Monday, September 15, 2008

Can the Tories Sweep Saskatchewan?

Green Shift plan not playing well in Saskatchewan

As observers look ahead to the results of the 14 October federal election, two questions loom large.

First: will the Conservatives sweep Alberta again?

Second: can the Conservatives sweep Saskatchewan?

In Alberta, the prospects of another smothering Conservative victory remain strong. Although Rahim Jaffer could be upset in Edmonton-Strathcona and Laurie Hawn will have to work hard to hold Edmonton Centre, the Tories still have a solid provincial victory earlier in the year giving them the momentum they need to maintain their lock on Alberta.

In Saskatchewan, meanwhile, Wascana MP Ralph Goodale remains the only Liberal awash in a sea of blue.

He was one of two non-Conservative MPs in the province until Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River MP Gary Merasty resigned his seat. In a by-election he was replaced by Conservative Rob Clarke, who defeated Liberal Joan Beatty. Beatty had been hand-chosen by Stephane Dion over current candidate David Orchard, who had been chosen by the party's riding association.

Orchard has already called for Dion to soften the Green Shift's inevitable impact on farmers.

Orchard has, against Dion's inclinations, been cast into a star candidate role in Saskatchewan. But that isn't where Liberal troubles end in the province. Not by a longshot.

Just as in Alberta, conservatives in Saskatchewan have an election victory -- this one by Brad Wall's Saskatchewan party -- to provide them with momentum.

Wall has come out and criticized Liberal leader Stephane Dion's Green Shift plan. Wall noted that the Green Shift plan would result in a loss of $500 million per annum for Saskatchewan and a 41% increase in electricity costs by 2012.

For his own part, Goodale denounced Wall's claims as "crock of unmitigated horsefeathers."

Unfortunately for Goodale, horses don't have feathers, and Scott Brison, one of the masterminds of the Green Shift plan, has already admitted that the plan will result in higher electicity costs.

"Their arithmetic is just completely wrong, mistaken and false," Goodale insisted, noting that corporate tax cuts accompanying carbon taxation should make up for the extra costs. In theory.

"This is the old Conservative tactic of throw enough mud against the fan and hope everyone gets splattered," Goodale added.

According to political scientist Ken Rasmussen, Wall's comments likely won't have much effect on the election in Saskatchewan. "This is a province that the Tories have, I wouldn't say sewn up, but they're probably going to be quite effective in retaining their seats," he noted.

University of Saskatchewan political scientist David McGrane thinks otherwise. "The fact that Premier Wall has been so outspoken in saying that the Green Shift is harmful for Saskatchewan, that's definitely going to play in favour of the Conservatives," he predicted.

Meanwhile, David Orchard may be stepping on the wrong toes in Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River by opposing uranium mining. This in a rural riding where the Green Shift will almost certainly prove to be anathema. “The proposed carbon tax will spell economic doom for the north, in forestry, exploration, farming. Orchard is against uranium mining and oil development,” Rob Clarke noted. “The carbon tax is going to increase fuels costs and raise costs on all household items. Being in government, I will prevent that from happening."

Stephen Harper has offered solid support of his candidate in Wascana, Michelle Hunter.

Clearly, Harper understands the value of unseating Goodale, a former Finance Minister.

For his own part, Goodale insists that the Liberal Green Shift plan would be less costly than the Conservative plan. "They are going to impose costs by imposing their regulations and the target they're aiming at is 35 per cent more severe than Mr Dion's plan. But the crucial difference is that the Dion plan has across-the-board income tax cuts for every family, every individual, every business in the country that will add up to the biggest reduction in income tax in Canadian history," Goodale insisted.

So, while Goodale admits that, by the measuring stick that most environmentalists are measuring climate change policy, Harper's plan is better, Goodale wants to insist that, well, the Liberal plan will at least be cheaper.

Goodale and the Liberals can't even seem to play straight with the environmental lobby.

All the while many Canadians remain concerned about Dion's plans for potential carbon tariffs and seeming lack of a post-Green Shift vision, particularly vis a vis the recovery of lost revenue once carbon tax revenues decline with greenhouse gas emissions.

The Liberals have their work cut out for them in Saskatchewan. Come October 14, Saskatchewan could be joing Alberta adorned in Tory blue.

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