It wasn’t just  people from the Northwest Territories and the Okanagan Valley who have recently had their lives disrupted. The latest outbreak of wildfires that has added to the record destruction of our forests and forced some 50,000 people to flee their homes also inconvenienced Pierre Poilievre and his Conservative party (aka the PPC – Pierre Poilievre Conservatives).  Last week, the PPCs  had to postpone their campaign against carbon pricing.  

The PPCs had planned an “axe the tax rally,” featuring Poilievre, for last Monday in Campbell River, B.C., a community about 500 kilometres west of the latest major outbreak in the Okanagan. The news release on the cancellation in Campbell River also announced that Poilievre rallies in Terrace, B.C. (with a wildfire about 200 km away) and Yukon (over 100 active wildfires at last count) were also put on the back burner, so to speak.

The cancellations seem to have escaped the notice of  the media. That’s the hostile gang the PPC claim they must “go around” in order to share their message. (More on that at a later date).  

Anyway, the PPC-imagined media cabal was pre-occupied last week reporting Poilievre’s predictable reactions to the manifest housing failings of the Justin Trudeau government. Its members failed to report the irony of the ostensible government-in-waiting PPC cancelling rallies against climate change mitigation on account of raging forest fires – fires resulting largely from climate change.  It’s a bit like putting off a meeting of the temperance league because members had to go to a cocktail party.

But the story is about more than the best laid PPC plans for the week going awry, as they often do in politics. It’s about the fact the PPC would even be doing these rallies against carbon pricing, key to transitioning away from fossil fuels, during a scorching spring and summer of burning forests here and across the globe.

Considering that British Columbia and the northwest in general have suffered the most, during this and previous “wildfire seasons”, the optics of last week’s postponed anti-carbon pricing rallies seem even worse. That it took the evacuation of almost the entire population of the Northwest Territories before the penny dropped suggests that Poilievre and the PPC base  simply don’t care about the climate issue.

Just as the United States is enduring a split between reality and the Trumpian Big Lie about a stolen election, Canadian politics is becoming polarized between those who want to ignore the causes and effects of climate change and the rest of us who want to see action against a real threat to our future on this planet.

That’s not to say that carbon pricing alone is a sufficient response to the climate crisis, or that the program the Liberals have put in place can’t be improved. However, amid a summer of unprecedented environmental destruction braying “axe the tax” as a rallying cry without proposing a serious alternative suggests much of the PPC base has its own reality in which climate change barely exists or hardly matters. 

Further evidence of the PPC’s  head-in-the-sand climate views emerged from a recent EKOS poll conducted for two environmental groups, Nature Canada and the Natural Resources Defence Council. EKOS reported that a combined nine out of ten Liberal, NDP, Green and Bloc supporters see climate change as a primary contributor to wildfires. But in response to the question “to what extent do you believe climate change is responsible for the surge in wildfires this year,” only 24 per cent of self-identified Conservative voters chose to a “high extent.”

The poll was a random sample of 1,071 Canadians conducted in late July and early August, claiming a margin of error of three per cent or less 19 times out of 20. The poll also asked who or what “holds responsibility” for wildfires, and 49 per cent of Conservative voters blamed  arsonists.

Scientists have debunked the notion that arson is responsible for the avalanche of wildfires. Although arsonists may have started a few fires, as has happened regularly in the past, the widespread devastation is the result of unprecedented hot, dry weather and strong winds.  But PPC voters seem to prefer the scientific expertise of Premier Danielle Smith whose response to wildfires in Alberta earlier this summer was to promise to hire more arson investigators.  

What makes all of this even worse is that under Poilievre the official opposition party has gone backwards on climate policy. The party has never supported the carbon tax, despite it being endorsed by many business interests as the most efficient way of reducing carbon emissions. But the “axe the tax” campaign also incorporates opposition to the clean fuel standard. That’s the measure that Tim Houston and the other Atlantic premiers have been complaining about, even though it was part of the Conservative platform when Erin O’Toole led the party into the 2021 election campaign. 

To score political points and keep his base happy Poilievre has jettisoned  even that plank, leaving the Conservatives with no climate change plan at all. Presumably the PPC will concoct something in an effort to cover themselves for the next election campaign. But whatever they come up with, their true colours were on display during the summer of 2023, when Poilievre’s party campaigned against climate mitigation measures during a season of devastating climate-induced wildfires.