Friday, October 17, 2008

Requiem For A Green Plan: The Green Shift As Policy

Up front, lets admit that the skeptics were right; no matter what its advantages as policy, the Green Shift was a tax shift, and a tax shift contains the word "tax", and as such the whole idea was not saleable to too large a proportion of the Canadian electorate.

(As an aside, note that in the post above Kinsella writes:

Sifting through the entrails leaked out to the media, was I wrong to oppose a carbon tax right now? No way. I'm for punishing polluters, not consumers. Cap-and-trade; not this.

Warren knows that's all bullshit. You raise prices on polluters and they raise prices on the consumer that purchases their polluting service. Same person pays in the end. A C&T system is just a slightly more dishonest way of going about the process.

But whatever.)

And lets admit up front that the Tories quite thoroughly mis-represented the GS .

Lets just consider it as policy.

As policy (and I say this as someone who loyally supported the GS while occasionally bringing up caveats), it was flawed in several respects.

For example, the idea that the GS was a wealth redistribution scheme contained an element of truth. Don't ask me; just ask (now ex-) Liberal MP Ken Boshcoff, who wrote that:

The Liberal Party’s Green Shift announced on June 19th marked the most aggressive anti-poverty program in 40 years. The ‘shift’ will transfer wealth from rich to poor, from the oil patch to the rest of the country, and from the coffers of big business to the pockets of low-income Canadians.

Now, Mr. Boshcoff didn't come out and actually say that the GS would send Alberta money East, but we all know where the "oil patch" is, don't we?

And as much I wouldn't mind seeing Alberta screwed out of its oily dough, for other reasons it always bothered me that the GS was not a purely environmental initiative. Environmental concerns were being used as an excuse to scare up funds for the broader Liberal platform, about which I personally had far more ambiguous feelings. I mean, my days as a compassionate Lefty are way past gone. I am far more worried these days about saving the bunnies than helping single-moms or the homeless. And I don't care who knows it. Animals are innocent; people are assholes. But whatever.

Similarly, it bothered me that the only sense in which the GS was "revenue neutral" was in the broader metaphoric sense, in that the Government would spend 1$ for each dollar the GS collected.

And the last thing that bothered me was the general laziness with which the plan was introduced. For example, I cheered when, in September, Dion tweaked the GS so as to assuage certain rural concerns over fuel, heating and other costs. But the fact (and I think Paul Wells pointed this out somewhere) that a Carbon Tax would effect certain regions of Canada more than others should have been obvious at the outset. Anyone with a slightest knowledge of the issue should have realized this. So the Dion Liberals offered a hugely complex green plan without having thought it all though, that none of their MPs ever really understood or could explain in detail, and then they went and changed it. The whole thing would have been a bit more bullet proof if these attempts at amelioration had been in the original version.

Personally, I was reminded of the whole Dion/Suzuki thing, where Dion, before he became Lib Leader even, produced a green policy document that contained cut-and-paste material from "The Air We Breathe" put out by the David Suzuki Foundation. For the Libs Enviro Guy, Dion has been pretty sloppy about assembling and presenting his whole political/environmental philosophy.

In any case, I wouldn't want to over-accentuate the negative. In fact the GS, if fully implemented by a Dion government, would have had minuscule negative economic effects. And, in fact, a Cap and Trade system simply = a Carbon tax with twice the bureaucracy. But, beyond the Tory disinformation campaign, there were plenty of aspects of the GS that lent themselves to legitimate criticism. I don't know if it is entirely impossible to run on a tax, but the Libs made it particularly difficult to run on this one.


Robert McClelland said...

Dion released the plan too early and this gave the opposition too much time to pick it apart. I he'd released it in the middle of the campaign it would have probably helped him.

Aside from that, a carbon tax still sucks.

Francesco said...

Dion should have never released the cannot run a policy with the word "tax increase" in it....canadians are working harder to pay for bills, their property taxes are increasing, their gas/hydro/water/sewer bills are increasing...they will just not believe the policy as revenue may be good policy but it is not good politics ..even good ol jack layton new this...rural canadians and canadians abandoned the liberal party in droves....its funny if dion would have listened he could have ran on the cap and trade, and maybe later on implemented a revenue neutral shift...we all must remember that DION ORIGINALLY stated that a carbon tax was a BAD IDEA...hmmm funny is it not...also for all the liberal bloggers who continue to support dion..he is a nice man, man of integrity, a good cabinet minister, a man of substance but that in no way makes him a viable prime minister or leader of a national party...he didn't connect to voters and he consistently ignored advice from his advisors, pollsters, and his caucus that is not leadership...a leader not only leads but also listens and has a good ear to the ground..dion toke the party to the left and we bleed votes to teh greens and the cons (ndp's vote actually dropped in ontario)and we lost a lot of suburban voters....we need a leader that positions the party in the CENTRE of the political spectrum...not the left we are not NDP lite ....and dion for all intensive purposes did not come across as a viable leader to 80% plus of canadians...

Constant Vigilance said...

An intersting post.

But as someone who is interested in seeing Liberals make gains out here in the west, when a blogger with Big City and Lib in his title includes bits like this:

"And as much I wouldn't mind seeing Alberta screwed out of its oily dough"

does nothing to help the cause.

The Blogging Tories will rightfully be all over that one.

History has made us a bit tetchy about those types of comments.

Geekwad said...

It was clearly a compromise. The charge for pollution should not be arbitrary. It should reflect what it costs to clean up, and the revenue should go to that purpose. Instead, for political reasons, it was to go straight into our pockets. So basically, the proposal was that we citizens would get a cut of the proceeds of the destruction of our habitat.

Still, I supported the idea, as I saw it (and I assume Dion saw it) as the thin end of a wedge. I thought it was bold and dramatic, providing a complement to Dion's public persona. I like to think it had a positive effect on the results, but clearly not nearly enough.

Mark Richard Francis said...
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Mark Richard Francis said...

It's superior policy to C&S in the short to medium-term, but was completely sold wrong.

It's not one policy. It's at least two.

You sell it as a tax cut, fueled by environmental levies, but promote the tax cuts as a completely separate part of the plank.

You then have to assail harper and Layton for threatening to raise prices without relief via cap and trade schemes. They were so vulnerable on that front, but we never called them out on it.

Overall, the message has to be that the other major parties are levying carbon costs without consumer relief, but that the Liberal Party is the only party (ignore the Greens) doing it right.

Cap and trade in Europe brought the price of carbon to $100/tonne -- which is lot more than the $40/tonne Dion proposed. That cost got passed down to consumers in Europe. It would here as well, and yet there's nothing in the program which would offset those costs to consumers, especially the poor.

I've been especially shocked that the NDP adopted such a policy without helping out 'ordinary Canadians.'

Unknown said...

Dictionary should state: Liberal-a word which also means "menace to society" & "Can't really make a decision on what is right or wrong"
As a Conservative supporter (I am now!)I just wanted to take the time to thank the liberal party as well as the NDP and Green for all being left wing nut-jobs who are trying to tax the life out of the Canadian economy through their poor green-shift style policies. I would like to thank you all for giving the Consevatives a larger minority, maybe next time it will be a majority. Thanks again! I never thought the libs. would go so left-wing!

Unknown said...
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Anonymous said...

Dion and the Libs did a horrible job at explaining the plan. Heck, I understand the plan, think it was a good idea, and when I heard any Liberal talk about it I got confused. They had all summer and couldn't nail down the right message.

Now, if Dion had explained like I saw him do near the end of the campaign (decrease income taxes, shift to pollution) and said that over, and over, and over, all summer and fall Canadians might have caught on.

janfromthebruce said...

Francesco, I don't know if you noticed but the NDP won more seats outside of the GTA than the libs so I wouldn't be so "catty." Even with lower voter support which should tell you something.

The green shift problem was it's absolute focus on taxes, taxcuts, tax neutral, taxsavings, corporate taxes - that is so passionateless!

And you can kid yourselves that what sunk your campaign was the move to the supposed left but in fact, by the Green Shift centering it's whole sell job on "taxes" and not the "environment" (you guess why I say that cause I'm not about to help you), it fit with the conservative bent - obsession with taxation!
Anyway, carry on with the knife fight.

janfromthebruce said...

"I've been especially shocked that the NDP adopted such a policy without helping out 'ordinary Canadians.'"
Campaigns over. You can quit telling lies now.

Ti-Guy said...

When are the Dippers going to realise they finished fourth? They're all talking as if they're the opposition.

Dream on, Dips.

: Liberal-a word which also means "menace to society" & "Can't really make a decision on what is right or wrong"

This is the dumbest thing I've read today.

Mark my words...nothing good can come from a government supported by irretrievable morons. Nothing.

Mark Richard Francis said...

"Campaigns over. You can quit telling lies now."

Sorry, Jan? I'm a liar? You're saying that the NDP had a policy to specifically offset higher costs as a consequence of cap and trade? Where? Or are they still ignoring that cap and trade increases consumer prices?

In Europe, cap and trade got carbon offsets up to $100/tonne, and increased consumer prices, without reducing emissions.

I, for one, can't afford that.

JimBobby said...

Mark's got it right when he sez that Dion did a pisspoor job of selling the plan. Dion's poor communication skills are a big part of the problem for the grits. He's a good man but he couldn't sell life jackets on a sinking ship.

Dion let himself get labeled "not a leader" and did little to dissuade anyone of the notion.

The other victim here (other than the LPC) was good, sensible environmental policy. The tax shift was a good idea. Dion's clumsy handling of the sales job has pretty much killed that idea for the foreseeable future.

C&T has been advocated by both the Con's and the NDP. I guess we'll see what he Con's have in mind. I'm betting it will be next to nothing, nearly never.

I predict Harper will introduce a carbon tax sometime in 2010. Both McCain and Obama have vowed to put a price on carbon. Americans are strongly protectionist. If we don't carbon tax our goods, they will impose a carbon tariff. The carbon tariff is starting to get used in the low-carbon economies of the EU. Harper will claim the Americans forced him to impose a carbon tax. It will be about $65 per tonne.


Robert McClelland said...

You're saying that the NDP had a policy to specifically offset higher costs as a consequence of cap and trade?

Yes, it was in the rest of their platform.

Ti-Guy said...

Dion let himself get labeled "not a leader" and did little to dissuade anyone of the notion.

He admitted to the Toronto Star editorial board that he erred in believing the whole attack campaign was too stupid to be believable. Where he seems most out of touch to me is that he doesn't appear to understand the piss-poor news media in English Canada (although after the CTV outrage, I'm sure he understands it now)...which is really English Canada's fault, not his.

There were plenty of people explaining the carbon tax as opposed cap and trade (both of which achieve the same things, but a carbon tax has more predictable outcomes). I'd like to know where the rest of the Liberals were, the ones who speak English so beautifully, were.

Ti-Guy said...

Yes, it was in the rest of their platform.

Robert, why don't you let Moonbat Jan defend herself?

Robert McClelland said...

They're all talking as if they're the opposition.

Hey, if the liberals can pretend they're the opposition so can we.

Ti-Guy said...


Let it go already. Yes, yes...we could have had 43 elections in the last two years if only the Liberals had been effective in opposition. Meanwhile, no one talks about the distortion of Parliament when everything becomes a confidence motion.

One of the things you have to admire about the NDP...they've learned the art of talking points just like the Connies.

Robert McClelland said...

Look at it from a dipper perspective Ti-Guy. We have a Conservative PM who will bend and break the rules to suit him even if he introduced them. We have an opposition that will roll over and pee on its belly anytime Harper snarls at them then resume fighting amongst themselves and snarling at the weakest party in the room.

The only solution I can see to this dilemma is for the NDP to become the opposition until the Liberals get their act together or the NDP can make a realistic run for power themselves.

If you see another solution to the problem that doesn't involve me voting for the Liberals then I'm all ears.

Ti-Guy said...

and snarling at the weakest party in the room.

You mean the NDP? If you do, there hasn't been nearly enough snarling for my tastes.

The only solution I can see to this dilemma is for the NDP to become the opposition until the Liberals get their act together or the NDP can make a realistic run for power themselves.

While I admit the prospect of Conservatives and Dippers being mutually congratulatory on their adherence to principle while talking past each other would be mildly interesting and that watching both parties move closer to some mythical centre will ensure great theatre as their loopy extremists become unhinged, I don't think it's good for the country.

If you see another solution to the problem that doesn't involve me voting for the Liberals then I'm all ears.

I have no interest in getting anyone to vote Liberal. My vested interest is in peace, order and good government.

What I do think is that Liberals should stop talking to people who are not dialoguing in good faith (which now includes the NDP, who are hell-bent on destroying the Party...something no true democrat should ever support). They're a waste of time and energy.

Auntie Liberal said...

Yeah, Dion should have kept it as a scary hidden agenda. That's the Liebral way.

I wonder if your braintrust will come up with something like a Unicorn tax as well. I mean, a Unicorn non-tax.

Unknown said...

auntie liberal, most voters out west did see the Green Shift as only a first step. Later parts of the "shift" would have been more draconian, and more punitive, like an NEP2.

Dion wrote off all of western Canada as soon as the Green Shift was announced. If BCL's sentiments about western Canadian energy interests are widespread in the party, Canadians did well in marginalizing the Libs this election.