Last week the federal NDP put forward a motion that sets out (what I believe to be) a truly fair, common-sense approach to deal with two of the most important issues of our time—the climate catastrophes we are living through every year across this country and the struggle many Canadians are facing just to get by.
In a nutshell, the motion recognized that Canadians are facing increasing costs of the climate crisis and at the same time are facing rising fuel costs for gas at the pumps and in their home heating while the gas and oil companies that are charging those costs are reaping in record profits. On top of that, both oil and gas heating are contributing to the carbon emissions fuelling the climate crisis. It’s a vicious circle.
The NDP motion proposed three straight-forward solutions to that situation—take the GST off home heating (bills), provide heat pumps free to lower-income and medium-income families in an easily accessed program and fund the program with a windfall tax on the record profits being made by fossil fuel companies.
This motion was a response to both the Liberal’s bungled program to provide relief to some Canadians by taking the carbon tax off home heating oil and the Conservative’s motion to extend that relief to natural gas for home heating as well. Both those ideas fail the fairness test of the federation.
The Liberal program benefits predominantly Atlantic Canadians where many homes are heated with oil, while the Conservative motion would have British Columbians and Quebecois out in the cold, because families in those provinces don’t pay the federal carbon tax.
One of the key steps the NDP included in its motion is to take the GST off home heating bills. The GST is not supposed to be charged on the necessities of life. We don’t pay GST on food and I think everyone would agree home heating is a necessity of life in Canada. Removing it on home heating bills would save everyone money across the country—helping people to get by in a truly fair way.
At the same time, action on climate change is also a necessity. This was a summer that marked a shift in public opinion about climate change—public awareness that climate change is not a theoretical event somewhere in the future. We are living it today.
People struggled to breathe across the country this summer (because of wildfire smoke). Thousands had to leave their homes in hastily planned evacuations, including the entire city of Yellowknife (because of wildfires). People lost their homes. People died.
This year was worse than 2021. That was the year of the “heat dome” in late June followed by an unprecedented “atmospheric river” event in November. What many forget, or don’t even know, is that 619 people died of heatstroke in Metro Vancouver during the 2021heat dome. That was the real tragedy of that year.
Most who died lived in lower income areas of the Lower Mainland, in neighbourhoods with no access to shady green spaces. They died in apartment complexes with no air conditioning. They died with their windows closed against the stifling heat.
Providing people, and especially lower income Canadians, with air conditioning would save hundreds of lives during future heat events. If we do that with heat pumps, switching out oil and gas heating units to provide comfortable electric heat in winter as well as air conditioning in summer, we’ll save lives and cut emissions as well. The incredible efficiency of heat pumps will also significantly reduce energy bills, further helping Canadians make ends meet.
Right now, government incentives to install heat pumps are time-consuming, difficult and (heat pumps are) almost impossible to afford for lower income families. We need a simple, essentially free, program to bring this benefit to as many Canadians as possible.
Over the past few years, fossil fuel corporations have raked in record profits as the world oil price soared. The five big oil companies in Canada made $38 billion in profits last year alone. The parliamentary budget officer recently reported a windfall profit tax would bring in more than $4 billion—and that could create a fund that would provide for tens of thousands of heat pumps every year.
Cutting the GST off home heating costs, providing free, efficient heat pumps and funding all that through an excess profit tax on oil companies, these are common sense solutions from the NDP.
(Editor's note: The non-binding NDP motion was defeated Nov. 8, in the House of Commons, 292-30 with only NDP and Green Party MPs voting in favour. Two days earlier, the non-binding Conservative motion calling for the federal carbon tax on all home heating fuels was also defeated, 186-135.)
Richard Cannings is the NDP MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.