Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The politics of green

And by green I don’t mean money, although dolla bills are certainly part of the equation. No, by green I mean environmental policy, and specifically carbon shifts, carbon taxes, green shifts, NAMBLA, whatever you want to call it.

With two green policy motions (dating back how many years, I don’t know) set to be debated at the upcoming Liberal convention that mention a carbon tax (in passing, it should be noted, as one possible component of a wider environmental policy) the issue is back somewhat on the federal scene. The Conservatives are/will also try to make something of Ignatieff’s original support for a carbon tax.

I’m fairly confident that a carbon tax won’t be part of our election platform. Even though every expert agrees it’s the superior solution. We took it to the people last time, and they said no. They didn’t like the tradeoffs. That’s democracy. We’ll try other approaches. C’est la vie. If public opinion comes around in the future, we can revisit it.

What’s more interesting though is what’s happening on the carbon tax front in British Columbia, where the provincial election is underway. There, the carbon tax is already implemented by the BC Liberals (no relation). And it caused us federal folks no end of frustration during the last election, with both the NDP and the Conservatives teaming-up to spread lies and misinformation, scare-mongering about double taxation and promoting other myths.

But federal headaches aside, it has been fascinating to watch the carbon tax drama unfold in BC.

There was a time I might have looked at a carbon tax as an ‘Only Nixon could go to China’ kind of thing. It’s good policy, but the fed Libs would (and did) get slammed on the right for trying it (my idealistic hopes we could pull it off to the contrary). But if you sold a conservative government (like the BC Libs) on a carbon shift, which every environmental expert will tell you is the right policy, and had that conservative government put it forward, then surely the more progressive parties would be on board, and Bob’s your uncle.

Well, the first half worked. Gordon Campbell went to China. And then the BC NDP went all Joe McCarthy on his ass.

It’s hard to see the NDP’s decision to oppose the carbon tax as anything but political opportunism, designed to win rural votes in Northern British Columbia, where the carbon tax is deeply unpopular. Any support their stance wins them though may cost them support with their traditional base, however:

"A step backwards for climate action." That's how three environmental organizations described the provincial New Democrat's campaign platform during a media briefing today, stating the "positive ideas" included in that document are "insufficient to compensate" for the party's promise to cancel the carbon tax. At the same time, they applauded the Liberals for taking British Columbia from being a climate change "laggard to leader in four years" by introducing that tax, among other measures.

Or maybe not. Because while three groups were present for yesterday’s presser attacking the BC NDP’s climate change platform (the David Suzuki Foundation, ForestEthics and The Pembina Institute), a year ago 16 environmental groups came together to support the carbon tax. Because I guess, for some environmental groups, while criticizing NDP opposition to a carbon tax is one thing, doing so on the eve of an election is quite another.

From the Western Canada Wilderness Committee:
"Yes, the wilderness committee is disappointed that the NDP do not support the carbon tax. But, in a broader environmental sense, we are very pleased with many parts of the NDP platform - including their protection of BC Hydro and keeping it public and protected, our best tool for fighting climate change."


"Well, I understand their disappointed over the NDP not following the carbon tax, but for God sake! The sucking up to large industrial polluters, the gutting of everything from the Forest Practices Code to the very right for citizens to know whose polluting in their neighborhoods, the catering to the carbon spewing industries - including those industries that profit from sprawl development - why in the Hell would you support that or pander to it in this way?"

Fair enough. A carbon tax is just one element of environmental policy. It’s one that the BC Liberals have gotten right, and it’s a significant step, but it’s perfectly legitimate to argue they’ve dropped the ball in other areas, and that the NDP platform is superior in other areas.

And one wonders, even if the NDP does piss off some of their green base, where is it going to go? It’s like the federal Conservatives pissing off the so-cons: where are they going to go?

Some may go BC Liberal, but probably not in large numbers. They fundamentally disagree with Gordo on too many other issues to hold their noses. What would be interesting is if we see NDP supporters going to the Green Party, particularly in urban seats. It could be enough of a margin to swing a few seats. Most though will probably take the pragmatic view and hold their noses, remembering Kang and Kodos’ advice about voting for third-party candidates.

So, it will be fascinating to see how the carbon tax issue plays-out in the BC election campaign. As an interesting sidenote though, consider how this could play out if we’d passed STV in 2005 (hopefully we’ll pass it this time). Rather than feeling they need to vote NDP to stop Campbell and with the impact of those that do go Green being muted by FPTP, under STV green NDP supporters would feel freer to vote Green to express their carbon tax displeasure. And it wouldn’t take much of a percentage shift to see a number of seats go from NDP to Green. You’d also likely see the BC Liberals bleed seats to the Reform/Conservatives/ whatever they’re calling themselves these days.

It would be a very different legislature, with very different dynamics, to be sure. This could be the last election where the NDP could get away with a strategic calculation like this. Time will tell.

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Skinny Dipper said...

NAMBLA-the North American Man Boy Love Association. I saw it on South Park.

I hope you are referring to NAFTA or the country of Namibia.

Jason Hickman said...

What would be interesting is if we see NDP supporters going to the Green Party, particularly in urban seats. It could be enough of a margin to swing a few seats. Most though will probably take the pragmatic view and hold their noses, remembering Kang and Kodos’ advice about voting for third-party candidates.Heh. I may not come here for the politics, but I'll always enjoy a good Simpsons reference.

Normally I'd agree re: the GP, but as you undoubtedly know, BC is the place where the GP was taken more or less seriously before anywhere else, including the federal scene. If memory serves, the GP-BC was included in the leaders' debate since '01. They could well attract and hold on to some of those disaffected NDP votes.

That said, at least some of the GP-BC's success was due to their leader, Adrienne(?) Carr, who resigned since the last election. She was kind of a proto-May - fairly media-savvy and able to make use of her party's limited resources. I know squat-all about whomever's leading the GP now, and I don't know if s/he will get invited to the leaders' debate.

(And if s/he does, I wonder if that will secure an invite for the leader of the BC Conservatives, especially if they're running > a small handful of candidates for the first time in a dog's age. You may see both the BC Libs and the BCNDP wanting to keep the small fry out of the debates entirely.)

A BCer in Toronto said...


Or the North American Marlon Brando Look Alikes. I was going for the Daily Show/ Jon Stewart running joke where he lists some jargon or groups and then adds, or NAMBLA... perhaps a stretch. Some hit, some miss.


I have seen some pretty strong anti-Green commentary from the BC NDP lately. Stuff about "stealing their vote" that their federal cousins always attacked the fed libs for if we every hinted at same. So they probably are indeed concerned. And the impact of the BC Cons will be interesting to watch as well.