Saturday, May 10, 2008

"Dion's Carbon Tax Gambit" is Big Game Politics

Plays to weakness in Canadian politics

According to the National Post's Terence Corcoran, Stephane Dion's proposed carbon tax is a huge, ill-conceived gamble.

And it is. It plays to the general Liberal strength of putting together a good-sounding idea, making it look good on paper, then worrying about the planning after they get the votes.

But the carbon tax may be the first sign that Dion is ready to put his money where his mouth is, take some risks, and play big game politics. And if he plays his hand right, this is one idea that he very much could parlay into a tenancy at 24 Sussex Drive.

It isn't that the carbon tax is such a fantastic idea.

It won't do anything to curb carbon emissions -- economic research shows us that unless they're extravagantly high, taxes do little to provide an incentive to stop consuming a product, be it gasoline, tobacco or alcohol, and often in fact make a person feel entitled to continue consuming guilt-free.

It will absolutely never be revenue-neutral -- taxes, by their very definition, aren't ("revenue neutral" is an obfuscatory phrase).

Last, but not least, knowing the record of Liberal governments in Canada, we don't even have any guarantee that the revenue accrued under a carbon tax will be spent as Dion insists it would be -- in helping to offset carbon production with energy efficiency and carbon-capture projects.

But Dion's willingness to promote a carbon tax attacks what has become a structural weakness in Canadian politics.

In particular, a recent poll conducted by Nik Nanos found that most Canadians (31% of those polled) prefer Stephen Harper's vision of Canada. However, those that do account for less than a third of Canadians.

Dion himself slipped three points in the vision category. Jack Layton lost four points and Elizabeth May shed two. Harper, however, stood pat from previous findings.

Instead, an increasing number of Canadians are becoming unsure as to who is offering Canadians the best vision. According to Nanos' findings, a whopping 35% had no preference.

There's good reason for this, and it comes back to the very real sense among Canadians that our politicians have foregone any sense of vision.

And while the carbon tax's inevitable effect on fuel prices could make the vision that Dion is promoting potentially hazardous, one can't underestimate the potential drawing power of a politician with a vision.

After having spent so long without politicians with any demonstrable vision -- aside from Preston Manning, Brian Mulroney has been the only federal leader to give voice to any kind of vision at all, let alone one that Canadians are prepared to buy into.

There's also a lot to be said about a politician who's willing to take a risk. If Dion truly sticks to his guns on this one, he could see a lot more Canadians to take a long second look at the Liberal party. While there's no guarantee that they'll be willing to give him the political capital necessary to place his bet on a carbon tax, his chances to do that should improve significantly.

Then again, quite a few Canadians are likely not very eager to support a politician in gambling on Canada's future.

At the end of the day, Dion may find himself placing this bet all on his lonesome. But only time -- and lady luck -- will tell.

3 comments:

  1. Re: Dion’s Carbon Tax
    I agree that there is a bit of a vision-thing problem in Canadian politics at the moment.

    The NDP and Layton have put forward a number of substantive policy initiatives and had Harper been willing to work with the opposition maybe something interesting could have been achieved this session.

    In fact, Jack Layton put forward climate change legislation (Bill c30) which for a time had the support of all the opposition parties. Indeed it would have passed but the Liberals decided not to support it when it reached final reading in the House.

    It is truly unfortunate that this session of parliament is so moribund. Once it became apparent that real legislative work was near impossible and once Harper and his caucus began to propose legislation (regressive budget, immigration reforms that gives the Minister too much power, legislation that would censor/kill the Canadian film and television industry, etc.) the NDP has consistently voted against the Harper government. In fact they have vote non-confidence in Harper and his crew time and again.

    The Liberal Party, too preoccupied with leadership issues (as usual) are focused on what’ s best for Liberals as opposed to what’s best for the country. The Harper Conservatives did not win a majority. The majority of Canadians voted for a more centre-left agenda but Harper has been governing as if he has a mandate from the Canadian people for his Conservative agenda. Harper would not be able to do this if he weren’t supported in an ‘unofficial’ coalition by the Liberal Party of Canada. It is shocking to watch the LPC sit on their hands or worse not even bother to show up for votes. The real national opposition party is the NDP and I would encourage people to find out what the MSM doesn’t report about the work of the NDP visit (www.ndp.ca).

    PS The NDP is committed to reducing GHG emissions but unlike the Liberal Party the NDP favours a cap and trade system so that big polluters pay and are incented to reduce their GHG emissions. This will ensure that polluters help to fund the retool of our resource and manufacturing base so that it is greener. It balances market forces and government action for the betterment of the environment and our economy.

    It would also mean that consumers won’t be hit by crippling gas, heating and food costs. You can help the environment without throwing poor and working Canadians under the hybrid bus.

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  2. No, the NDP has yet to propose anything of substance, and it's a basic weakness of that particular party: they can offer some fairly ridiculous ideas because they know they'll never have to put them into place.

    For example, Layton's inherently cheap idea to ban ATM fees. Sure, it sounds good to the average Canadian who gets charged $1.75 every time they withdraw cash from a competing bank's ATM -- or a privately-operated one -- but let's not forget that these machines cost money to operate.

    It's ideas like this that, in my view, testify to the political cheapery of the NDP. They can propose some fairly ludicrous ideas because they know it'll appeal to a number of people on some fairly shallow grounds, even if it could never actually be done.

    It's the same political cheapery that underlies NDP policy on climate change. The NDP has clearly recognized that they will never appeal to business interests in any way, shape, or form, so they try to appeal to working Canadians by making it look as if they're "taking them on".

    So the NDP has themselves in a position where it benefits them politically to shift the burden of responsibility almost entirely to industry, without ever acknowledging the fact that the best way to fight climate change is actually to supplant fossil fuels as our premier source of energy -- which actually entails shifting the Canadian economy toward energy sources such as nuclear energy and hydrogen.

    Anything that makes it look like they're getting tough on corporate Canada, so long as it pays them political dividends, regardless of whether or not it's feasible, or will actually even work.

    On that note, I think it says a lot about whether or not the Conservatives have any type of mandate for their agenda -- and I agree, it isn't a complete agenda. But you argue that a majority of Canadians voted for a "centre-left agenda".

    Well, fair enough. The fact that, when you look at the overall agenda, the Conservatives very much have governed from the centre, but we have to look at it.

    17% of Canadians voted for the infeasible NDP agenda. Another 10% of Canadians (and all of these Quebeckers) voted in favour of a party that wants to break up the country.

    Beyond that, 32% voted for the Liberal agenda, and 36% voted for the Conservatives. That's a very narrow excuse for a mandate, but the governing party has a responsibility.

    We don't elect governments -- even minority governments -- to sit on their hands. We elect them to govern. And of the 68% of Canadians who voted in favour of a party actually interested in doing the country's interests, a(n admittedly slim) majority voted for the Conservatives.

    I would actually agree with you that there needs to be a lot more give-and-take from this government. But the long and short of it is that this party was elected, and they cannot be faulted for doing what they were elected to do.

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  3. In the first place, it seems this whole global warming hysteria may be getting a rethink. The chairman of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has recently had to concede that the average global temperature has been in decline since 1998. Another champion of the cause, Noel Keenlyside who is a team leader on environmrntal studies at the Max Planck Institute, and a stauntch advocate of global warming catastrophe, has also, reluctantly, had to admit that the latest data input to the U.N. climate supercomputer predicts decreasing temperatures until at least 2015.
    The NDP's vaunted cap and trade system is at work in Great Britain and a number of other European countries. The British government has estimated the cost of this ill-considered scheme at $3,000 per person per year. They also concede that it has had no measureable impact on CO2 emissions. The only thing it seems to have acomplished is to create an army of petty bureaucratic tyrants who have so angered the populace that it appears as if Gordon Brown and his Labour Party are doomed to defeat.
    The NDP may have a host of hare- brained ideas on how to manipulate the climate, but at the core, it is just another attempt to impose more government control and bureaucratic meddling in the lives of ordinary citizens. This would, of course, warm the cockles of every socialist's heart.

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