Saturday, March 27, 2010

Green shift, what green shift? Live-blogging energy, environment, and economy at Canada at 150

1:52 PM: I’m running late, had to get some things done in the press room and then head over to the mall to pick up a few necessities. So I missed the bulk of the afternoon keynote from Sheila Watt-Cloutier, former Canadian President and International Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council.

I did catch a bit of her address though, and what I heard was very interesting. She was largely talking about energy and climate change, also adding her perspective as an Inuit leader.

A few bullets: the Conservatives are doing nothing on the environment, the Liberals talked a lot but did very little as well. No matter which party is in government, she said we need more than words on climate change. We need a strong, comprehensive, meaningful plan for action.

She also added she worked with Stephane Dion on these issues, particularly when he was environment minister, and she said his commitment to these issues is substantial.

2:07 PM: It’s a two-speaker panel on Geopolitics and Canadian Interests in the North American Energy Market. First speaker is Michael Phelps. No, not that Michael Phelps. It’s the former chairman and CEO of Westcoast Energy Inc.

One of the things he said that struck me was that there is no will or consensus for meaningful action on climate change in the United States. He’s never seen it more divisive, and doesn’t expect any real action from there soon. The message being, Canada can’t wait for the United States to get its act together before we take meaningful action – which has been Stephen Harper’s consistent excuse for inaction.

Also, he said fossil fuels aren’t going away (well, they are running out, but you know what he means) so we need to make them cleaner and more sustainable, but also find, develop, and support as many energy alternatives and other forms of energy as possible.

2:15 PM: We’ll never get to 0 carbon says Dan Gagnier, chairman of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, but we should get it as low as possible. He dreams about getting to 0, and I tries in my own life. But carbon is a fundamental element of the universe. But if we got to 80 per cent of our goal of 0, he said, he’d be ecstatic.

Phelps said you have to price carbon, and in his view the only way to do it effectively and meaningfully is through carbon taxation. And myself and the other five Dion loyalists in the room applaud, while the others look uncomfortable.

2:26 PM: Phelps says the only thing that will change consumer behaviour is price – in the context of gasoline prices, reducing consumption, and getting out/away from cars. Hard to disagree with that. If se saw gas regularly at over $2.00/litre, even the well-off would drive less.

Maybe we do need higher-priced gas? Eddie Goldenberg just breezed by, I should ask him how that would look on a campaign brochure…

2:32 PM: Questioner asks if you crazy panellists seriously want the Liberal Party to go our and campaign – again – on a carbon tax, because, seriously, were you around during the last election. OK, I editorialize, but that’s the gist.

Phelps gamely steps up and says he knows the politics of it. He’s looked at cap and trade but calls it opaque and open to gaming; carbon tax is still the right policy. BC did it and it’s working, but they don’t want to talk about it. He said “I’d be standing on a soap-box and saying you should use less carbon because you’re going to pay for it.” Still, he recognizes while it’s the right policy, politically it’s suicidal, “I’d rather do the Mackenzie Valley project that run on a carbon tax.,” he said, referring to the controversial pipeline project I believe he helped sheppard.

2:39 PM: Next questioner says he takes issue with the position that the last election was about a rejection of a carbon tax by the electorate (he didn’t mention if he believes it was Stephane’s English or something). We lost the last election on many things, he says. If it’s the right thing to do, we should do it, which gets strong applause, and not just from the Dionistas this time.

Gagnier says people need to understand the benefits, if they see it as tax they’ll run for the hills. There are carbon taxes in Europe and there it’s revenue neutral. If you cut back other taxes, like income taxes it can work, he says. Give people a choice and they’ll make the right one.

I have to say, here is an issue where the gap between academia/policy wonkery and real politick is illustrated starkly. What do you do when you know, from a scientific, from an academic, from a fact-based discussion, what the right thing to do is, when you also know it is near death to sell politically. Because if you can’t get elected, you can’t do sweet all.

I’m not sure a carbon tax is necessarily unsaleable. I think we just did a particularly shitty job if selling it, and had a number of strikes against us before we even started. So I think it is possible for politicians to make these tough sells.

Should we go back to a carbon shift platform again, though? Well, I was talking with a friend yesterday about the need for our party to find some balls, and that would be pretty dammed ballsy. I’m certainly not eager to dive back into that pool, though. I’d need to see a lot more consensus, and public buy-in, before I’d support campaigning on it.

As a Dion guy, while I can’t help but feel a degree or ironic vindication, I also can’t help but wonder, where the hell were all these people when we were campaigning on this, and getting savaged on BS distortions? Now industry is coming out in favour, joining the environmental groups. We could have used them in 2008.

I guess my feeling is if they want us to put a carbon tax on the agenda, they’re going to need to step up and buy into the idea first. They should start campaigning for it, soften the ground, then maybe we’ll be comfortable jumping in. But not before.

2:55 PM: Next energy panel is up now, but I was writing through the break so I’m going to grab a beverage, back shortly.

3:07 PM: Really delicious treats in the coffee break; as a BCer I rightly choose a Nanaimo bar.

We’re back with another panel, dubbed Clean Energy and Canada’s Potential in the Low Carbon World: What’s Missing? One of the panellists, I think it was Steven Guilbeault, Co-Founder of Équiterre, just said that one in four of people that voted Liberal in the last election did so on the Liberal environmental policy, much higher than the other parties. That’s an interesting stat.

3:23 PM: And we’re back to a carbon tax again. I wonder how this very interesting debate would be going if this Hyatt was in Calgary, not Montreal?

One panellist says even Exxon is in favour of a carbon tax now and if Exxon is in favour, he’s not sure who could possibly be still opposed – except, perhaps, Stephen Harper. Oh, I’m sure we could find a few others. Or Harper could...

3:29 PM: Another panellist makes an interesting point about thinking more broadly. In Spain, he says, they wanted to get cars out of the city centre so they put a heavy tax on bringing cars downtown, although they didn’t call it a carbon tax. They got the intended result – much less cars in the city centre – but there were also unintended consequences. Cars are a major household expense, and once that capital was freed-up, spending increased substantially on health, on education, on entertainment. So you need to look beyond the immediate goal to the spinoffs.

3:45 PM: Hey, it's former Chretien-era natural resources minister Herb Daliwhal! Long time, no heard from. Is David Anderson here? Maybe he and Herb can arm-wrestle for old time's sake.

4:08 PM: Coffee break time again, lots of great conversation on the topics in the room continues out in the hall during the breaks. Lots of discussion on the policy and political merits of a carbon tax.

Meanwhile, saw Gerard Kennedy during the break, holding up a laptop as he stood in a corner, doing a skype webcam call back to the satellite Canada at 150 event in his riding of Parkdale-High Park. Great to see, and a fantastic example of how this event is not just limited to those in the room, but is interacting with Liberals and interested Canadians across the country.

4:23 PM: Last panel of the day is on a digital economy strategy. Hope Stephen Harper is listening, his throne speech said Canada needed a digital economy strategy, but declined to say anything about what it could be. Maybe something to do with computers. So maybe some ideas for him here.

If we’re going to get into copyright though, let me just say, why in the hell does the copyright lobby have such a vice-grip on the nads of all our political parties? It pisses me off. Find some balls to bring sanity to copyright, there’s my digital economy plea.

Also, apparently they have the Internet on computers now.

4:29 PM: Maybe I’ve followed these issues too closely, as it crosses over into my day job, but I’m not really hearing anything yet that I haven’t heard before. Or anything about what we should do about it.

4:36 PM: I misread the session title, it’s not about the digital economy, it’s about culture and the digital world. And my interest level just dropped substantially. Expect light live blogging or here on out.

4:54 PM: Pretty sure I just heard a panellist ask if these questions coming in to the panel over twitter were “live” and saying that, if so, that’s cool? And they’re on a panel on something involving the digital world? Wait until they see how I can predict the weather with my phone!

5:10 PM: I’m sorry but I’m shaking my head about this call for cultural protection for Canadian cultural creators in a digital/Internet world. They need to stop playing the victim-card. You could say the fittest will survive, but it’s not just that.

Artists should look at the Internet as the best thing that ever happened to them. Why? Because it’s a low-cost transmission medium. No longer do creative professionals need a publishing house, or a broadcaster, to buy their show and broadcast it to audience and compensate them through a portion of advertising sales. That model is passé.

Smart content creators can use the Internet to bypass the middlemen and go straight to their audience. They need to monetize, but going direct to their audience, if they have content people value, will be cheaper for their audience and more lucrative for the artists.

So don’t kvetch to me about the need for cultural protectionism because of the web. The web is an opportunity they could seize – if they don’t insist on seeing themselves as victims in need of protection.

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CanadianSense said...

Hundred of millions of dollars are being deployed to provide clean safe drinking water in Canada.

Did not know that was nothing on the environment.

Millions are being spent in replacing diesel in remote northern communties so they can run cleaner, more stable sources of energy.

Just curious if you think it is too early grade the first day?

I am interested in your Report A-F on real ideas from your perspective.

Have you bumped in Dion, Krieber, Coderre at the conference?

Gayle said...

I was watching the tail end of that last discussion.

Further to my comment on the media interview thread, and in addition to something I said over on Steve's blog...

I certainly hope that while the media are watching for the breakthrough or failure of Ignatieff's political career, they are also paying attention to what these speakers are saying.

The truth is we currently have a government that is not interested in making decisions that are to the benefit of the country if those decisions might negatively impact their party. If the LPC are going to make a statement and differentiate themselves from the CPC, I think the biggest and best way they can do that is to create policy that may not be the most politically safe, but is clearly designed to get Canada through the challenges we are facing over the next decade.

The media, hopefully, will focus on the intent of the policy rather than suggest it is political suicide.

Maybe, hopefully, bringing the public and the media in on these discussions will show them where the ideas are from, and why the proposals are being made.

For example, the carbon tax was the right policy. If the LPC propose it again maybe the media can concentrate on the policy rather than on the leadership troubles of the party leader???

CanadianSense said...

Introducing a Carbon Tax Policy without a matching in the U.S. is the right one?


Germany gave their emitters a pass to protect their industry. France retreated recently.

The U.S. has done ZERO on this file.

China and India have told the G8 to stuff it.

And adding taxes to a country responsible for exporting its energy to the US and it only 2% of the AGW Carbon Ponzi scheme.

Gayle your right!

GST, HST are very popular taxes!

Lets include the Tobin tax too!

Clearly raising taxes is the key to winning power for the left!

Eugene Forsey Liberal said...

"Phelps says you need a carbon tax. Me and the other five Dionistas in the room applaud, the rest shudder uncomfortably." Someone referred me to this on your twitter feed and it made me laugh out loud. Funier than blog version I just found. We've all written about this many times, of course. As I've said, many times, I kept & won a lot of votes at the door with Green Shift, but it took 5min. And that is 4min30sec more than you want to spend at door. But having brought it into consciousness, having finally got media to understand it, made Canadians more aware, having one coming in USA soonish, Obama-effect, etc.., it is winnable. If you come back with it, you, as noted, show real courage. No "wimpy liberal" meme possible. Media referees will agree. Better chance to win on substance. It would be a totemic, all or nothing, proposition. Buy into Brave New Strong Liberal Brand...or not. But if Carbon Tax can be sold, and gains popularity, then all the rest of platform and party gets a shine as well. If not, then party loses.

But given prevailing conditions, our chances of winning plurality (don't even bother dreaming of majority) depend on gamechanger. Pro-Democracy movement is no. 1. And no.2 may be carbon tax.

See Kennedy Stewart: "Most importantly, opposition parties need to recapture the Canadian imagination with innovative policy proposals. These need to be as big as instituting a Guaranteed Minimum Income, pulling out of NATO or even reconnecting Canada by recommitting to rail. Although painful for the Liberals to admit, former leader Stephane Dion may have had the right idea with his carbon tax: try something big you believe in and stick with it. With this approach, even if you fail, at least you went down swinging. Moreover, if you lack the necessary gumption for such bold moves, then stand aside and let those who do lead."

He also has some very pertinent advice about political climate. It took detainees, CAPP, etc., to bring LPC up to about par with CPC. This is a 2nd chance, contrary to what KS thought. But as he said, must have gumption to go for it. Stand up for democracy, and go all-in, as much as it takes. The perfect is the enemy of the good: Political Golden Rule.

Lindsay Stewart said...

as one of the so-called progressives, i have to say that i simply do not trust ignatieff. i do not like ignatieff and his version of the liberals. my sincere feeling is that ignatieff and his cadre of right of centre wonks actively undermined stephane dion. they hung the only half way decent leader that pitiful party has had in many long years out to dry and they helped kill his leadership and his progressive and necessary initiatives.

i won't vote for an ignatieff led liberal party. what ever comes out of this weekend of gabbing won't matter a lick because i simply don't trust ignatieff to do the right thing, especially if it is a difficult political sell. the dude has ball bearings in the heels of his shoes he spins so much. i watched a bunch of stuff today and just ended up shaking my head. this is a party with no spine, no conviction to do the right thing.

Gayle said...

"Clearly raising taxes is the key to winning power for the left!"

And with that CS proves my point about the CPC doing what is politically expedient rather than what is necessary for the country.

Lindsay - I agree that Ignatieff undermined Dion, and that is one reason why I do not like him either. That said, if the party is going to come forward with bold policies designed to lead the country through the changing economy, then I am more than willing to support him and the liberals.

As Eugene said - these policies need to be sold. I have long understood the need to keep policies secret so the CPC will not steal them, but the CPC is NOT going to steal a carbon tax.

If the LPC start selling it now, will Harper give them enough time to do so before he pulls the plug???

CanadianSense said...


a) Opposition are attacking Payroll tax increase?
b) HST?

c)29 Liberal dont show to vote against buget in March 2010.

Ontario voted 51% for Liberals in 2000, 100/103 seats, NDP 1 seat, Alliance 2,PC 0, Green 0. Quebec 36 Lib seats. 136 of 172 majority in 301 Parliament.

Ontario has dropped RED for Blue/Orange.

QC dropped Red for Purple/Blue

marie said...

Hi, a question that I hope you will ask this government Jeff is why did the MP's not take the time to study the carbon tax as was presented by Mr. Dion.

They didn't even try and therefore were not supporting their leader or able to clearly explain it to all Canadians's at least on National Television and the Media who simply prints their own opinions instead of the actual story.

I sensed that they were not even trying and if they want our support, they had better change their tune and do so now. that includes you Mr. Ignatieff too.

If they won't listen, they do not deserve our support.

Lindsay Stewart said...

sadly gayle, for all of the excellent commentary from the floor and from some of the panellists i have to question whether the invisible policies of michael ignatieff's version of the lpc will be at all bold. to date he and his caucus have not acted as an opposition party but more as a party trying to weasel its way back into power by propping up, enabling and thus sharing blame/responsibility for the harper regime. the liberals we are pretending might be bold here are also the same pack of bought and paid for hacks that are in the pocket of the media conglomerates, resource companies and the church lady lobby. i maintain that the conference will be a nice diversion while the party will continue on its merry path of mediocrity and centre right pandering.