Stephane Dion will deploy Canada's auditor general to backstop his claim that a Liberal carbon tax will be revenue neutral, not the massive tax grab depicted by the Tories.
Under the plan, the federal treasury would not keep a dime of the roughly $14 billion in revenue the proposed carbon tax would generate. Rather, the money would be shifted back to consumers in the form of offsetting cuts to personal income and corporate taxes.
But Dion is not going to ask Canadians to simply trust him on that.
The plan includes a promise of legislation that would require the independent auditor general to review the tax shift annually and to verify publicly whether it is living up to its advance billing as revenue neutral.
"We will prove this," Liberal finance critic John McCallum said in an interview.
"I know politicians aren't always believed, and when we say it's revenue neutral people will be skeptical and they'll refer back to the GST. But we will have the auditor general verify each year it is revenue neutral".
Having third-party verification will be key to insulate the Liberals from the already known Conservative attack lines. Having the Auditor-General verify that any plan is actually revenue neutral might just expose the "trick" theme for what it is, fear mongering. I actually think this is quite a shrewd move, because it does say, don't trust us, trust those who have no vested interest. This idea moves the discussion outside of the purely political realm. I like it.
The above addresses the Conservative attacks, the following will address the NDP lines:
Insiders say Dion and his inner circle have agonized over details, trying to ensure that no one is unfairly penalized by the carbon tax. Various measures have been built in to protect those who can't afford or can't access alternative energy sources, such as poor, elderly and rural Canadians, or those whose livelihoods are dependent on fossil fuels, such as truck drivers.
Originally, I was fine with a delayed release, because it afforded the Liberals the rare opportunity of having floated a vague plan, having everyone else expose their criticisms, which allowed for "tweaking" to address those attacks. In the end, the plan would already incorporate the counter talking points, which should result in a better package. Reading the above reinforces that notion, although the time is clearly NOW for the release.
Finally, McCallum offers the "only adult in the room" assessment:
"I cannot say to you that no Canadian will be unharmed by this" he said.
"What I can say is that we've done our very best to ensure that the most vulnerable Canadians will not fall through the cracks and they will have assistance to make the necessary adjustments.
"But the whole planet has to adjust to higher energy prices and costs, and dwindling supply relative to demand for oil, and it's not going to be totally painless for every human being."
Any serious discussion assumes some cost for people, that seems inherent to the idea of changing our habits. If the Liberal plan seeks to mitigate the harm, offer ways to offset, provide a clear path that could lead to lower taxes for the average Canadian, then people will understand that it can't be a free ride initially, attempting to change society in a such a fundamental way.