Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Who has the best environmental policy?

Alan Durning's recent posting in the Sightline Daily neatly summarizes the NDP's position in the environmental community as a result of its attack upon Campbell's carbon tax. For years, the NDP has received--and by and large deserved--high profile endorsements from David Suzuki, activists like Tzeporah Berman and academics like Marc Jaccard. One doubts Suzuki or Berman will even vote for the NDP on May 12, and there is little doubt that Jaccard won't.

As Durning points out, to describe the carbon tax as a gasoline tax makes about as much sense as calling the GST and excise taxes gasoline taxes. It is a comprehensive tax paid by everyone, and about 2/3 of B.C. families will get ALL of their money back in income tax reductions.

Furthermore, the BC Liberals recognize, and I agree, that carbon taxes and cap and trade are complementary strategies, not mutually exclusive ones.

But is it fair to run down the NDP on this issue alone? Surely, there are other aspects of climate change policy besides those relating to pricing and taxation. And there are other aspects of environmental policy besides climate change (as the NDP's strange bedfellow on this issue, Stephen Harper, likes to point out.) It is true that there is something very cynical about Campbell's focus on the carbon tax. He aimed to take a bow in environmental circles and in the eastern media, and to use carbon taxes to do his favourite thing---namely reduce progressive income taxes on affluent Vancouver voters. Other regulatory policies aimed at curbing emissions have not been as spectacular as his carbon tax. The continuing subsidies to gas and oil production, the twinning of the Port Mann and parts of the Cariboo Highway suggest that the Liberals seen more automobile traffic as a good thing.

But Campbell has also perhaps learned from the mistake of the sudden 20% income tax cut---i.e., that it is better to phase things in gradually and allow time for adjustment. That is what the carbon tax does. I have argued elsewhere in this blog that a floor price for fuel might be better, but that is still closer in spirit to the Liberals at this point than it is to the NDP.

It is all a little sad. There are many people in the NDP who have devoted decades of their lives to the environmental movement, (and to First Nations issues as well, that matter). The NDP could have responded to the Liberals' volte face by using its deeper roots in the First Nations community and the environmental movement to come up with better policies. Instead, it is hoping to win more votes by going after the middle class gas-consumer and taxpayer.

It may work, but probably not. Had Campbell continued his tightfisted ways, his opposition to treaties and his indifference to the environment, there would be a United Front of interest groups against him, which in the context of a sputtering economy would likely have spelled his electoral demise. Instead, he has split the Opposition beautifully.

No comments: