Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Carbon tax meltdown: Dion increasingly isolated; consensus building around Layton's cap-and-trade plan

No one makes things more difficult on Stéphane Dion than Stéphane Dion.

Imagine this: a politician deciding to champion a proposal that will increase taxes, won’t cap pollution, will disproportionately impact the poor, is favoured by big polluters, has been a demonstrable failure in other countries, and upon which he has launched a scathing critique not 24 months ago. It would be a tall order for a popular politician – and an impossibility for someone lagging at 10 percent approval.

Clearly in a charitable mood in view of the unfolding train wreck, pollster Nik Nanos has some free advice for Stephane Dion – get help!

“For him to have a chance to succeed, he needs the third party validators to come forward and say that it is reasonable, that it is achievable, and that it is desirable. If he's just left out there by himself, it's going to be a very difficult sell”

So, in that same spirit of charity, Canada’s number one equine themed politics blog is offering to identify people who say a carbon tax is reasonable, achievable, and desirable. Let’s see:

How about presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton? No luck there. She agrees with Jack Layton on a cap-and-trade system.

What about Barack Obama? Not a chance. He slams carbon taxes and agrees with Jack Layton on a cap-and-trade system.

John McCain must agree with Dion. Nope. Even he agrees with Jack Layton on a cap-and-trade system.

What about US-based envitronmental groups like Environmental Defence? No luck there. They see cap and trade as the way forward, just like Jack Layton.

What about other Liberals like Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty? Forget about it. Even the brother of Dion’s environment critic has broken with Dion on carbon tax and agrees with Jack Layton on a cap-and-trade system.

North America is moving towards a consensus on the need for a cap-and-trade market on carbon. Why aren’t Dion’s Liberals?

More crass political gamesmanship, it would appear. Liberals have decided that the NDP already “owns” cap-and-trade and didn’t want to share it with them. Spoiling for a fight that might help their leader's lagging approval numbers, they have put all their eggs in the carbon tax basket because they know Harper is vehemently opposed to it. Too bad for them, there aren’t many people who think carbon tax is the answer.

Sorry Stéphane Dion. When it comes to a carbon tax, you are pretty much on your own.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Why didn’t the Liberals help the NDP get rid of Bernier weeks ago?

Astonishing to see Liberals bleating today over the long-awaited departure of foreign affairs minister Maxime Bernier – when those very same Liberals helped Harper keep the Bungler from Beauce in cabinet that much longer.

Why it was over two weeks ago that the NDP’s Paul Dewar put precisely that motion in front of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee.

But while Liberals were happy to complain about Bernier, incredibly, they couldn't be counted on to vote for the NDP motion to actually get rid of him.

Ask Today’s Bob Rae to explain why he helped Harper keep Bernier on the world stage:

Hon. Bob Rae: Mr. Chair, I'm going to indicate to you my opposition to Mr. Dewar's motion, and I'll tell you why. I'm not interested in seeing this committee get paralyzed by a procedural matter. We know very well that we could use our majority in the committee to vote non-confidence in the minister. We also know what the impact of that would be on the business of the committee and the business of the House. I'm not interested in doing that.

While the NDP were packing Bernier’s bags, the Liberals were freshening his bed clothes. "Because without you, Maxime, we are nothing!"

Just more limp gamesmanship from Her Majesty’s Artificial Opposition.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Why did he jump …

… when he should have been pushed?

First there were his flights of fancy.

Then his speaking of the unspoken corruption in Kandahar.

Then the “Hey Dude, where’s my C-17” gaffe

Then the still unexplained leak of a confidental diplomatic brief that put Canada in the eye of the US presidential election.

It was to the point that there were so many straws, one could barely see the camel.

Yet Bernier was amazingly allowed to collect his remaining dignity in a teaspoon by resigning over a “how did that get there?” revelation of more misplaced documents (or were they ones we’ve already heard of? Good question.)

A Prime Minister worthy of trust would have ended this farce long ago.

This would at least bring a gracious end to what will likely enter text books as the Frat Boy Era in Canadian foreign policy ... were it not for this guy.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Imagine! Environmentalist calls Dion’s carbon tax “ridiculous”

Turns out you don't have to be a Liberal MP to know that Stephane Dion’s carbon tax plan - the plan that puts the rest of us on the tab for a “polluters right to pollute" - is the worst idea to come out of Ottawa since the garlic Beaver Tail.

A host of critics (including Dion) are already on record saying Dion's carbon tax would push people into poverty. Now more environmentalists are saying it's a bad idea.

A spokesperson for New Brunswick’s leading environmental group has taken dead aim at Dion’s pledge that his carbon tax would be "revenue neutral". Then what's the point? asks David Coon:

But David Coon, policy director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, says a "revenue neutral" carbon tax will not help the environment or reduce carbon emissions.

He says the only way a carbon tax can have a positive effect on the environment is if the resulting revenues are invested into environmental initiatives like renewable energy sources, construction efficiency programs, and public transportation.

"Neutrality is ridiculous. The point is that if you want to do something, we actually need to make some investments in things like converting our energy system over to one that is more environmentally sustainable."

A truly revenue-neutral tax could not theoretically accomplish any of those goals because government would not be accumulating any new revenues, said Coon.

He ridicules the idea that a carbon tax could somehow reduce energy consumption but won't be accomplished by skyrocketing gas and energy prices.

"If the expectation is that somehow that tax by itself is going to have any impact whatsoever on households, it will not. It will not have one bit of impact on households' consumption of energy," he said, noting that Efficiency New Brunswick's programs are already running on all cylinders.

Coon's is a good point. If Dion’s plan means taxing you more for home heating and gasoline, only to pump that same amount of money back into tax cuts, precisely where on earth is the money going to come from if we are ever going to retrofit homes or build new transit? Municpal property taxes? Thin air?

Dion used to agree with Jack Layton and the NDP that a cap-and-trade carbon market where big polluters pay for the right to pollute was the right way to go. Now Dion is in favour of the same carbon tax scheme he opposed less than two years ago!

They don’t mind punishing the poor and they don’t know where the money will come from. The half-baked ideas they used to deride, they are now the champions of.

The Liberals are just making it up as they go along. Imagine.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The political rehabilitation of John Turner continues apace

It’s bad enough when they are comparing you to the least successful leader in your party’s history. It’s something worse when you come out unfavourably.

Another bad poll for Her Majesty’s Artificial Opposition from Angus Reid today.

For the Cons and New Democrats, the global numbers are too close to 2006 election results to be notable, but for the Liberals, 27 percent puts them three points down from the drubbing they got in 2006 and even one percentage point below their disastrous result in the 1984 election.

Add to this that a monumental 90 percent of Canadians now do not approve of his performance, and you find Dion being compared in the Toronto Star to John Turner -- the Liberal captain through their worst years.

“Not since former Liberal leader John Turner bottomed out with a 14 per cent approval rating shortly after losing the 1988 election have things been so bad for the head of Canada's most successful political party. Just 10 per cent of those surveyed stand behind Dion's leadership, the poll shows, compared to 32 per cent for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
What's worse is that the number of people who said they were unsure about Dion's performance has dropped from 46 per cent at the end of last summer to 30 per cent this month, meaning that Canadians are making up their minds about a leader who has had difficulties rallying his party behind him as well as communicating his party's positions to potential voters.”

The second paragraph really is the kicker: people who were heretofore undecided about Dion have moved to the decided column to join the swelling ranks of those who disapprove of the flip-flops, the abstaining and the insincere haranguing of a government Liberals dare not defeat.

What can’t be helping any of this is the latest political disaster of Dion now saying he wants to force on Canadians a regressive carbon tax that will hurt the poor and which he called “bad policy” not even two years ago.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ken Boshcoff’s Ti Quan-DOH!!

Along with helping keep Harper comfortably ensconced in 24 Sussex as long as possible, another side effect of Liberal MPs abstaining on vote after vote appears to be that they have completely forgotten what they are supposed to do when the Speaker calls on them.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Harper cries havoc and lets slip the typos of war

Secret agenda? Pffthh. It's no secret.

“The Government of Canada delivers support to combat homeless in Québec City”

One can already imagine the slavish flourish of Tory speech writers: “We shall fight them at the soup kitchens. We shall fight them on the subway grates …”

Dion pulls a “Peter MacKay” on green Liberals

Try to name one substantive policy proposal that was debated by the contestants in the 2006 Liberal leadership race. Give it a try. Think about it.

There sure weren’t many.

Ignatieff’s support of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq doesn’t count. Nor does Bob Rae’s having given money to the New Democratic Party three months before he joined the Liberals. Nor does Joe Volpe’s cash-from-kids scandal.

But one policy matter that was debated – even hotly at times – was Michael Ignatieff’s proposal to introduce a carbon tax. He said “We've also got to have popular, practical, believable policies that may involve some form of carbon tax, for example, to increase the penalties on emissions. The time for action really is now.”

With his words still hanging in the air, Ignatieff was tackled. The idea proved instantly unpopular among Liberals as virtually all contenders lept on the proposal calling it “bad policy” (Dion’s words) and “the clumsiest of the options” (Gerard Kennedy’s). But leading the pack of wolves savaging the carbon tax was none other than Stephane Dion who told the Globe and MailI've always been against it. I will have other ways to get there.”

For Dion, the race came down to a direct appeal to green Liberals convincing them that the carbon tax was divisive, regressive and imprecise and that only he could lead the party in another direction. In the end, Dion won that argument, got the votes and won the race. Now he’s flip-flopped on a carbon tax, and in one fell swoop thrown both his principles and the trust of the people who voted for him under the bus.

Careful observers will note that Dion’s flip-flop on the issue that won him the leadership is eerily similar to Peter MacKay’s betrayal of PC party members in 2003 who were told that the leadership candidate was opposed to any merger or joint candidates with the Canadian Alliance -- only to break that promise months later.

In the same way that MacKay’s flip-flop has to this day left an asterisk next to his credibility, so will Dion face the same suspicious looks from those who believed he was genuine when he said “I've always been against it. I will have other ways to get there.”

Green Liberals should have at least got Dion’s anti-carbon tax promise on a napkin.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Dion's carbon tax – he was right then and wrong now

After two years of the Conservatives’ distraction and obfuscation, and 13 years of Liberals breaking promise after promise to reduce pollution, you don’t have to be an environmentalist to want action on the environment -- and fast.

But suddenly instituting a carbon tax is the wrong way to make-up for Liberal and Conservative governments who haven’t done much to move people away from fossil fuels.

Critics of Dion's carbon tax have been clear about why it's the wrong idea right now:

“A carbon tax is less effective than a carbon market at reducing emissions … This is simply bad policy, for the following reasons:

1) A carbon tax is almost always implemented as a direct tax on fossil fuels. Given the current price of these fuels, however, it is difficult to argue that a further price signal will dampen consumption or shift demand.

2. A carbon tax is a flat tax – it costs each polluter a fixed amount per tonne of emissions. Such a tax will not inflate with a bull market or recede in times of difficulty. In the energy market, in particular, soaring prices make anything but a prohibitively high tax a mere nuisance for large producers.

3) Finally, and most significantly, valuing reductions in emissions equally across all sectors and industries eliminates the potential benefits to be had by maximizing reductions where the cost is lowest. In a carbon market, those areas that produce the least expensive real reductions will experience the highest level of interest and investment, maximizing the level of reductions per dollar spent.

The critic in this case was Stephane Dion – from his Energy and Climate Change Plan in the Liberal leadership race.

Less than two years ago, Dion promised Liberals that he was against a carbon tax – and fought those (like Ignatieff) who were in favour of one. He won the votes of green Liberals based on that promise. Now he has spun in the other direction to say he now wants a carbon tax. Liberals who voted for Dion were duped.

Dion was right then – a carbon tax is punitive, regressive and imprecise (just ask Warren Kinsella) – and he’s wrong now.

So why has Dion reversed himself? Is he so desperate to show leadership that he’s willing to flip-flop on one of his key leadership planks? Has Ignatieff overpowered Dion on policy matters? Are Liberals fishing for revenues to pay for over-blown campaign promises? Are the polls so bad for Dion that they are desperately grasping at anything to move “Liberals-are-helping-Harper” out of the headlines? Who knows?

But what should really worry people, especially those who desperately want action on the environment, is that if Dion has changed his position so quickly on carbon tax, what’s the next policy plank he’s likely to abandon?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Who`s Obama now?

Who said this?

“I believe we owe … people the truth. That's why my plan to lower gas prices raises fuel efficiency standards on cars; invests in alternative energy to end our addiction to oil; and creates millions of new Green Jobs while saving our planet in the bargain. That's the kind of change we need.”

ANSWER: Barack Obama, May 2008

And who said this?

“I’ve been talking about green-collar jobs for years – I even had a hand in creating some … We need a green car strategy that combines world-class fuel efficiency standards with job-generating incentives for building and selling more fuel-efficient cars in Canada. If we don’t build the green cars that consumers will be driving tomorrow, China will. And those jobs and that investment will follow. We need to end tax advantages to polluting industries … Instead, we should provide incentives to accomplish our desired outcomes –extending tax advantages for greener industry – like the clean-tech sector which is involved in alternative energy, recycling, and the production of new materials.”

ANSWER: Jack Layton, February 2007

Weird, huh? On building green cars in North America, Layton and Obama are speaking from the same script. And the same goes for creating green jobs – indeed Layton has been pushing these files long before he entered federal politics six years ago.

It is owing to the cyclical nature of policy as well as an ounce of serendipity that Obama has come along now with a such a similar message as the NDP.

But the policy similarities between North America’s leading voices on the centre-left aren’t going un-noticed. The San Francisco Chronicle quotes Jack Layton today agreeign with US Democrats that a new American and Canadian administrations should take a second look at NAFTA:

"Canadians believe NAFTA needs serious work," said Jack Layton, leader of Canada's New Democratic Party. The likely prime minister candidate told me he wants to reform the pact because it helps corporations overturn laws and because its lack of standards forces workers into a wage-cutting, environment-destroying race to the bottom.

But there’s more to politics than policy alone. Strong leadership takes both a vision and the ability to inspire.

On that count as well, Canadians are seeing double.

While savaging Dion’s bumbling and lack of policy coherence, let alone ability to evoke, columnist Michael Harris pays Layton the compliment:

“The one thing Dion has done is turn Jack Layton into our Barack Obama.”

Just like in the US, Canadians are looking to unite with a new leader with an inspiring vision for change.

“Yes we can, eh!”

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Gee Conservatives, you sure have changed.

When the Reform Party swaggered into the Ottawa airport fifteen years ago, one of the grievances they had tucked inside their American Tourister bags was that government spent foolishly, favouring perks for senior bureaucrats, politicians and their friends far more than ordinary taxpayers (when it came to the Liberals, they were more predictive than they knew).

At the forefront of this taxpayers’ vanguard was John Williams. The Alberta MP hounded the Liberals daily on their handouts, expense accounts and contracts. He earned dubious notoriety for his “Waste Report” -- an occasional pamphlet laden with clip-art and examples of boondoggles large and small.

Fast forward to yesterday to witness that same paragon on frugality defending the Liberal-style mismanagement that allowed Jim Flaherty to award a $120,000 untendered contract to a political friend against Treasury Board rules.

Williams moaned that critics had lost sight of the greater good:

“This was a presentation of a $220 billion budget. The minister of finance knowledges that the rules were broken. He didn't even know they were broken. He says it will not happen again. He acknowledges that the rules be followed and this was just a storm in a teacup over a $120,000 contract. Yes, it was untendered but that money would have been spent anyway on whomever we had hired and as he said, we want somebody that we can trust, we want somebody that we know. We know somebody who can do the job. This had to be done on time and done right and therefore he got to the people he wanted to do it. He admits that he broke the rules and it won't happen again.”

If you are shocked, or at least struck by the irony of this reversal it’s because you missed a simple point: the Conservatives are the government now. Their waste isn’t waste, because they respect taxpayers. That said, er, it won’t happen again.

Gee John Williams, you sure have changed.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Game-changers: Libloggers debate the merits of an NDP government

Interesting to see leading Libloggers openly speculating on a future federal NDP government (and a majority one at that).

Of course they’re not being completely un-cynical about the idea. Liberals are shy enough about the truth when it concerns their own party; one can’t expect them to be forthright about any other.

Indeed, some of the finer points of the argument need to be reconsidered. For one, the Liberal Party is never going to wither and blow away. There will always be a party for people who are interested in politics, but averse to taking positions on issues. The ironic part is that Liberals are the ones who are writing their party’s obit.

Second, as much as Liberals strain to make the point, the NDP in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and BC are not the Liberal Party by another name. Just try to make that argument to Gary Doer. Heck, make it to Jon Gerard.

But back to the big picture, what’s rather remarkable is the fact that Liblogers are speculating on a future federal NDP government.

It’s not as though New Democrat bloggers are reciprocating by talking about what a Dion government might do / not do. And that marks a rather crucial change.

That’s how much the game has changed since Dion started helping Harper make irreparable changes to our military posture in the world, to our immigration system, to our environment and to the fiscal capacity of the federal government.

Even the most partisan of Liberals now recognize that the unmistakable counter-point to Harper is Jack Layton’s NDP.

As the world Turners

No one has ever accused Garth Turner - a man once skewered for trying to "out-Reform the Reform Party” when he was a Conservative MP, who now sits as a Liberal - of being a pie-in-the-sky optimist.

That fact may change with this outrageous prediction.

Get serious. The malaise within the party and the disaffection within the electorate concerning the Dion Liberals isn't likely to be wonked away by three months of Dion's flip-charts and PowerPoint presentations making the dour BBQ circuit even more unbearable across the land.

If Dion wants to snatch whatever credibility he has left, he could start by voting with the NDP on their non-confidence motion today -- the last chance (of many) to topple the Conservatives and cue a spring vote to end Harper's agenda.

Of course, that would require a more immediate expression of optimism on the part of Mr. Turner et al.

So ... er ... have a good summer, Garth.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Off-book Oda

Take note, failing entrepreneurs: if you can't report a profit, just don't report your expenses. That's right. Take a page right from the Conservatives' accounting manual.

The NDP has revealed that cabinet minister Bev Oda took thousands of dollars in publicly-paid for hospitality and limo rides -- perks that she never bothered to report publicly.

The Conservatives' sterling defence: Harper cabinet ministers are spending far less on travel and hospitality than Liberals.

That may well be true, but if the Harper cabinet isn't disclosing their real spending, what kind of defence is saying that they are spending less than the last guy anyway?

Heck, if that's your defence, why not just report ZERO?

Honestly, where is this government’s fake accountability for their fake frugality?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Bill Bixby and the Liberal Party

The Liberal Party sounds a lot like Bill Bixby.

You might remember Bixby as the actor who played Dr. David Banner in the campy 1980s TV show, who would warn aggressors “don’t make me angry. You won’t like me when I’m angry” moments before transforming into the Incredible Hulk and making a mess of the place.

If you can remember that, likely you can also recall the dying days of the 2006 campaign when it was becoming clear that voters were no longer prepared to “Choose the Liberal Party’s Canada”.

Upset Liberals began wildly speculating that a Harper government could do all sorts of crazy things. In a January 19th press release titled “Stephen Harper’s Agenda on Choice” Liberals said:

There are a number of ways in which an anti-choice government could restrict or limit choice, including:

- Refusing to approve new contraceptives;
- Placing restrictions on family planning agencies that receive federal funding;
- Changing government health policy to allow provinces to opt out of funding for abortions; and
- Changing the Criminal Code or the Constitution to give legal status to foetuses.

Funny thing is, Liberals were right about the last one. C-484, a Conservative MP’s private members bill giving fetuses legal status is currently moving through Parliament -- the same bill that 26 Liberal MPs voted in favour of.

That’s right, the anti-choice agenda that Liberals warned us about in the election is the same anti-choice agenda their MPs are helping to move along today. (Incidentally, every NDP MP will be voting against C-484).

Which begs this thought: perhaps Liberals weren’t warning us about the Conservatives after all. Maybe, like Bill Bixby, Liberals were warning us about what lurks inside of them.
Because if there was a Conservative government, Liberals wouldn’t be able to control their MPs who actually agree with Stephen Harper on a woman’s right to choose.

“Don’t vote for a Conservative government. You won’t like us with a Conservative government.”

Monday, May 5, 2008

No more Toronto politicians? (or, Conservatives in panic over their prairie base)

A leaflet landing in the mailbox of prairie households is the surest signal that Stephen Harper is worried about his base and is accepting the realization that his party will never form a majority government.

There are few tactics with higher consequences in Canadian politics than deciding to play politics with region. Of the articles of differentiation among Canadians, where you live is frequently tied up in identity, culture, economics as well as a sense of connectedness, or lack there of with power.

And no party knows this better than Conservatives. After all, no other party has been burnt more playing regional politics than the Conservatives and their predecessor parties. Fans will recall the disastrous “No More Quebec Politicians” ad the Reform Party ran in the 1997 election.

Now the Conservatives are at it again. This time with a publicly-paid-for flyer aimed at households in Manitoba and Saskatchewan suggesting that NDP leader Jack Layton is out of touch with them because … wait for it … he’s from Toronto.

The literature includes a photo of Layton and the CN Tower in the background with the message that he is out of touch with the issues in provinces west of Ontario.

New Democrat MP Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre) said yesterday it's clear the Conservative Party is pandering to western alienation and antipathy toward Ontario to shore up support in ridings where the Conservatives are vulnerable.

Martin is right. The Conservatives are clearly distressed by polls like the recent Angus Reid that shows Layton so out of touch with the prairie provinces that an incredible 46 percent of people there plan to vote NDP. And they aren’t just a little agitated. No, the anti-Toronto leaflet is the kind of decision that grows from panic.

Deciding to pit one region against the other is not a trifling decision. Just like the “No More Quebec Politicians” ad traded any hope of appealing to Quebeckers for hanging on to Reform’s western base, with this anti-Toronto flyer, Harper is projecting that pounding down the NDP’s growth in a region the Conservatives did very well in is more important than the illusion of growing in the GTA, a region they did poorly in.

Toronto and the GTA have over 50 seats – seats Conservatives need if they still hope to form a majority. Seeing them trade them away this soon with a “No More Toronto Politicians” flyer suggests Harper has turned his attention to saving what he came with.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

One quarter and a whole lot of dollars

Today, Elections Canada (synonymous of late with bad news for the Conservatives), delivered some remarkably good news for the NDP, confirming the party's 2nd place spot in fundraising so far this year.

For the first quarter of 2008, fundraising results look like this:

Conservative Party = $4,954,550.22 from 44,345 contributors
New Democratic Party = $1,119,647.67 from 13,329 contributors
Liberal Party = $846,129.37 from 10,169 contributors
Green Party = $210,962.82 from 4,731 contributors
Bloc Quebecois = $37,006.31 from 463 contributors

And while it's still a way to go to catch up with the Blue team's slowing cash-grabbing operation, the NDP's fundraising momentum is moving in the right direction, surpassing the Liberals with almost 30 percent more donations from 31 percent more donors (a week after Dion was trumpetting an imaginary “fundamental grassroots shift in the Liberal Party’s culture”).

With this poll, followed by this poll, followed by today's numbers, there's new evidence that more and more Canadians are rallying behind Layton's NDP as the real oppositon to Harper.

Oh, really?

Note the headline:

Observers will of course strain to recall this headline from bearly two years ago:
Layton suggests talks with Taliban
The Globe And Mail
Friday, September 1, 2006
OTTAWA -- Canada should withdraw its troops from the current mission in southern Afghanistan and invite Taliban fighters to peace talks, NDP Leader Jack Layton said yesterday.
What was then greeted with bitter mockery and/or spilled Chardonnay in the Blue and Red camps is today seen as a common sense solution to an intractable war.
Funny, that.
UPDATE: Aaron Wherry also sees the humour in Jack Layton's vindication.