The discussion that has been initiated by Stephane Dion and the Liberal Party around a green tax shift is an opportunity for a public policy debate, involving a wide swath of the Canadian populace, around how we as a nation should be addressing the challenges around the environment, carbon and pollution, and the economy.
Inevitably however, when politics are involved actual debate on the merits of the issue usually proves all but impossible. The Conservatives and sympathetic pundits, for example, are raising the gas tax bogeyman, saying the dastardly Liberals want to raise your gas tax and, I don’t know, use the proceeds to build a giant statue of Pierre Trudeau made out of gold with his middle-finger extended towards Calgary or something. This, of course, ignores the fact that a) the statue will actually be built out of bronze and b) the Liberals have made repeated statements to the contrary:
“The policy hasn’t even been announced yet and already the Conservatives are on the attack, claiming we want to put up gas taxes. Nothing is farther from the truth. We already have enough excise tax on gas at the pumps. There are no plans—repeat no plans—to increase the excise tax.” -- Michael Ignatieff
The gas tax bogeyman has also been raised by the NDP, reaffirming the old notion politics makes strange bedfellows. They’ve also added in some of their own flava however, playing the “big bad corporate bogeyman is going to get you, your children, and your little dog too” card, insisting the Liberals are in bed with big business to gouge the “average Canadian” and ensure the corporate fat cats can buy bigger swimming pools and faster private jets or something.
Frankly, I think our friends the “average Canadians” can see through such bogeymen, and would prefer an actual debate on the merits of a green tax shift, actual fact-based arguments for and against, rather than fear-mongery politics as usual smears. Polls are consistently showing an appetite to at least discuss a carbon shift, and a strong base of support for the idea. Even if the public doesn’t end up supporting it, I think they’re likely to look more favourably on those groups that attempt to engage them in discussion, rather than scare them by going Boogedy Boogedy Boo a lot.
Which is what makes the Liberal approach to developing their carbon shift policy so interesting. They’ve put the idea out there, laid out a very few broad brush-strokes (no gas tax increase) and have let the debate ensue. Environmental groups, the media, the other parties, and other groups are all commenting and putting in their two cents.
As Steve noted over the weekend, this gives the Liberals a chance to hear many of the attack lines from the opposing parties and factor them into the final policy, blunting their attack lines when the policy is actually released. That’s useful.
Politics aside though, it’s also a sharp change from the usual method of policy development. Usually, in a political party, policy is developed in one of two ways. There’s the formal mechanism, where resolutions begin at the riding level and move up through the party structure to the national biennial for adoption by the delegates. These are non-binding and are usually ignored by the parliamentary wing. Then there’s the election platform, developed by the leader’s office and campaign team, in consultation with pollsters, and usually/hopefully selected stakeholders and interest groups.
The way this carbon shift policy is being developed though holds promise for a new, more open, more democratized way to develop policy. Rather than just involving a few special interests, open up the process to the country. Lay-out the broad direction and let everyone help fill in the details. Discover potential problems before the final policy is written and solve them preemptively. The end result can be a more sound, grounded policy with a greater chance of wide acceptance.
If the devil is, as they say, in the details, this is one way of getting those details right the first time.
Of course, such a road isn’t without risk. I’ve laid them out before: giving the opposition a chance to define it before you have, poisoning the ground. It’s a bold experiment though, one that could pay dividends, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.
My environmentalist is bigger than your environmentalist
In the mean time though, the opposing parties are stuck in the old politics as usual framework. Such as this NDP release of last week, which has been seized-upon today by many of their supportive bloggers.
The NDP attempts to claim the Liberals are in the pockets of Scrooge McDuck by quoting a few opponents to a carbon shift and implying the only person in favour of such a move is a pro-business lobby group.
That’s laughable. While I don’t think the NDP’s strategy of whipping our environmentalists out and asking Canadians whose is bigger is really the best way to debate environmental policy, for the record here’s just a few of the people that support such an idea. I’ll leave it to you to decide if size really does matter.
David Suzuki: Famed environmentalist David Suzuki has strongly backed Liberal leader Stephane Dion's emerging carbon tax plan and slammed the NDP and Conservatives.
After hearing the NDP's criticism of Dion's plan, Suzuki said: "I'm really shocked with the NDP with this. I thought that they had a very progressive environmental outlook."
"To oppose (the carbon tax plan), its just nonsense. It's certainly the way we got to go," he said Sunday on CTV's Question Period.
Stephen Hazell: Environmentalist Stephen Hazell, executive director of Sierra Club
"The carbon tax has a huge advantage over cap-and-trade in that it can be put in place very quickly and deliver results very quickly, whereas cap-and-trade, it's taken
Mr. Hazell said there are ways to ensure low-income people receive assistance so they are not hurt by carbon taxes.
"It just seems a little bit like pandering to us," he said. "They're pandering to people who are afraid about rising gas prices, the folks who would typically support the NDP. But we think it's alarmist and it's not helpful."
The Green Party also advocates a carbon tax.Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers