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Canada’s Carbon Tax: Stéphane Dion’s Pitch for PM

18-Jun-08 12:25 am EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

I’m not ashamed to admit it.  I supported Stéphane DIon right from the beginning of the Liberal party leadership race back in 2007 and was delighted when he was able to pull it off and win.  It’s not that I’d thought him to be amongst Canada’s greatest leaders or anything; with the withdrawal of Paul Martin as leader, the fact was there was really no heir-apparent to head up the party and it was left in a terribly awkward situation.  So much so that hopefuls like Bob Rae (formerly an Ontario’s only NDP premier) threw his hat into the ring and nearly won.  And Dion, like his competitors, was relatively inexperienced at the job of running a national political party – quite the reversal of fortunes for the Liberals who’d languished for years at the Conservatives being hobbled by this same disadvantage.  So I had modest expectations of Dion during his first few months in office and, honestly, he’s performed about as I thought he would to this point.

But if he’s going to be Prime Minister, and if the Liberal party is to win the next election (which is directly linked to Dion becoming PM), he’s got to do better than my modest expectations for the early part of his term as leader – he’s got to get a vision and sell it to the country.  It’s not rocket science – everyone knows it, especially Dion himself.  So what does he choose to sell?  A complex tax scheme that’s said to be environmentally sensitive and put Canada on a policy course to be one of the best stewards of the environment on Earth.  The media isn’t quite sure what to make of the proposal; mostly because the proposal hasn’t really been made yet.  (Details are to come later this week.)  But some of the high-level ideas must be getting canvassed about the party and it isn’t a particularly encouraging omen that there’s still (at this late date) apparent dissension in the ranks of the Liberal caucus.

My concern is twofold; first that too many people in the party are putting their own political careers ahead of the larger goal of beating the Conservatives who are making policies that are either mundane or rightist ideology that, on balance, is un-Canadian.  We’re just not a country of Conservative voters, by nature as the history of Liberal election victories throughout our history will attest.  So coming up with legislation to crackdown on Internet piracy by forcing ISPs to police their users and fine college students $500 for visiting a torrent site if their college LAN admin catches them coupled with clinging to medieval drug policies that virtually every other nation on Earth outside of the United States has dismissed on the basis of overwhelming scientific evidence should invariably result in Liberal landslide electoral victory at any point in time.  Yet the polls state bluntly that the Liberals aren’t in that position today, as they should be, all things considered.  And internal party discord presenting the image of weak leadership has a great deal to do with that.

The second point of concern is that while the Canadian electorate is well-educated and relatively intelligent, its attention span (and patience) for politics is extremely limited.  Complex policy change, particularly where taxation is concerned is, on balance, more likely simply to engender grave concern than galvanize some great pro-Liberal movement.  So unless Dion has some great hidden Obama-esque talent for turning tax reform and environmental conservationism into a topic that will get better ratings than Oprah, I just don’t think he’ll be able to engineer the kind of support needed to unseat Harper.  Far from it – I believe there’s serious risk the Conservatives could actually form a majority government, which will lead Canada into an era of Bush-ish neocon policymaking that will make us all wish Diefenbaker was still around to save us.  *Shudder…*

So I’m in a real quandary.  It’s simply political suicide for members of the Liberal caucus to oppose Dion (privately or publicly), yet Dion seems poised to pied-piper Liberal party fortunes for the next decade straight down the drain even were the party to suddenly unite and be as one as the Borg Collective.  Oh I doubt he’ll Mulroney the party down to 2 seats or anything too disastrous, but he can’t win with this tax/environment policy idea I don’t think.  Now, I could be wrong – Lord knows it does happen from time to time.  (I thought Paul Martin was going to be a big disaster when Chrétien left, but he didn’t do all that bad in the end.)  And for what it’s worth, I really, really do feel he’d make a far better PM than Harper’s been.

I guess there’s not much left for me to do at this point but hope I am wrong about Dion and that the upcoming carbon tax proposal has a lot more to offer than I think it can.  Hoping I’m wrong…..if only I had a nickel for every time that happened!

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Terry Glavin

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