Monday, May 12, 2008

"Leadership Is Always Politically Risky"

If there is a complex issue that finds 100% agreement amongst Liberals, it's an oddity. An inherent dynamic of a big tent party is internal policy tension, different viewpoints, different approaches. The media, and opponents, love to seize upon Liberal "divisions", but for the most part I've always attributed most of it too healthy debate, an asset in practice, if not necessarily helpful in perceptions.

With that in mind, nobody should be surprised to read "Some MPs uneasy about Dion's plan for carbon tax". It's important to vet any idea, particularly one that could have major ramifications. The weary should express their view, highlight any potential pitfalls, to ensure no one is surprised moving forward. In the end, when all opinion is considered, then the leader decides, and at this point, people should fall in line.

The above link, points to findings from a Liberal Party pollster, which highlights the political risk for Dion, should he go ahead with a carbon tax. I don't think Dion should move forward because "he sees a bold environmental approach as needed to rescue both the environment and his reputation", he should move forward because he believes the policy is sound. Obviously, the idea is bold by definition, but that characterization shouldn't be the motivation, just an added benefit to good policy. Public appetite is part of the equation, but Dion's personal stake should really be a side issue in the final analysis.

The pollster found the following:
According to the insider, the poll found Ontarians are overwhelmingly concerned about climate change and support slashing greenhouse gas emissions to meet Canada's commitments under the Kyoto Protocol.

Nevertheless, when respondents were given details of British Columbia's recent carbon tax plan as one way to tackle the problem, support dropped dramatically. According to the insider, the poll found 30 per cent strongly opposed to the idea and 12 per cent somewhat opposed, compared to 23 per cent strongly supportive and 25 per cent somewhat supportive.


A tough sell? If you actually add up the supportive vs opposed numbers, you see 42% strongly or somewhat oppose, but 48% strongly or somewhat support. The majority are open to the idea, to varying degrees.

One thing people must consider, when they view these type of findings, the built-in "denier" vote. In one of the more extension polls, a full 23% of Canadians said they don't believe global warming is real. What that means, any question on climate change policy will automatically be rejected by a quarter of the population, slightly higher when you consider the "man-made" argument. There is nothing the Liberals could propose that would be accepted by this subsection, so any policy should essentially eliminate their potential opinion.

If you believe that the Conservative base support level in Canada is somewhere around 25-30%, and that 99% of global warming deniers are under their umbrella, the above numbers look a lot better politically. If the Liberals did nothing on the environment, would those voters leave the Conservatives to support Dion? ABSOLUTELY NOT, which is why Liberals needn't concern themselves with developing policy which "appeals" to everyone.

I would look at the above poll finding in this way. You are starting with a majority that are open to the concept, what you need to do is move the soft "resistance" into the soft "support" camp. Forget about wasting time on the 30% who are strongly opposed, that will never be a potential Liberal audience, but present a forceful argument to allay the fears of the 12% somewhat opposed. In that way, you enter the arena with a fair concept, if you can sell the idea, it will have appeal, if you fail, then you take your lumps. That comes down to politics and strategy, that is the "risk" and it is true, leaders must take that risk.

If the Liberals are to do the proper calculations moving forward, I would start with the premise that no matter what you do, your decisions should ignore people who are really irrelevant, they don't believe the premise, how could they possibly support a solution, they will NEVER vote Liberal anyways. Knock off the core Conservative supporter, within that the "deniers", and start from there, when deciding if you can effectively "sell" the plan.

13 comments:

tori said...

"One thing people must consider, when they view these type of findings, the built-in "denier" vote. In one of the more extension polls, a full 23% of Canadians said they don't believe global warming is real. What that means, any question on climate change policy will automatically be rejected by a quarter of the population, slightly higher when you consider the "man-made" argument. There is nothing the Liberals could propose that would be accepted by this subsection, so any policy should essentially eliminate their potential opinion."

did you mean "poll" here?

Steve V said...

No, I meant policy. Any policy development should ignore appealing to people that don't accept the concept, or will never vote Liberal no matter.

tori said...

I agree.

put up the policy and a person's vote will decide.

at first i thought you were suggesting that since 23% are "deniers" that the percentage against is really smaller than it actually is.

JimBobby said...

Whooee! It's essential that Dion present the carbon tax as one part of a fully fleshed-out tax shifting policy. Voters need to understand that the carbon tax will be offset with income tax reductions. Low income earners and pensioners need to know the details of how this policy will not have an impact on their bottom line.

High-income urbanites have plenty carbon-reduction options. Low income rural and small town dwellers do not have access to public transit and mostly live in detached properties that suck up more heating fuel.

You can bet the Con's will spin this to say that the "gas tax" will punish ordinary Canadians while giving big tax breaks to guys making $500,000 a year. Presenting the specifics of the proposed policy should address those knee-jerk objections. They should already be talking up the income tax reduction angle, instead of letting the Con's spin it preemptively.

JB

Mushroom said...

"They should already be talking up the income tax reduction angle, instead of letting the Con's spin it preemptively."

This means you are attacking Harper's Cons at the jugular. You are suggesting that richer Canadians must pay more while middle and lower income Canadians pay less taxes. Also single Canadians may pay more than Canadians who have kids or are registered in civil and common-law partnerships.

Dion campaigning on a greener, class warfare, social justice agenda. Bring it on!!!!

Steve V said...

"Presenting the specifics of the proposed policy should address those knee-jerk objections."

Whatever form the announcement takes, it should quote the already known Con attack lines, and offer a rebuttal immediately, supported by expert opinion. I think I mentioned this already, but Dion should invite some economists to any announcement, make them available to the media, to show this isn't some half baked tax hike, to show the Cons are fear mongering. I would mention Baird, as a pre-emptive move, which make his response look predictable.

Mushroom said...

"Whatever form the announcement takes, it should quote the already known Con attack lines, and offer a rebuttal immediately, supported by expert opinion."

This needs to be balanced by one thing: Dion's reluctance to use attack ads. He has nixed the idea to put ads highlighting Harper's support of the Iraq war, a "firewall" for Alberta against federal encroachment etc. Baird and Flaherty can give the Grits tonnes to run on, but will Dion use their quotes?

Greg said...

Dion needs to listen to this speech and take its message to heart.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWWJuuF_mM0

Anonymous said...

Even according to this poll, people who strongly oppose the Carbon tax outnumber those who strongly favour it - and you can bet that support will only erode from the moment it's announced.

Remember the GST was also promoted as being "revenue neutral".

Free trade with the US and Meech lake and Charlottetown started out with overwhelming support in polls and then it all collapsed like a house of cards.

I just can't see any party winning power because so many people are yelling "hip hip hooray - i want to pay MORE for home heating and oil!!"

Powell lucas said...

If this proposal is 'revenue neutral' what is the purpose of it. It's like the pea in the shell game, nothing changes but where the pea is located. If the tax comes out of one pocket and is returned to the other people can still use it to buy carbon based fuel. The only change will be that they will see the tax every time the fill up with gas or pay their monthly heating bill while they wait around for their tax refund at the end of the year.
On the other hand, if this tax is supposed to create a fund to finance inovation into climate change, then it can't be 'revenue neutral'. The money has to come from somewhere. I would suspect it is the latter, and as David Suzuki has said it will create a fund with up to 18 billion a year. That, folks, is a tax increase and no matter how hard Dion and the Liberals try to cover it up in their "hidden agenda", the public will see right through it.

Steve V said...

"If this proposal is 'revenue neutral' what is the purpose of it."

It's neutral overall, not for individuals.

The Pontificator said...

It may be revenue-neutral (and I agree the benefit is overall, not on an invidividual basis), but it is domestic and global environment-positive. That's the key to good policy and reasoned policy development.

Good on Dion for engaging the public in a debate on public policy - one that conceivably will have a generational impact on our society, not simply on individuals. Good on him for advocating for "good policy which may be bad politics" as opposed to the crass governing-by-constant-appeals-to-the selfishness-and-short-sightedness-of-the average-Tory-voter-and-threat-of-election tactics (geesh, governing by tactics!) approach of the Harper Government as evidenced by the "bad policy but good politics" reduction(s) in the GST. Doesn't help the economy, the environment, society at all - simply the electoral prospects of the Tories.

Calgary Junkie said...

To repeat ... Dion was against a carbon tax while he was running for Liberal leader.

His most damning quotes are going to be used against him. Not just by Harper, but by Layton as well.

This is such an obvious way to discredit Dion (similar to the "Not A Leader" tv ads), that you guys better have a good way to counter it.