Looking back in history to December 1979, Joe Clark was the leader who introduced a tax of 4 cents a litre as a measure to balance the budget. His minority government lost on a non-confidence vote and the Tories are defeated in the 1980 general election. The lesson is burned into the political brain trust of all parties … must not have tax increase just before election. And sometimes, smart governments cut taxes to win votes.
Fast forward to 1996, when Stephane Dion transitions from university professor to minister of intergovernmental affairs. One of his accomplishments was the “clarity bill” setting the conditions for Quebec referendum questions and separation negotiations in clear and unambiguous terms. From 2004 to 2006, he was environment minister and from accounts of independent observers, did a credible job. Recently, he became leader of the Liberal party.
The 2008 Liberal platform consists of some interesting energy commitments – to retrofit 50% of all homes by 2020 and 100% by 2030. Provisions for doubling financial incentives and a zero interest $10,000 green mortgage for major energy improvements like geothermal and solar are all good steps. They want higher energy standards for the National building code and for all appliances to ensure that “all new builds are green builds.”
A Stephane Dion government also proposes strong enforcement of the post 2010 fuel efficiency standards and improvements in car-scrapping programs to increase efficiency of existing cars. $250 million is suggested for a Green fisheries and Transport fund encouraging public transport initiatives. In addition, he proposes a 10% reduction in the carbon content of fuel by next generation bio-fuels. Unfortunately, this part of the program to be weaker and less defined than I would have liked.
The amount of electricity generated by low impact renewables would rise from 5% to 10% by 2015 and to 15% by 2020 causing large investments and 10’s of thousands of green energy jobs. But these items have not been getting as much attention in the media as the “greenshift”.
The leader of the Liberal party has suggested a remarkable change in the way that Canada views pollution. This is proposed by a reform of tax policy – increasing taxes on carbon energy sources and lowering income taxes.
In the past, companies have caused pollution without penalty or in the worst cases, were ordered to install pollution abatement equipment. With this change, a stronger link is made between corporations and the environment. Pollute with carbon energy and you will pay a fee. The fee is then rebated to citizens and this makes alternative renewable energy more competitive.
The Conservatives have been accused of confusing Canadians about Stephane Dion’s “green shift” which transfers taxation from income to carbon. The Tory “tax grab” attack seems unusual in light of the plan’s promise, “ putting it into law that every dollar raised in pollution taxes be returned to citizens in tax cuts. The Auditor General will ensure the Green shift’s revenue neutrality.”
A second Tory theme, that the plan will destroy the economy, seems exaggerated as well. One blogger humorously notes that if the “greenshift” plan would destroy the economy, then the opposite, to raise income taxes and lower carbon taxes, should create a boom.
Lowering corporate and personal taxes, as the “greenshift” suggests, is similar to the Conservative mantra. Taxes on fuel in Europe are $1 a liter higher than here without serious harm to the economy. This plan leaves the gasoline tax without change. Furnace oil would increase gradually and be a total of 8.5% higher by the fourth year. Diesel would increase 7 cents by the fourth year, a 5% increase. Finally, it is likely that a world cap and trade system will eventually surface with all countries participating. Trade sanctions will ensure that all play their part.
Canadians seem to want leadership to reduce global warming and to adjust to higher energy prices as peak oil arrives. But is reality different from the perception? The Liberal plan is actually quite modest in comparison to the size of the economy or the government’s operating budget. Are Canadians ready to accept real change, however gentle it may be? Stephane Dion has proposed wide-ranging solutions that rate a “B” on my energy scale. The plan is incomplete in terms of national energy security, but it is courageous and forward-looking.
There are real differences being offered to Canadians this election. Voters can easily compare the platform of all parties directly off the Internet and should do so. Stephane Dion’s clarity in energy policy is one of his advantages in this campaign.
His refusal to follow Harper’s lead and spend huge sums on Arctic patrol vessels is an example of the different thought process among leaders. As he noted “We can’t win against the Americans, we can’t win against the Russians, and we’re too civilized to shoot the Danes.”
Prior to George W. Bush’s tenure, the United Nations was the primary arena for discussion or international arbitration of differences. When common sense returns, the UN will regain an important role in meeting the challenges to come. World co-operation on adapting to declining energy supplies and carbon reduction steps are the answer.