I accompanied my ever so wonderful neighbours H & G to the Centre communautaire Tétreau in Hull to hear Stéphane Dion discuss the Liberal Party of Canada Green Shift / Tournant Vert economic and environmental platform. The meeting was convened by le député Marcel Proulx of Hull-Aylmer and and I think it was mostly liberal supporters (clues - standing ovation when M. Dion entered, a chant in unison at the beginning and intermittent clapping at the end of many declarative sentences irrespective of the quality of the declaration), I did see some green party members, and there were people from environmental, housing and anti-poverty NGOs, unions and Le conseil régionale de l’environnement et du développement durable de l’Outaouais (CREDO). There were some good questions such as: How can the Green Shift plan be coherent with urban planning, designing infrastructures to reduce dependence on cars and increase public transit? How will the plan tie in with urban Canada? Will the plan yield basic goods becoming more expensive if producers offset the tax onto consumers? How to link environment, economy and social justice, particularly when it comes to housing and the poor? Can we have a different electoral system beyond first past the post to increase the chances of green friendly parties getting seats? How to improve the public service in that direction? Why not a tax on gas? I was impressed that M. Dion actually answered the questions, which is highly unusual for a politician, furthermore he did so intelligently. In the end, the plan introduction, the discussion, the questions and answers were all too general for me to formulate an opinion.
I have to read about carbon taxes and talk to some environmental friends before I can even deconstruct what was being proposed. At first glance it seems somewhat counter intuitive. It is basically a carbon tax on polluters and a tax rebate for all. We all get a tax cut, the reduction in revenue to the government will be offset by taxes paid by polluters. The revenue generated from polluters will go toward investment in green technologies, R&D, green jobs and to support green house gas reduction strategies. Low income families are supposed to benefit as they will pay less taxes which in turn means they can spend more on energy reducing appliances etc. At one point he stated that a family earning 10 000$ per year will receive a tax return of 2 600$ which they can reinvest in energy conservation (hmm, seems to me like food is more what such poor families will spend their money on and what of reduced revenue for the social transfer payments to the provinces!).
The idea is to tie the economy to the environment, and make the private sector and consumers who pollute pay, and they in turn will find ways to pollute less in order to pay less taxes and in the long term will create green jobs in Canada. The Carbon Tax would be incremental, 10% per ton the first year up to 40% the fourth year. Apparently Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, the UK and others have done the same with some success. Citizens in Colorado apparently have been doing this for 10 years and have been increasing their reliance on sustainable sources of energy and reducing dependence on fossil fuels in a very significant way. I wonder what the incentives will be to stop companies from shifting production to polluter friendly locations?
I also wonder if we can generate more revenue from polluters than we can from taxes, and if not how will we regain the necessary resources to pay for the shift and for other social programs such as health care for instance. Also in the long term if we no longer pollute where will revenue come from? Or will we become addicted to pollution tax revenue as we have from gambling revenue – which does come near to covering the social cost of gambling? Dion stated that a better, more diversified and intelligent private sector will be more prosperous as it will supply the world with the environmentally or carbon reducing technologies, products and knowledge it needs. I am also not convinced the poor will divert their tax savings into energy efficient equipment, the poor are already good for the environment as they can’t really afford anything in the first place and will probably want to consume whatever they can at the most affordable price irrespective of greenness – re-organic vs regular cheaper vegetables.
Irrespective of my trepidation, the idea is interesting and I have to read more about it before I can develop a critical opinion about the plan. It is at least a vision, which is more than anyone else has provided (did I just say that about the Liberals? – oye veigh!). Time will tell if Dion can convince Canadians to shift spending and the entire economy in a more green direction, and if Canadians are ready for an intelligent leader.
Article in Le Droit.