Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Ignatieff's Idea Gains Traction

Ignatieff took a great deal of heat over his carbon-tax idea, despite the support of environmental experts. It was assumed that the idea was a non-starter, particularly in places like Alberta, and all the other candidates distanced themselves from the idea. It would appear, that Canadians are supportive of Ignatieff's crazy idea:
But it's still remarkable that an Ipsos Reid poll this week found that a small majority of Canadians, 52 per cent, endorse the idea of a carbon tax.

Even more noteworthy is that petroleum-rich Alberta, where political wisdom has it that any carbon tax would be an anathema that would fan Western separation, showed the third-strongest provincial support for the idea. It was 54 per cent, behind only B.C. with 55 per cent and Atlantic Canada with 59.

The poll also concludes that Canadians don't really understand the nuances of a carbon tax, but the word TAX certainly doesn't demand a learning curve. Speaking of curves, Ignatieff may well be ahead on this one, as it would appear the public is more receptive than first thought.

Ralph Klein responds to the Alberta findings in a typical way:
Premier Ralph Klein says he doubts a majority of Albertans would be willing to pay extra taxes to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

Klein was responding Tuesday to a media-sponsored poll in which more than 50 per cent of Canadians and a slighter higher percentage of Albertans said they would support a carbon tax on gasoline and other fuels to promote conservation. The premier described the Ipsos-Reid poll as insufficient because it didn't show how much people would be willing to pay to reduce emissions.

"You know it's nice to say that we would support a carbon tax, until you have to dig into your pocket and come up with the money," Klein said.

"So the question is will they support a carbon tax if it costs them $10 more a month or what if it's $100 more a month? We don't know."

Man of the people, until the people don't share the unchecked ideal of greed and unfettered expansion. The Alberta numbers are incredibly refreshing, and strangely responsible, given the perceived tension between environment and economy.

People understand taxes, so I don't think anyone can dismiss these findings as theoretical. Obviously, the idea of a carbon tax needs to be fleshed out, but the tax neutral position of Ignatieff is an excellent carrot and stick approach. I must admit, I was somewhat disappointed at the other candidates who ran away from Ignatieff's idea, primarily because it looked like a political albatross. Hopefully, polls like this one eliminate the stigma of a carbon tax and kudos to Ignatieff for having the courage to propose something that puts principle before politics.

Prairie Wranglers has an excellent entry on the topic.


Olaf said...


Funnily enough I did a post endorsing the idea of a revenue neutral carbon tax today ... I didn't give Iggy credit though, because he hasn't been very clear on what he'd be talking about, and didn't provide a very good argument for it in the policy stuff I'd read. He's definitely in favour of the idea, but hasn't made much of an argument for it from which I've read.

Do you know of a document where he really fleshes out the idea? Maybe I just did shoddy research.

Also, the whole point of an effective quality tax would be that while those who are emitting carbon into the atmosphere would pay more in taxes (likely including increased gasoline prices), these taxes would be offset by a decrease in personal and corporate/royalty taxes.

So while the overall debt burden wouldn't change, it would shift slightly towards high carbon emitters while greener companies/people would actually get a tax break.

So, as much as it pains me to say, Klein misses the point on this one, in that it wouldn't necessarily include people paying an extra 100$ a month, but rather they'd pay 100$ less in personal income tax and 100$ more in carbon taxes, providing an incentive to reduce carbon consumption - in theory, anyways.

Steve V said...


Not sure if you've read this, but Ignatieff gives some detail to shifting the tax burden. I actually had the chance to ask him about his proposals and the basic gist of the argument- if you produce emissions there is a cost ("the atmosphere isn't a garbage dump"), but that is counter-balanced by incentives and tax relief for cleaner usage, effectively making the entire endeavour tax neutral, like you mention.

Olaf said...


I had come across that, but it's not very detailed of course. I think the devil in any sort of carbon tax (and its political success in Alberta and elsewhere) will be in the details.

I guess we'll have to wait and see, but I like the idea in general if implemented properly. I mean, if we're going to cap emissions thousands and thousands of days from now, why don't we make it so those who emit below the cap are further rewarded?

Steve V said...


I like the idea too, because you set up the market forces that will demand change, while eliminating the easy government tax grab. It legitimizes the "cost" of emissions on society as a whole.

Peter Loewen said...

Poll people on gas taxes and their support halves. Unfortunately, the public doesn't know what a carbon tax is, and most are happy to assume it is a tax on someone else.

But the theoretical merits are awesome, I agree. It will just take some real political leadership to implement it. I think Ignatieff is up to the task.

Steve V said...

"Poll people on gas taxes and their support halves."

What if you tax the guzzler itself, while lowering the efficent vehicle?

I have some reservations about Ignatieff, but on the environment he is bold and forward thinking, which we should all applaud.