BC Political Scientist: forget climate change & focus on the economy

An Oct. 23rd Globe & Mail article on the rapid downturn in Canadian economic well-being had an interesting quote from a respected, British Columbian political scientist, Norman Ruff.

Ruff discussed British Columbia Premier, Gordon Campbell’s, moves to bolster the economy and keep the province of BC a "deficit-free zone" through a mix of spending restraint and tax cuts. In his opinion, one could also easily see a suggestion (or a warning?) for other governments that might consider following British Columbia down the path of taxing carbon emissions.

"He’s drawn the lesson that everyone told him he should draw from the federal election, that ‘it’s the economy, stupid.’ He has to get off his fixation with climate change and show he’s concerned about the economy…"

Interestingly, this National Post editorial makes a very similar case against the imposition of a national carbon tax, and it uses the outcome of the recent Canadian election as its ammunition. Furthermore, the author suggests that other nations — worldwide — would see the repudiation of the Canadian Liberal Party’s "Green Shift" plan as a clear indication that, in times of financial turmoil, voters will reject plans for major changes in tax policy and heavy restrictions on the engines of our economy.

Dreams of a carbon tax are dashed now, although few environmentalists will publicly say so. More likely, they will soon assert the messenger failed, not the carbon tax idea. But of course, we know this is bunk. The Liberals campaigned unequivocally on a revenue-neutral carbon plan to save the planet. It was soundly rejected.

The policy itself, not Mr. Dion’s egg-headed intellectualism, was the political albatross. Long before the campaign was underway, the Liberal party’s own pollster was warning that the public was not buying the Green Shift. A leaked memo from Michael Marzolini on April 29 was unequivocal: "It was our recommendation that if a carbon tax shift absolutely must be part of our platform — and we do not recommend this at all — that it only be part of a larger environmental strategy involving actual popular proposals." His forecast: "Making a carbon tax shift the key plank in our appeal to the electorate is a vote loser, not a vote winner."

Midway into the campaign, Mr. Marzolini sent his Liberal colleagues a second message. It, too, emphasized the negative reaction voters had to the tax shift. Mr. Dion finally buried it and instead focused on world economic events. But it was too late, and the Liberals captured a paltry 26.2% of the popular vote. It was their worst showing since Confederation.

Mr. Dion’s successor will have a simple choice. Conclude Canadians were wrong to reject the Green Shift, repackage the proposal and try selling it again. Or forget the idea and move on.

Anti-development environmentalists will no doubt press for a new carbon-tax scheme under another name, but Liberals will want the flogging to stop. The overriding priority will be to win government. As such, their next leader will pay lip service to the concept and go no further. Or at least no further than the governing Conservatives.

As the party’s reversal on free trade in the early 1990s showed, Liberals learn from electoral missteps. Mr. Dion’s demise has effectively removed the carbon tax from serious political debate. And because Canada’s Green party failed, yet again, to win a single seat, the idea will have no champion inside Parliament.

It is unusual for a Canadian election to have much of an impact on the policies of other nations. But Mr. Dion’s decision to propose a carbon tax in the clearest possible terms, and the subsequent reaction among voters to it, will be understood abroad.

At a breakfast sponsored last week by the Canadian High Commission in London to discuss the election results, one British journalist astutely observed that the rejection of the tax by voters of a G7 nation could have consequences for the climate change debate. Despite all the scare-mongering from the United Nations and hand-wringing about an alleged "scientific consensus," Canadians nonetheless refused to swallow the tax. If courteous Canadians (that’s how Europeans view us) are willing to say "no thanks" to elite opinion-makers, might not voters in other democracies?

23. October 2008 by
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