing Liberals than they do with the unrealistic policies of their perpetually-opposition brethren in the federal NDP.

But there’s a long history of Trudeau giving the political stiff-arm to this province.

Ask former premier John Horgan. He tried to fight the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, so Trudeau bought the project and rammed it through himself. He tried to rally premiers for a better healthcare funding formula, so Trudeau unleashed attack-dog cabinet ministers to publicly embarrass Horgan during his last meeting as chair of the council of the federation. Horgan wrote a letter offering his services up in retirement. Trudeau ignored it.

The Eby administration has only been moderately more successful in dealing with Ottawa. That’s mainly because the federal Liberals are slipping so badly in the polls. A recent announcement Ottawa was dropping the GST on purpose-built rental housing had much more to do with political panic than months of lobbying by the B.C. government.

The carbon tax change was spurred by the collapse in Liberal polling numbers in Atlantic Canada, after the rural heating surcharge kicked in around four months ago.

Alberta, which also has its own provincial carbon tax, called on Ottawa to scrap the entire regime, or at least exempt home heating for all the provinces. The Trudeau government was merciless in its response.

“I can tell you Atlantic caucus was vocal with what they’ve heard from their constituents,” federal Rural Economic Development Minister Gudie Hutchings told CTV’s Vassy Kapelos. “And perhaps they need to elect more Liberals in the Prairies so that we can have that conversation as well.”

What a message: Elect more Liberals or your part of the country will suffer.

“It’s not about climate change, not about fairness, not about families, it’s only about votes,” Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe posted on social media, in response to the comments by Hutchings.

“This is the most divisive federal government Canada has ever had.”

B.C. already has 15 Liberal MPs, six of whom are current or recently-former cabinet ministers. How many more does this province need to elect to avoid getting treated like gum on Trudeau’s shoe?

The answer is irrelevant to the Eby government. It has to govern regardless.

But the BC NDP does have much higher popularity numbers than the federal Liberals in B.C. There is room for Eby to put up his elbows and start pushing back. After all, what’s the worst that could happen: Ottawa starts ignore or mistreating British Columbia? That’s already this province’s reality, each and every day.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 15 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. [email protected]