Monthly Archives: June 2007

Steal These Ideas

When I wrote yesterday about (among other things) the need for higher gas prices, I actually had no idea that Elizabeth May was simultaneously holding a press-conference to announce the Green Party Climate Plan: A New Energy Revolution to Avert Global Catastrophe (PDF). But wow, talk about consistency of message. The plan proposes a $50 carbon tax, which would affect gas prices by about twelve cents.

I’m very proud to be associated with this bold plan (which isn’t just about gas prices, but is very detailed), and overall I’m pleased with the reaction to it as well. (Heck, even the Toronto Sun’s Lorrie Goldstein said we have to “give…Elizabeth May credit” for being the only party leader willing to “actually [state] the painfully obvious.”) It’s telling that the biggest criticism being voiced so far is not about if this is a good plan or not, but instead if it’s a good or bad way to get votes. I talked a lot about that yesterday as well, but Elizabeth also responded to that concern in an online discussion this afternoon (in fact, it was the first question):

The Green Party sees its role as advancing the right solutions — even if they are not immediately politically popular.

When all the other parties pander toward what they believe Canadians want, it’s no wonder that so many citizens demand leadership. Leadership is taking stands and advancing solutions that really make sense, before they become ‘flavour of the month.’

The second question, predictably, was from someone who was supportive of the plan, but wanted to make sure the revenue from the carbon tax would be used to reduce other taxes. Yes, Elizabeth explained, it would. This is not actually a tax increase, as some would have you believe. It is, instead, a tax shift, which would result in lower income and payroll taxes.

The third question, like clockwork, questions the plan’s effect on the economy. Elizabeth responds:

I have found that corporate Canada is innovative and able to adjust to a changing business climate once the signals are clear and the rules of the game are clear.

On the climate issue, this has not been the case. Previous and current ministers talk one line to gain votes, leave industry confused and then back off real action, often with the result of punishing the leaders and rewarding the laggards.

On the acid rain issue, 20 years ago, the government made the rules of the game clear. Sulphur dioxide emissions had to be reduced by 50 per cent on a set time table. Industry protested, but then got down to the business of business.

Companies like Inco actually increased profits once they realized that tantrums and threats were not persuasive in moving the government from its goals. The necessity of meeting the emission reduction goals drove new technologies. Inco captured the sulphur in the smokestack and sold the captured sulphur, improving their bottom line.

Putting a cost on carbon will have the same effect on business today. Some of the most successful corporations in the world have already proven that reducing emissions increases profits. IBM, Dupont, Alcan — to name a few — have all more than met Kyoto targets while saving millions. Many global corporations are very accustomed to carbon taxes.

The four most competitive and productive economies in the European Union all have carbon tax regimes.

Most unique about the whole thing was Elizabeth’s plea to Stephen Harper and all other parties (the Green Party of Canada is currently the only federal party advocating for a carbon tax) to “please steal these ideas.” Conventional wisdom says parties shouldn’t release major plans outside of an election period, because then other parties will steal them and get the credit. What Elizabeth is actually indicating, then, is that we don’t care about the credit, we just want to make sure the job gets done. Good on her.

The Triple E Crisis, Plus

Last Friday the NDP sent out their fifth e-mail newsletter in a row (update: sixth, seventh) complaining about gas prices, saying that Canadians are “victims,” getting “gouged” and “cheated” at the pumps. The implication, of course, is that if the NDP were in power they would make sure gas prices were lower. That might be a good way to get votes, but it’s completely irreconcilable with their claim to have a strong environmental platform. (I was going to let it slide after the first and second email, and I forgot about it after the third and fourth, but now that the fifth one has reminded me, I thought it was worth opening up the discussion.)

There’s a triple-E crisis at work here. Our Environmental crisis is, in fact, an Energy crisis that will become an Economic one if we don’t take the right kind of action. The problem, simply put, is that we’re using up too much stored solar energy (fossil fuels) too quickly. And it doesn’t take a doctorate in economics to understand that when something is cheaper, people use more of it less efficiently. When we use more fossil fuels less efficiently, we exacerbate the climate crisis while simultaneously using up what has been the source of almost all economic growth and prosperity in the past two hundred years.

Instead of acknowledging that reality, too many politicians focus on playing to the cameras. There’s a reason so many people have come to believe that politicians will say almost anything to get elected; it’s true. (In the last federal election, I used the fact that Greens recognize the need to end artificially low energy prices as an example of how we were an exception to that rule.) This is what Joe Trippi calls “transactional politics,” the process by which politicians offer promises (lower gas prices, lower taxes, more police) in exchange for your vote. It’s also what has led Mark Kingwell to declare that “politicians have become brokers of interest rather than leaders, and citizens reduce themselves to consumers of goods and services enjoyed in return for regular obedience to the tax code.”

The problem is that transactional politics exist in direct opposition to transformational politics–the kind of leadership that Kingwell (and, I suspect, most Canadians) pine for, and that we so desperately need in this time of crisis. That’s why the biggest threat to our quality of life (best case) and collective survival (worst case) is not the Triple E Crisis itself, but the lack of attention most citizens are paying to the complex political issues that confront us. Here, we add a fourth E, the Electorate. Democracy requires that we all take some responsibility for the direction of our government, yet many Canadians feel no such responsibility. We’re all too busy with too many other important things to be bothered by the mud-slinging PR exercise that politics has become. And that, I would argue, is what makes us more susceptible to things like Jack Layton’s claim that we pay too much for gas (never mind the fact that we pay way less than most other counties), Stephen Harper’s claim that there’s a foreign stripper epidemic that needs to be addressed (never mind the fact that only ten strippers immigrated to Canada last year), or Stéphane Dion’s claim that somehow there are “mega-bucks” to be made by taking action on Kyoto (acting is cheaper than not acting, but that doesn’t mean we’re all going to somehow magically get rich).

That’s why I take democracy itself so seriously. An engaged, informed electorate is the only way we’re going to solve the problems facing us. I have no doubt that the Canadian public is intelligent enough; we only need the will, and to direct our energies and attention to the right places.

Of course, there’s hope. The attempts of the status-quo parties to buy votes aren’t proving effective, to the point where the only party telling you what you don’t want to hear is the only one that’s up in the polls since the last election. It’s just like we were told in high school: just be yourself, the other kids will learn to like you for who you are soon enough.

Elsewhere In The Green-A-Verse

Last week, P.E.I. had a provincial election. Not only did the Green party finish third (ahead of the NDP), they did so even though it was their first ever provincial election in that province.

I’m adding this to the list of Green accomplishments that we were previously told were impossible. (You know, things like running a candidate in every riding, doing it a second time, getting over half a million votes in a federal election, doing it again, having a nationally televised policy conference, almost beating the Liberals in London North Centre, tying the NDP in a federal poll. That kind of thing.)

And here’s a not so funny story. In order to report the election results, Canadian Press provided a web tool to newspapers like The Guardian and The Globe and Mail. It was programmed to accept the voting results and convert them into a graphical representation. The only problem is, they hard-coded the Green Party into the “other” category. So, no matter how many votes the Green Party of P.E.I. received, they wouldn’t show up. No one would have noticed, except for when the Greens got more votes than the NDP, CP kept incorrectly showing the NDP in third place. It wasn’t until CP received numerous complaints that they went in and corrected it a day later. Apparently the possibility of the Green Party finishing third had never occurred to them.

One can only assume they will not underestimate us again.