Wednesday, May 07, 2008

"Carbon Tax" Popular?

Conservatives tend to fluff off any poll that shows Canadians are prepared to act on the environment, even if it comes with a cost. The premise seems to be that people just say they favor action, but will revolt once the theory turns to application. I think that is just bunk, partisan posturing to defend their own party's timid approach. With that in mind, I find these figures very interesting, Canadians don't seem to have a problem with the dreaded carbon tax, or maybe better put, a shift in taxation which presents a carrot and a stick:
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.


Antonio said...

dont you mean carbon "investment account"

I cant wait to see the ad where Dion is against this "because it is a bad idea"

Steve V said...

There's a difference between breaking your word, and showing pragmatism. It's not like Dion would be pandering, there is political risk. Also, I think Canadians are generally becoming immune to the Conservative tactics, if anything the attack ads might just feed their own negative narrative.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who believes this tax, once introduced, will remain revenue neutral is dreaming in Technicolor. The EI fund was not supposed to generate revenue for the government. The income tax, introduced during the first world war was supposed to be a temporary measure. Some temporary! Another Liberal tax and spend scheme spun as revenue neutral. Talk about a hidden agenda!

Antonio said...

come on steve, I was expecting a "this is unfair"

Steve V said...

"Another Liberal tax and spend scheme spun as revenue neutral."

Thank-you for the 30% opinion that Liberals shouldn't concern themselves with.


You know how hard it is to lead? ;)

bigcitylib said...

And, as Gerry Nichols points out, everyone is getting into the carbon tax idea (he even thinks the Federal Tories will be unveiling something along these lines). You can add Alberta to B.C. and Que., by the way. They don't call it a carbon tax; I think polluters pay into a "Fund". But it is essentially a carbon tax.

Steve V said...

"he even thinks the Federal Tories will be unveiling something along these lines"

I'd love to see Baird try and sell that. If Dion comes out now, he can box the Cons in, make sure they are behind the curve. We know the kneejerk reaction, but in the long run that kind of venom will force the Cons to hold out, if they reform their approach, the hypocrisy will be palpable.

Anonymous said...

If you have confidence on the carbon tax, let's sell it to the ordinary voters through soundbites, which is arguably not Stephane Dion's strong points.

Forget about university style lectures and I am willing to provide many economic arguments on why a carbon tax is prudent.

Cut it down to five key points, something that can be made into a ready-made action plan enacted within 30 days of a Grit government. Otherwise, we will continue to spin in circle and let the Cons shape the argument.

Steve V said...


I'm not sure Dion wins a "soundbite" argument, which is why he needs the time to engage people. If the party is hell bent on pissing away the current opportunities, then it is a good time to roll out this policy, he will have the entire summer to get beyond the kneejerk reactions of the Cons. As a matter of fact, I hope when he does announce the policy, he launches a pre-emptive strike and takes the criticisms head on. Mocking Baird would be a good start, "tax and spend" blah, blah, blah. I would also make sure there are a couple economists available at any announcement.

North of 49 said...

Five key points, eh? Let me toss this out, then.

Couple of days ago Barbara Yaffee in the Vancouver Sun wrote about a new "mantra" (as she called it) going around in Liberal circles, probably the harbinger of a campaign slogan: a "richer, fairer, greener" Canada.

Now myself, I'd reverse the order: "A greener Canada, a fairer Canada, a richer Canada." I like the key words, regardless of which has primacy, since they are both sound-bitey and appealing. (To me, at any rate. YMMV.)

So that's three. Another: "Smarter". Last one... uh. I'm wanting a two-syllable word ending in "er" that means better leadership, both in the sense of leading the country and leading the world in green thinking, green policy and green technology. (Two syllables, of course, because all the others are. Good rhythm, you see.)

Greener, fairer, smarter, (blank)er, richer.


Okay, maybe not a synonym for leadership. Go another direction. Truer. Cleaner. Slower (mm, maybe not). Leaner (and meaner? -- good bizspeak buzzword there).

Greener, fairer, smarter, leaner, richer.

Good enough for a start. Off to the focus group with it, and thanks for the idea, mushroom. You too, Steve V, for a good thoughtful blog.

Anonymous said...

North of 49,

Let me have a go.

Greener - Carbon tax. Check.

Fairer - 30-50 poverty plan. How will they be affected when food prices go through the roof. This means more government handouts. Baird is screaming "tax and spend" right now.

Richer - The rich will probably have to pay more tax. Not sure about the poor. Expect Layton to scream that consumption taxes hurt the poor continuously.

Smarter - Everybody knows the Grit front bench is full of eggheads with doctorate degrees and a Rhodes scholar. We question how the Con front bench get their grad degrees given their lightweight performance.

Leaner - Iggy and Dion are suave and lean while the CPC front bench average close to 250-300 pounds. The Cons will run the campaign on junk food alone. Its success is dependent on their response in any old truck stop across Canada.

In the urban centre coffee shops we win hands down. At any highway service station, I dunno.