A new poll suggests most Canadians support the idea of a carbon tax – but an overwhelming majority favour the broader principle of using the tax system to punish or reward environmental behaviour.
The findings of The Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey suggest the politically risky move of putting a price on carbon holds a potential payoff.
But when asked whether they supported the idea of a carbon tax on businesses and people based on the carbon emissions they generate, 61 per cent of poll respondents said yes and 32 per cent said no.
Respondents in every province and age category expressed support for the idea, including oil-rich Alberta where 65 per cent of those surveyed backed the notion.
Support levels grew significantly – to as high as 80 per cent – when respondents were asked a variety of questions about tailoring the tax system to broader environmental causes.
Harris-Decima president Bruce Anderson says it's not clear how a carbon tax would play out in an election campaign because public opinion would obviously be swayed by the debate about costs vs. benefits.
He says one thing is clear: the broader idea of a green-friendly tax system holds considerable support, and politicians who speak only of 'carbon taxes' are barely tapping into it.
"This central idea of taxing particularly harmful behaviour, and rewarding the opposite, is a potential political game-changer for the party that can get it right and describe it clearly," Anderson said.
I was actually surprised to see such broad support, at the very least it shows that if Dion embraces some sort of environmental tax shift, the political ground isn't as shaky as some suggest.
Another surprising turn, chronic Dion basher Chantal Hebert pens her first column in many seasons, that actually offers Dion fair advice on a carbon tax, even suggesting potential traction in Quebec. Hebert echoes a couple of thoughts I had on the same subject, namely that we already have practical applications in Canada, plus the fact the idea finds broad expert support outside of the environmental community.
From all indications, neither the Quebec or British Columbia government's have paid a political price for their respective carbon tax approaches, in fact we see "relatively favourable reviews". Others have already tested the waters, which makes "bold" look less sketchy. That isn't to say Dion doesn't introduce risk with a tax package, only that he already has a largely sympathetic and educated audience in many quarters, places which will be key in an election.
The real pre-requisite in selling a carbon tax is time, apart from the ideas actually being sound. We can already map out the kneejerk reactions, the labels, the accusations, the fear mongering, it's all a known quantity. For that reason, Dion requires the necessary space to make the argument, allow Canadians to see that the concept finds support with respectable economists, allow everyone to get past the "tax grab" hysteria. If the ideas are presented as an honest discussion, a conversation, then the screams of blowhards like Baird will lose relevance over time.
These sorts of polls should allay any hesitations, or political considerations as the case may be. Dion starts with an openness, in the end it will be up to the Liberals to sell the idea. Sounds like a fair proposition.