We can talk about what the best model for putting a price on carbon across Canada might be, but the fact is we need to just do it...
We need to put a price on carbon. We need to make the costs of damaging our environment immediately visible and let polluters know they can't continue to dump pollution into our atmosphere for free. The price of carbon pollution must increase over time to encourage industry to change its behaviour and make greener choices so it can thrive in the 21st century.
I have never been a fan of the "three pillars" presentation by Dion, mostly because it might be too abstract to be understood. That said, I think he does an excellent job of presenting a coherent vision for the future, nicely weaving everything together to convey all oars in the water, towards a clear destination.
The political pitfalls of offering a new "tax", especially on a commodity which is already soaring, are obvious. You can already hear the Conservatives wailing, the attacks will effectively kill any substantive debate, just a question of defining the negative optics. On one level, Dion plays right into the Conservatives narrative, a tax and spend liberal. In the world of soundbites, Dion will lose everytime, because people need to engage to see the wisdom.
I assume that a spring election is off the table, judging from the recent comments. If that is truly the case, then Dion would be well served "selling" his ideas in the coming months. Not the barbeque circuit, but putting together a roundtable, enlisting expert opinion, to show that his ideas are economically sound, a tax shift, rather than a tax increase, a path that positions Canada well for the looming green economy. Dion can't sell this idea on his own, he needs allies, and the good news, they exist in spades, from surprising sources, from reputable, serious economists. The best way to present this controversial idea is Dion as the willing messenger, guided by expert opinion. In this way, Dion is somewhat insulated from the kneejerk Conservative attacks, in a best case scenario, he can counter that the government is out of touch.
Dion also has allies with provincial governments, in terms of policy. It is for that reason that the worry of political cost, in advocating a tax on carbon, can be offset by practical application. One of the great hypocritical positions of the Harper government, how they chastize Ontario's McGuinty for high taxes, yet they applaud British Columbia's Campbell for raising taxes that clearly impact industry. Blatant inconsistency aside, by all accounts the idea of a carbon tax is fairly popular in British Columbia, enough at least, that if Dion embraces the idea, there is no political price, potential gains. Ditto for Quebec, I don't see the risk, if anything Dion finds support through the provincial approach.
It would be a bold position, but in many ways Dion confronts his nemesis, the perception that he is weak. Presenting something, which at first blush might be unpopular, but has a real logic behind, it tells Canadians Dion is more concerned with getting it right, rather than scoring obvious political points. It's actually a nice contrast with the Conservatives, and it may well get Dion back to the fore on the environment, drawing some curiousity from voters who have drifted elsewhere.