Christine Elliott is having to explain away comments she made about a possible future carbon tax while her rivals for the leadership of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party say it is proof that Elliott is flip-flopping.
All four of the PC leadership hopefuls have come out against the carbon tax proposed by former leader Patrick Brown and championed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, but at an event in Kingsville, Ontario on Friday, Elliott made comments that made her sound open to a carbon tax.
In the question and answer, part of which was recorded by a participant and provided to me, Elliott is heard saying a future carbon tax is possible.
“So we don’t need to go with a carbon tax, maybe in the future but not right now, people cannot afford it,” Elliott said.
The few words, “maybe in the future,” came at the end of a long answer where Elliott said she opposes the federal carbon tax and would join other provinces in fighting the Trudeau mandate in court but it is enough of an opening to allow her opponents to pounce.
“The PC Party cannot have a Liberal lite leader who will support reckless polices and who is open to bringing in a carbon tax,” Doug Ford told me.
Caroline Mulroney was blunt in her assessment.
“Under my leadership there will not be a carbon tax, not now, not ever,” Mulroney said over the phone as she campaigned in southwestern Ontario.
Elliott denied that she meant that she would bring in a carbon tax in the future if she were premier.
“Perhaps it might be some other government in the future but any government led by me would not introduce a carbon tax at any time,” Elliott said. “I’ve been opposed to a carbon tax since I was first elected in 2006.”
That’s not a line that leadership rival Tanya Granic Allen is buying, she asserts that Elliott is softening her position on the carbon tax in exchange for the support of former leader Patrick Brown.
“Why would she all of sudden say this about a carbon tax,” Granic Allen asked while pointing to Brown’s support for Elliott’s campaign. “I think this is just more evidence that perhaps there is that alleged secret deal between her and Patrick Brown.”
Granic Allen says she has been clear from the start that she will never back a carbon tax.
Elliott’s team denies she is softening her opposition or that there is a secret deal with Brown.
“Definitely not,” said a campaign spokesperson.
Elliott has previously run for the PC Party leadership in 2009 and 2015, she did not propose a carbon tax in either of her previous leadership bids.
That isn’t stopping her opponents from claiming she is out to pull a fast one on Ontario PC voters.
“You have to make sure where the elected official stands,” said Ford, a long time friend of Elliott. “I’ve said it today and I’ll say it tomorrow, we aren’t wavering.”
Mulroney said that if Elliott needs to explain her position between her previous stance and the “maybe in the future” comments then that is a problem for Elliot and her team. Granic Allen said if she wins the leadership and becomes premier voters will never have to worry about a carbon tax.
“I stand by my commitments and I remain opposed to a carbon tax and would not introduce it in any government led by me at any time,” Elliott said.
Elliott’s campaign puts down her opponents comments down to nothing more than “lobbing grenades” at the front runner. One recent poll of members put Elliott slightly behind Doug Ford, that poll was taken prior to Patrick Brown’s withdrawal from the race and his endorsement of Elliott but also before the most recent debate in Ottawa which likely resulted in some members shifting their support.
UPDATE: Despite statements made to me, and in public, by Patrick Brown’s spokesperson that he is backing Christine Elliott, Elliott’s campaign contacted me after this article was published to say there is no official endorsement.