A Carbon Tax is Okay by Me

Stephane Dion

I don’t really understand the Conservatives’ manufactured controversy over Dion’s yet-to-be-announced carbon tax proposal. For one thing, they conveniently ignore the fact that the centre-right Gordon Campbell Liberals of BC did what Dion has talked about: rearranged the tax code to install a carbon tax alongside reductions in income and other taxes. This proposal was welcomed by the Harper government, so it seems a little hypocritical that they should oppose the idea in principle simply because Dion proposes it.

Well, it’s not like they have much choice. He’s their main opponent in the next election, after all, but I suspect that most Canadians will simply shrug or roll their eyes at the Conservatives’ hysterics, and see it as just another day in Canadian politics. And I don’t think they will be all that bothered by Dion’s plan, such as it is. Yes, gas prices are high; I myself paid $60 to fill up the tank of my Elantra late last week, the highest I’ve ever paid at the pump. But a truly revenue neutral carbon tax should have little impact on my bottom line if I continue to live my life the way I do.

More importantly, I will have had placed in my hand a means by which I can control how much tax I can pay the government — and my choices to legally pay lower taxes will actually have a benefit to the economy and the environment. I am not worried about paying more at the pump: I can choose to drive less and leave cleaner air behind me. I am not worried about paying more for the price of imported food: I can choose to buy local foods in season and benefit my local farmers. I am not worried about paying higher home fuel prices; I can consider switching to alternative sources and build the next decade’s high tech economy. I can even consider selling my car and using public transit here in Kitchener more. I’ve done it before, and I expect to do so again.

On the other hand, to legally avoid paying income tax, I can basically choose only to make less income, thus robbing the economy of my financial activity, and making it all the more difficult for those hardworking Canadians who sell to me to make their own ends meet.

And I will be reminded each time that I go to the pump that I’m using up more and more of a precious and finite resource — a resource that needs protection, and a switch to alternative fuel supplies. It’s a decision that we’re going to have to make anyway within the lifetime of our children, and encouraging us to use less of this resource gives us that much more time to find an effective alternative. This is why there haven’t been any riots at the pump even though gas prices will likely top $1.50 a litre at a time when $0.50 a litre is still in our memory. I and others grit our teeth at the rising prices, but I know many people who admit that this is a sacrifice we have to make as the market speaks. We can make a few more sacrifices if it means a cleaner environment and an economy that isn’t going to run out of oil.

Conservatives scoff, but I suspect that there’s a reason why most Canadians appear to support the idea of a carbon tax in poll after poll. The Green Party has successfully championed this move for years, and rising gas prices certainly haven’t hurt their numbers.

Even Warren Kinsella, who is not opposed to the idea of a carbon tax, he simply thinks it’s a bad political move right now, praised Barack Obama for taking what should, by Kinsella’s logic, be a suicidal move of not campaigning to lower gas taxes in the United States. Now, Kinsella praises Obama’s nuanced and intelligent take on the issue, and it’s clear that Obama has a charisma that Dion lacks, but the fact remains that it is the Conservatives who are appealing to the baser nature of the voters, appealing to voters’ fears rather than their hopes. So why isn’t it good politics for Dion to try and step away from that, if it’s good politics for Obama?

Now, there are caveats, of course, with the big one being that this should be revenue neutral. Anything else, and we are into a debate about raising taxes in general, and Dion wants to avoid that discussion, let me assure him. But I don’t get the rhetoric that I’m hearing, that this is “a tax on everything” (it isn’t), and that we can’t avoid paying it (we can). But the rhetoric is largely coming from a minority of voters, who’d already decided against voting for Stephane Dion, ever. So there’s no great loss of support, there.

The recent Conservative attack ads, and the suggestion that they might be placed on the already obnoxious venue of gas station video screens, suggests a hint of desperation on the part of the Conservatives — a sense that I’ve felt growing as their attempts to bury Dion have not bourne fruit, despite how tepid Dion is. Dion is not a leader, they say, again and again. The carbon tax idea won’t fly, again and again. And yet, they keep saying it. And yet, Dion’s Liberals are still in contention.

I suspect that many Canadians have made up their minds already, and are taking the Conservative rhetoric with the same grain of salt they’ve been applying to Liberal politicians lately.

Dion’s carbon tax plan will fly or not fly, if Canadians decide it will fly or not fly. We’ll make the decision on our own, thank you, and no amount of Conservative scolding will force our hand. We’ve shown ourselves to be cautious voters. We’ll wait and see for when the announcement comes. And, if it’s all a bunch of hot air — well, that won’t surprise us much, either. We’ve seen plenty of that on both sides of the house.

Now there’s an alternative energy source that we should be harnessing.

Update: Tuesday at 3:29 p.m.

Considering the source — Simon Fraser University — this is a bit of a blow to the Conservatives:

“The Conservatives — and I say this with great sadness because I don’t care which political party is in power — but if we’re going to do anything about climate change, we’re going to have to be honest with people,” Marc Jaccard of Simon Fraser University told CTV.ca on Tuesday.

“This is just totally dishonest.”

“I’m not a fan of Stephane Dion, but when you get a politician out there that’s trying to start an honest dialogue and say to people, ‘you know what? We won’t get our emissions down if there isn’t a price on them and that’s just the truth’,” Jaccard said.

“And to see politicians saying, ‘Maybe I can stay in power’ or gain more power, or maybe a majority government, by distorting this” disgusted him, he said.

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