OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will try to shift the focus from the SNC-Lavalin affair to his preferred campaign battleground — climate change — with the release this week of the Liberal party's first election-year ads.
Radio ads will air in the four provinces where the federal government is imposing a carbon tax after their conservative provincial governments refused to levy their own price on carbon: Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick.
The ads stress that the money raised from the tax will be rebated directly to residents in those provinces.
Trudeau will set the stage for the ad campaign with a "climate action" rally in Toronto on Monday night.
The ads will then begin airing Tuesday morning, aimed at commuters.
The message, delivered by Trudeau, is identical for the four provinces — aside from the amount of money to be rebated to residents, which varies depending on the amount of carbon emissions to be taxed in each province.
According to the ads, an average family of four will receive more than $600 this year in Saskatchewan, more than $300 in Ontario and Manitoba and more than $250 in New Brunswick.
"Climate change is a real and serious problem," Trudeau says in the ads.
"We have a strong plan to fight it, one that leading scientists and economists support. It makes polluters pay and gives the money back to people."
In a jab at the federal Conservatives and their provincial cousins, Trudeau concludes: "Now, some politicians want to go back to the Harper years when pollution was free. We have to do better than that. Our kids are counting on us."
Ads planned for months, party spokesman says
The Trudeau government is requiring provinces to impose a price on carbon emissions, starting at $20 per tonne this year and rising by $10 per tonne annually until it hits $50 in 2022. It is imposing its own tax on those provinces that have refused to meet the federal threshold.
The first payments will be visible to residents in the four provinces when they file their taxes this spring — in plenty of time to register with voters before they head to the polls in October.
Trudeau is also scheduled to visit Monday with a Mississauga family to "highlight the climate action incentive payment."
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is also set to make a climate-related announcement in Ottawa on Monday, as the start of what a spokeswoman calls the start of an "Ontario tour." The prime minister and other Liberal MPs will be making similar appearances across the country this week.
Liberal party spokesman Braeden Caley says the rally and the radio ads have been planned for months — long before the SNC-Lavalin affair engulfed Trudeau's government this month with allegations of political interference in the justice system. But the timing is felicitous as the Liberals seek to change the channel from the controversy.
In bombshell testimony before the House of Commons justice committee last week, former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould said she was improperly pressured last fall by the Prime Minister's Office, the finance minister's office and the country's top public servant to prevent a criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.
Watch: Wilson-Raybould says she asked Trudeau if he was interfering in case
Trudeau has insisted that he and others only wanted Wilson-Raybould to consider the impact of a prosecution on the viability of the Montreal engineering giant and its 9,000 Canadian employees, but they were always clear that it was up to her alone, as attorney general, to decide whether to intervene.
The director of public prosecutions, Kathleen Roussel, decided last September not to negotiate a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin, a legal option that would force the company to pay stiff penalties without the risk of a criminal conviction that could cripple it financially.
It is legally permissible for the attorney general to override the director of public prosecutions. Wilson-Raybould has said she considered the pressure on her to do so "inappropriate," although she concedes it was not illegal.
Liberals mock Scheer for lack of climate change plan
Until the SNC-Lavalin affair exploded last month, climate change was anticipated to be the pivotal issue in the looming federal election campaign.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has warned that the carbon tax will drive up the cost of everything for consumers. He has yet to unveil his own plan for battling climate change — a fact which Liberals have ridiculed on a party-sponsored website that professes to be about the Conservative leader's climate plan.
Anyone visiting the website gets an error message — "No plan found" — and an updated count of the number of days that have gone by since Scheer promised a plan (308 as of Sunday).