Tuesday, May 13, 2008

NDP Throwing in the Towel on the Environment

You used to be able to count on the NDP being the boldest party on the environment. That was their issue for a time. Well no longer. The former party of the environment have surrendered their principles once and for all on this issue.

The NDP used to be in full agreement with the environmental groups and individuals like David Suzuki (in fact I remember when I was at the University of Toronto when David Suzuki came to speak, the event was sponsored by Jack Layton's NDP), but no longer, they've thrown in the towel on the environment in favour of trying to become a more populist party. More interested in proposing policies aimed at saving a few dollars here (ATM fees, knocking a cent or two off the price of gas) than actually meaningfully taking on climate change.

How else do you explain their strong opposition to tax shifting? Jack Layton says: "We don't see putting a charge on the backs of individual Canadians through taxes as the way to go." Does that sound like something an NDP leader would say in reference to tax shifting? I'm thinking he's just upset that Dion proposed this policy before he did and he feels duty bound to treat anything coming from the Liberals as inherently evil.

Not to mention Layton being completely dishonest about what policy is on offer here. It won't harm low-income Canadians as it is said that the policy includes "programs aimed particularly at cushioning the blow for lower-income and rural Canadians who'd be hardest hit by increased fuel and electricity costs." Not to mention it does NOT affect prices at the pump. So then why does the NDP have a problem with this?

If low income earners aren't hard hit then this is a progressive policy and one that is the soundest for the environment - those who consume less energy will have MORE money in their pocket (certainly more then they would then if the price of gas dropped a cent or two) and very few will pay more. The multi-millionaire with a huge mansion (or a few of them) will pay more for the massive amount of energy his/her home consumes. You would think the NDP would agree with that wouldn't you? Why not? Because it's a Liberal idea and that's about all there is to it.

I can imagine what the NDP response would be to these arguments - they'd make reference to the past saying people who care about the environment can't vote Liberal because greenhouse gasses went up (though the NDP remain dishonest about what the record really is), but when it comes to the environment what matters most is the future and who is putting forth the best policies NOW to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions substantially over the next decade.

Do you think ANYONE (except NDP partisans of course) will agree in the next election that the NDP have the best policies to accomplish this goal?

Instead it will be the Liberals who will be universally seen by environmental groups to have the most sound plan. NDP supporters may say "we don't care what about environmental groups think!", well Jack Layton sure used to care, so what's happened here?

The NDP will say "the Liberals didn't vote on our no confidence motion on the environment - we obviously care more!", well if that were true then you would endorse policies that will get the job done on the environment not oppose them just because they are coming from a party you want to destroy. And you wouldn't support re-electing a government that has done nothing on the environment and has made us an international pariah on this issue.

Once the NDP discover that people care more about what parties would implement in the next parliament than what motions they voted on in the last then they will probably say "don't trust the Liberals, they won't actually implement these policies!" Of course that would be an admission that the policies being proposed are actually sound and better than what the NDP have on offer. Not to mention Jack Layton has given St├ęphane Dion high praise, referring to him as a “committed Canadian and a man of principle and conviction” so the argument that you can't trust Dion doesn't fly.

And so in the next election the message to NDP voters will be clear: If you care about the environment and implementing the policies we need to meaningfully address climate change then the Liberals have the best policies to get the job done and you as an environmentally conscious person will have more money in your pocket as an added benefit.

While the NDP give up on the environment in their opposition to this policy, Conservatives continue down a path of failing Canadians on economic policy with their blind opposition to tax shifting (which will be the subject of the next post on Canadian politics).

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A BCer in Toronto said...

Perhaps we can ask the green dippers to lend us their votes...

Blogging Horse said...

The party that has given up on the environment (along with the Conservatives) is the Liberals. They could have voted with the NDP to end the Harper government over its failure to being the C-30 "breakthrough bill" back to parliament, but Dion ordered Liberals to support Harper instead. That's some commitment to the envitronment.

A carbon tax is the wrong idea at the wrong time. Take it from Stephane Dion. He said precisely that in his leadership platform.

The flip-flops. The abstaining. No wonder Liberals don't know what they stand for.

Jaytoo said...

But you have to know this is bullocks, Danielle -- all about desperate politics and not at all about confronting climate change.

There's been a cleft between two approaches to pricing carbon: a "tax-shifting" carbon tax and a carbon market. The NDP has consistently advocated a carbon market and rejected a carbon tax, and has the force of successful precedent on its side. But then so did the Liberals, over and over. Most recently when they sat down with the NDP and Bloc to successfully and historically rewrite C-30 -- with the carbon market as its centrepiece.

Flip-flopping to a carbon tax now is such a mark of desperation. If, in fact, Dion has even done this -- vs. launching a loose trial balloon.

Danielle Takacs said...

I’m glad to see I know NDP partisans as well as I thought I did, as if you read my post you would see these are exactly the responses I predicted.

The NDP can feel free to go into the next election with an environmental plan endorsed by virtually NO ONE matched against a Liberal party with an environmental plan endorsed by all the major environmental groups (yes those same groups the NDP used to brag about supporting their party) and hope that Canadians will ignore that and instead focus on the fact that the Liberals didn’t vote for a single NDP no-confidence motion that was really just political gamesmanship rather than any effort to bring about better environmental policy (if it had lead to an election and the Conservatives won it would actually set back environmental policy for years). Again Canadians will care much more so about what parties are going to do in the next parliament much than how they voted on a few non-confidence motions in the last.

I think the NDP would support a tax shifting plan if it weren’t proposed by the Liberals but instead they opt for politically safer policies that just won’t get the job done on reducing our greenhouse gasses as much as we need to. As for Dion opposing a carbon tax in leadership, a lot has changed in the last year and a half and sometimes politicians change their minds based on learning new facts and engaging in debates with their caucus. Jack Layton once supported the Afghan mission strongly then he changed his mind. I don’t agree with his view on Afghanistan but I can accept that politicians don’t have to hold the same views for 10 years straight if they give a sound explanation why they changed their mind. If we are going to back a year and a half or two years then and look at platforms should we expect the NDP will present the very same platform they had in the last election? No they won’t because times have changed, it’s pretty straight forward really.

So Blogging Horse and Jay Too why are so few voices in the environmental community on side with the NDP on this issue? Why are the NDP talking about knocking a cent or two off the price of gas (which we know won’t help the environment) instead of putting forward a bold real plan for the environment that goes beyond Bill C-30 (which was mostly full of Liberal initiatives to begin with)?

I’m glad we can agree a carbon market is important, but I do think we need to go farther and before this was seen as a Liberal policy I’m sure more NDP supporters would have agreed with me. I also hope you can realize now that that it will take a Liberal government to get the job done on the environment though as Conservatives have stonewalled Bill C-30 (that I think we can agree was a good bill) at every step and if they won the next election it would be dead for good you could count on that. I hope in time the NDP can warm to a bolder plan though like one involving tax shifting and then work with a Liberal government in the next parliament to get it passed because that’s what I think will be needed for Canada to be a world leader on climate change.

Jaytoo said...

This is not a new idea and not a new debate. I've seen the NDP consistently reject a carbon tax -- as ineffectual, ultimately regressive and a diversion from the carbon market that's needed to crack down on major emitters. So have Liberals, to their credit. You may disagree as of last Thursday, Danielle, but it's disingenuous to say there's been any shift on the NDP side. Not to mention claiming "endorsement" for Dion's latest musings from "all the major" ENGOs.

Danielle Takacs said...

I indicated that NDP supporters might have agreed tax shifting was a good idea, I did not imply the NDP ever officially supported tax shifting (perhaps privately they do, but publicly they have not).

Certainly it is not true of you to imply that Liberals as a whole disagreed with tax shifting (or to say things have changed since last Thursday). Michael Ignatieff proposed a carbon tax in the leadership campaign and for a long time he was the front-runner in the race. I didn’t support him as a candidate but I did support the idea of tax shifting at the time. I as well as other Liberal bloggers have also written in support of tax shifting before this policy ended up being floated in the media. I'm glad to see the Liberal Party embracing the environmental policies I personally think we need on the environment and I hope the NDP eventually follows suit. If they don't I also imagine come election time virtually all the major environmental groups will indicate that they prefer the Liberal plan to the environmental one.

A tax shifting plan is not regressive if you provide financial aid to low-income Canadians and this proposal is said to include "programs aimed particularly at cushioning the blow for lower-income and rural Canadians who'd be hardest hit by increased fuel and electricity costs." And it's not ineffectual, there is evidence people change their behavior in response to price fluctuations (see here) and when you see such changes it gets the job done and those who are more environmentally conscious with a tax shift have much more money in their pockets.

RayK said...

Are you serious? I mean, this is parody, right?

First of all, a carbon tax does not--in any way, shape or form--"go farther" in reducing greenhouse gas emissions than a carbon market.

It just doesn't. It’s not a “bolder” plan. It’s just a bad one.

Under either a carbon tax or a carbon market, the government is simply putting a price on carbon--simple as that. If you want to emit one ton of carbon dioxide then you have pay a certain price.

The only--ONLY--difference between the two systems is that a carbon tax fixes the price of emissions and allows the quantity to float (i.e. be determined by the market), while a carbon market fixes the quantity of emissions and allows the price to float.

Read that again: the only--ONLY--difference between the two systems is that a carbon tax fixes the price of emissions and allows the quantity to float (i.e. be determined by the market), while a carbon market fixes the quantity of emissions and allows the price to float.

There are two big advantages to a carbon market. First, a carbon market guarantees results because the government sets the overall cap on emissions (a carbon tax has to be continually adjusted until the desired level of emissions is reached). Second, under a carbon market system the government can adopt a mixed grant and auction system for distributing emission credits; that way, while the same emissions level is achieved, the impact on industry and consumers is reduced.

Absent a complete political sell-out--which can never be ruled out--no major environmental group will choose the plan Dion is now musing about over a carbon market/cap-and-trade system. The environmental groups know what they’re talking about; they know cap-and-trade works.

As if your policy ramblings were not enough, though, I must address your political conclusions.

First, it is perfectly reasonable for Canadians to dismiss any Liberal climate change plan out of hand based on their unbroken record of failure. Past behaviour predicts future performance and calling this attack predictable only underscores how obvious those failures have been.

Second, taking Dion’s promises, that low-income Canadians won’t be hurt by a carbon tax, at face value is just laughable. They haven’t even released the plan--assuming one even exists!

Third, your argument that the NDP would have supported a carbon tax, had it not been suggested by the Liberals, is seriously undermined by the fact that the idea has been around for well over a decade, without Liberal support, and the NDP has always rejected it! Wonder why? Because it’s a bad idea.

Fourth, the very environmentalist you cite, David Suzuki, has endorsed a cap-and-trade system within the last 24 hours. Not to mention that both Kyoto and on going international climate negotiations are all premised on cap-and-trade.


I’m forced to ask, do you have any actual arguments to support your claim that a carbon tax is “goes farther” or is in some way better than a cap-and-trade system, or are you just assuming that because it has an unpopular word like “tax” in its name a carbon tax must somehow be tougher than cap-and-trade?

This is just craziness.

Danielle Takacs said...

Have I not already clearly said I support a carbon cap and trade market? I agree with all the benefits you cited and Liberals have supported cap and trade as did all the opposition parties with Bill C-30.

Is it not going farther to have tax shifting and a cap and trade system together though?

The Liberal Carbon Budget (that was released last year and is found here) is also cap and trade and every indication is that Dion will be keeping that plan to punish big polluters, but will combine it with a tax shifting plan for businesses and individuals as well.

Don't distort what David Suzuki supports, of course he endorses cap and trade, but he has also supported a hefty carbon tax (see here and here). You cite Suzuki, the NDP always praises him and yet you call his ideas "craziness" now? I think I am the one being more consistent here (go back and read what I have written if you like). I agree that environmental groups wouldn't necessarily pick a tax shifting plan INSTEAD of a carbon market (of course we have all supported Kyoto for some time), but they are in favour of both operating together like exists in some European countries (and of course as we know Kyoto is based on cap and trade and many signatories also have carbon taxes in their own countries). Suzuki certainly has also given high praise to the plan out in BC (that sounds quite similar to what the Liberal approach may be).

I welcome you to find me environmental groups who actually take as strong approach against taxing carbon as the NDP currently is (I am open to the idea that some may be opposed). I remain confident though that the environmental groups will endorse the Liberals bolder approach in the next election because it does indeed go farther than Bill C-30 (and again the Liberals still support Bill C-30 as does the NDP). When this plan is fully released I'm sure there will be no shortage of praise for it from many environmental circles.

The added benefit of tax shifting is that it punishes wasteful consumer behavior and rewards environmentally friendly behavior at the level of the consumer. The multi-millionaire with 8 mansions will pay much more I believe with a tax shifting plan than just cap and trade which is more directed as businesses (and of course the Liberal Carbon Budget is based on cap and trade as well).

As for evidence raising the price of carbon would work, you see
some support for the notion as gas prices went up, consumption of gas went down. The Liberal plan wouldn't affect prices at the pump but I see no reason why you wouldn't see similar changes in behaviour for other forms of energy consumption if they were taxed at a higher rate (in fact it's easier to turn down the heat or the AC than it is to drive less). So if you increase the price that's right you can see declines in behaviors bad for the environment and by cutting income taxes at the same time you have created a scenario whereby the most environmentally conscious have a lot more money in their pocket. Those are additional benefits that can be combined with a cap and trade approach for businesses.

You can say you want to judge the Liberals by the past, but it's Jack Layton's words that said Dion was different from the rest of the Liberal leadership candidates and that he stood out as a man of principle (he even said that�s why he thought Liberals would never elect him). So if Jack Layton trusts Dion and gives him such high praise Canadians have every reason to trust Dion as well. Dion has made his priorities attacking poverty and addressing climate change, I know that scares the NDP to think a Liberal leader might address issues they have talked about before (and seem to talk about less now the NDP seems more focused on middle income Canadians than those in poverty these days) and you will scream loudly that no one should trust him, but Jack Layton trusts Dion as a man of principle and conviction so should you. Dion won't leave low income Canadians in the cold and he will have the most wide-ranging environmental plan you can count on it.

It's sad that the NDP can't just be working for a scenario in which there is a Liberal minority and the NDP holds the balance of power, because by advocating the re-election of a Conservative government (or at least claiming there would be no difference) is irresponsible when you know full well Canada will remain an international pariah on the environment and the priorities that matter to Liberal and NDP supporters would NEVER get addressed under a Harper government. The clout the NDP had with the Martin government has dwarfed any influence they have had with getting anything passed with Harper, but I guess perhaps gaining more seats is more important than getting progressive policies passed. I hope in the next parliament there can be more of a cooperative spirit between the two parties (you might be surprised to see the massive difference between how a Prime Minister Dion would conduct himself compared to Harper).