Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Four ex-PMs get it; why won't Harper?

Despite Stephen Harper's best efforts to destroy the progressive movement in Canada by any means necessary -- short of using the notwithstanding clause -- four former Prime Ministers of Canada (Liberals John Turner and Paul Martin, and Progressive Conservatives Joe Clark and Kim Campbell) have joined 60 business leaders and academics, and signed a declaration demanding Canada take a hard line to cut greenhouse gas emissions. They have called for a $30 per tonne carbon tax. While stopping short of endorsing the Liberals' Green Shift (which calls for a $40 per tonne tax within four years) it does match quite nicely the legislated plan in British Columbia to have a $30 per tonne tax by 2012.

To offset the carbon tax, the group calls for offsetting income tax cuts to ensure lower income people aren't hit particularly hard; precisely what most carbon tax plans entail anyway (and which the Conservatives are completely blind to).

Many will dismiss the intervention of Campbell, Clark, Martin and Turner as the mindless ranting of "interim leaders." Interim they may have been but all were Prime Ministers. Although technically inaccurate to do so, one should address them as Mister / Madam Prime Minister in deference to the office they held because all four served honourably and deserve to be recognized as having held the primus inter pares position. All four understood that it's the middle ground and not extremism on the left and right that holds the social consensus. Stephen Harper is not a man of honour. Never has been in fact.

We celebrate the mountains and lakes and forests as much as we do the inner cities. We deserve and expect a similar standard of living wherever we live in Canada even if the provinces and territories don't always exactly match on the details.

So what is so inherently wrong with taxing what we waste rather than what we produce? A manufacturing and processing tax may have been fine when we were hewers of wood and drawers of water, but Canada is a much more sophisticated country than that nowadays. We can't expect to continue to be leaders in natural resources if we don't develop the technology to develop them in a responsible manner. There are indeed ways to tap into the tar sands without permanently polluting the watershed that farms and forests downstream rely on. There are ways to produce electricity without turning entire landscapes into moonscapes. The environmental crisis is one of the greatest economic opportunities of our time. If we tax tobacco (which will kill us) and alcohol (which can if not consumed in moderation), why can't we tax pollution (which is determental to both urban and rural areas)?

When they find more oil and natural gas under the provincial parks in Kananaskis Country next to the Alberta foothills, expect Harper to be the first to endorse a slant drilling operation to get to the black and blue gold even if it means destroying the campgrounds about it, watershed be damned. Maybe that's what it'll take to get the gun-toting and Bible-thumping neocons to finally wake up -- after all, they're not going to be very happy if their earthly happy hunting ground has nothing to hunt on anymore and they can't summon up the stamina to even go on the trip because their bodies are so polluted they need liquid oxygen just to breathe.

For now, I applaud four people of principle who understand that we can't keep taking good things and not putting anything back except the bad -- and that it's time to pay the piper until we clean up our act.

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