Sunday, August 17, 2008

An Alternative View of Stephane Dion's Green Shift

It was recently brought to my attention that a good personal friend of mine -- and U of A Gateway colleague -- Jared Milne recently published an article in the Edmonton Journal commenting on Stephane Dion's Green Shift.

Those following the story here on the Nexus are well aware of the criticisms previously offered here. That being said, let it never be said that we at the Nexus are afraid of offering a dissenting opinion. On that note, here is what Mr Milne had to say about Dion's Green Plan:

"Dion's Green Shift offers a place to start

Even if you don't believe in climate change, plan would address many problems

Liberal Leader Stephane Dion's Green Shift plan for the environment has stirred up much controversy in recent months, not the least of which are the West's concerns about the plan's impact on the region's natural resources.

Some fear a repeat of the dark days of the national energy program, and others are raising the spectre of yet another national unity crisis.

Other parts of the country, such as Nova Scotia and the governments of the northern territories, have had similar reservations about Dion's policy. But before the debate becomes polarized, both sides need to take a look at each other's points of view.

For example, even if you don't believe in climate change, Alberta still faces a host of problems related to the development of the oilsands: the ecological devastation and the strains on our water supply, concerns noted by both right-wingers like Peter Lougheed and left-wingers like the Parkland Institute; serious medical problems among the aboriginal people of Fort Chipewyan resulting from contamination of their food supplies; the outsourcing of our bitumen and related jobs to the U.S.; the anger of some landowners over pollution of their property from sour gas wells and other problems, and their frustration over government activities related to the oilpatch, like the EUB scandal; inflation and a superheated economy putting a serious strain on ordinary workers, as Peter Lougheed has pointed out; and air and water pollution in general.

Unlike Stephen Harper, Dion is actually proposing concrete measures to try and respond to these problems that affect us all as Canadians. All of these things could be incorporated into a national green plan, which can propel it beyond the polarized debate on climate change.

And western concerns are very real, especially given the greater concentration of industrial emissions in the West, and the role of oil and gas development in the region's economy.

Some westerners even compare the Green Shift to the national energy program of the early 1980s, blamed by many for worsening or even causing Alberta's economic woes of that era. And their critics rightly point out that we're hardly the only polluters in Canada -- will the Green Shift have more of an impact on western resource development, than, for instance, Ontario's heavy industry or its coal-burning power plants?

The rhetoric on both sides doesn't help, either. Did Ken Boshcoff honestly think that his foolish blogging about a transfer of wealth from the West to the East would help Dion's cause? All that has done is fuel western suspicions, and made it that much harder to find an honest solution.

Besides, whether it's through the interest-free grants and loans Lougheed made to financially strapped provinces in the 1970s, up to the centennial scholarships organized as one of Ralph Klein's final gestures in office, the idea that Alberta is always selfish and uncaring is just plain ridiculous.

By the same token, however, any refusal to co-operate on Alberta's part and, even more so, any talk of western separation in response to the Green Shift won't help matters, and just gives ammunition to people who say we're greedy and uncaring.

Such issues as landowner anger over the Energy and Utilities Board scandal, and contamination of their land and property, and the sharp criticisms made by Peter Lougheed, show that not only left-wingers and Liberals are worried about these things -- they're problems that affect everyone, regardless of political affiliation.

Lougheed, the grandfather of Alberta conservatism, the man who brought the Conservatives to power in the first place, has stressed the need for an "olive branch" to the rest of Canada -- if the federal Conservatives aren't going to do anything about pollution, then doesn't it make more sense to try and cooperate with Dion and the Liberals if they actually are trying to find a solution, and make it stronger and better with our own input, rather than simply refusing to speak to him because of his party affiliation?

Lougheed has said that the oil projects in Fort McMurray should be slowed down -- maybe this slowdown can take some of the pressure off both our ecology and our economy, and buy us some time to deal with everything from the pollution at Fort Chipewyan to runaway inflation to the strain on our water tables, to finding a solution to the problems with the Energy and Utilities Board and pollution of public and privately owned land, without crippling the oil industry and putting Alberta in the poorhouse.

At the same time, we could make a strong statement to the rest of Canada by pointing and helping with other problems, like Ontario's continued dependence on heavily polluting coal plants.

Prominent Liberals and Conservatives like Dion and Lougheed are discussing many of the same issues -- if anything, the East and West probably have more common ground than they realize.

From there, a competent federal government can act as mediator between the provinces, developing a pan-Canadian environmental strategy that combines policies that apply to Canada as a whole in with variations that take provincial differences into account.

Whether or not the Green Shift is the solution to Canada's environmental woes, at least it's a start.

If Canadians co-operate with and listen to one another, and make an honest effort to see each other's points of view, maybe we can come together to do something great for the landscape we love.
Update: The man himself has some more points he'd like to add about the article in question:

"I am not so much endorsing the Green Shift so much as I am urging people not to dismiss it out of hand. I'm trying to show Westerners, especially Albertans, the other side of the story, and some of the reasons why people feel a need for this type of legislation. It's especially important not to dismiss Dion out of hand just because he's a Liberal-he's trying to do something about pollution, problems we're dealing with in Alberta."

"That said, the critiques offered by people like Rajiv Sinha (in the Sunday, August 17 edition of the Journal) are quite right. One important thing I wanted to do in the article was get people to consider Alberta's point of view, and just why we're so leery about the Green Shift. I wanted to put more emphasis on the comparison to the NEP, and Alberta's connection between that program and the Green Shift, in the original version, but I had to reduce it owing to the editor's changes. Like I said in the article, if we're going to tackle pollution, we have to do it in a way that minimizes the risk of putting Alberta in the poorhouse. After all, many Westerners have pointed out-and quite rightly, I might add-that Alberta's serving as one of the country's major economic engines, and we're already sharing a lot of our wealth in transfer payments. From Lougheed to Klein, Alberta has always been there to lend a hand in one way or another, and portraying us as blue-eyed sheiks, or comparing us to Quebec separatists-thank you very much, Garth Turner, we really appreciate it-doesn't do a damn thing to help out. Damage Alberta's oil industry, and what will happen to the rest of the national economy? Harper's tax cuts and squandering of the federal surplus have left us with little cash to draw on in case of an economic crisis-and wrecking one of our best industries doesn't help one bit if another such crisis does come."

"Like I said, the Green Shift is a start. I don't really think it's the be-all and end-all of environnmental policy-indeed, it might have sold better in Alberta if the emphasis wasn't just put on climate change, and steps were taken to mediate the Shift's regional effects. Harsher environnmental fines, subsidies for R&D in energy-efficient technology, and more support for public transit could all fit into a national green policy, and gain more support in the process, including in Alberta. As it stands, the Green Shift's impact is going to have the biggest impacts in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland, and its effects are going to be unevenly distributed across the country. Don't get me wrong, it's extremely important that we restore at least some of the social safety net, as the Green Shift proposes, but the "transfer of wealth" that Ken Boshcoff stupidly advocates isn't the way to do it."

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