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.