Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Green Alberta

Ed Stelmach and Brad Wall were on Question Period together today discussing the environment (note to political staffers: the best way to make your boss look like a dynamic leader is for him or her to appear on the same panel as Ed Stelmach). Nothing they said was particularly earth shattering, but two points raised by Ed deserve note:

1. Stelmach pointed to Alberta's $15 a ton levy on companies that exceed the province's intensity based targets as a positive step he's taken, 4 minutes before trashing the concept of using taxes to reduce emissions.

2. Stelmach boldly proclaimed "we're the only provinces seeing real reductions [in greenhouse gases]". Now, if I had a lot of time on my hands, I'd make up a bunch of nifty tables showing the province by province change in GHG rates over the past few years to point out what a load of shift this is. But I don't have a lot of time on my hands so instead I'll simply point out that Stelmach's own environmental plan doesn't call for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions for another 12 year. I know, I know, his "real reductions" are against what emissions might have risen otherwise but if homicides go up 5% no one goes around saying "we've seen a real reduction in the murder rate" just because it might have gone up 10% had more police officers not been hired.

To be fair, Ed's recent 4 billion dollar funding announcement for carbon sequestration and public transit is a step in the right direction from the guy who derisively said the ALP's environmental plan would cost the economy a billion dollars. But there's still a lot more that needs to be done.


On the same topic, Alberta Views (h/t) has a good article on the green movement in Alberta. The most interesting part is the section with Preston Manning. Firstly, someone in the media should track Preston down and ask him what he thinks of the green shift and carbon taxes (he has called Gordon Campbell "courageous" for doing it in BC) because this quote sure sounds like he'd be supportive, at least in an Andrew Coyne/Jack Mintz theoretical sort of way:

"Conservatives, philosophically, this ought to be their contribution to the environmental debate," [Manning] says. "Conservatives profess to believe in market mechanisms and they profess to understand them. Well, if that's the case, why don't they lead?"

Secondly, with all his talk about democratic reform, low voter turn-out rates, and the environment, this is definitely a guy anyone interested in renewing the ALP or creating a new party in Alberta should be talking to for advice. Manning's decision to skip the PC leadership race in 2006 was a real disservice to Albertans and I don't doubt for a second that he has a lot of good ideas that a centrist party hoping to form government would be wise to adopt.

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19 Comments:

  • If I was Stelmach, I would immediately pledge to create an Alberta carbon tax if the federal Liberals ever form a government.

    Because an Alberta carbon tax would eliminate the tax room available to a federal government intent on taxing carbon in Alberta, it would:

    1. Make the Liberal Green Shift far less effective as policy by reducing the amount of money to be shoveled out of Alberta into vaguely defined money pits masquerading as social justice programs, thus hobbling the Liberals in a federal election.

    2. Allow the federal Tories to target the Green Shift on the grounds of infeasibility, rather than saying it's a bad idea, thus making them more grey hat and less black hat on the environment.

    It would also keep money raised by a carbon tax in Alberta, for Albertans, thus making Stelmach a hero for all those people who dislike Eastern creeps and bums.

    And he doesn't even have to do it. He can just threaten to do it.

    Dion has made Stelmach the master of the Liberals' political future. Well done, sir.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:14 PM  

  • Dion has made Stelmach the master of the Liberals' political future. Well done, sir.

    Um, you do know that the Liberals can form a government without any seats from Alberta, right?

    By Blogger Greg, at 1:37 PM  

  • "If I was Stelmach, I would immediately pledge to create an Alberta carbon tax if the federal Liberals ever form a government."

    This is basically something Stelmach and Wall should drop in the middle of the federal campaign. A pledge to match the Liberal carbon tax provincially and the revenue used to reduce provincial tax rates.

    It would have an equal environmental benefit (should all provinces apply it provincially) without the wealth transfer. Needless to say, such an arrangement would all but scuttle the anti-poverty part of Dion's tax plan and if he objected to it he would face very real accusations of his environmental plan being a wealth transfer scheme. Needless to say, it would make for a very entertaining campaign.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:22 PM  

  • ''Um, you do know that the Liberals can form a government without any seats from Alberta, right?''

    Alberta, Saskatchewan (1 seat), the Territories, Nova Scotia against Dion's carbon tax
    (and New Brunswich/PEI/Nfld still undecided on the GreenShift)...
    Can the LPC still be considered a 'national party' if it has NO seats in 3 or more provinces/territories???

    By Blogger wilson, at 3:17 PM  

  • Bet the so-called carbon emissions have been dropping in Ontario the last few years.

    But . . . Alberta does not see Ontario's approach as viable. Encouraging industries to move or close down may improve the air, but it only is "progressive" in the minds of libs.

    Carbon Taxes are just more taxes . . . who pays all the taxes now? Why it's Joe Consumer . . . I know this is tuff for most to figure out, but when you tax a widgit more . . . it costs more at the store. And all this nonsense as the Globe Cools . . . 1/2 degree in the last decade.

    By Blogger Oldschool, at 4:18 PM  

  • I hadn't thought of it, but that idea of Stelmach/Wall proposing their own provincial carbon taxes during the campaign is pretty brilliant.

    At the very least, it's something they should consider if the Liberals do win, since their main objection seems to be about it being a wealth transfer to the east.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 9:32 PM  

  • Greg said:

    Um, you do know that the Liberals can form a government without any seats from Alberta, right?

    You missed the point entirely. The political calculation behind the Green Shift is that the Liberals recognize they have no seats to lose in Alberta (where most of the large final emitters are concentrated) but they hope to pick up seats in regions that stand to benefit from the spending plans under the Green Shift (primarily Ontario and Quebec).

    But if Stelmach undercuts the Green Shift with his own carbon tax, all the federal Tories have to do is point out that the environmental issue created by Alberta's emissions has been addressed by provincial legislation.

    At that point, Dion is squarely on the horns of a dilemma. If he nonetheless promises to implement the Green Shift regardless, he'll be taxing Alberta's emitters on top of the provincial tax, which would be overkill from an environmental perspective and thus reveal the Green Shift to be what it truly is - a mechanism for inter-regional wealth transfer.

    If he doesn't make that promise, he has nothing to finance the social justice commitments made to win seats in Ontario and Quebec. He then has no platform.

    That's why Stelmach has the power to destroy Dion and the Liberals.

    If I were the federal Tories, I would argue that carbon taxes are properly a matter of provincial jurisdiction rather than opposing them outright, which squares neatly with the Tories' goal of devolving as much power as possible to the provinces.

    Come to think of it, if I were the Tories, I would be running all over Quebec claiming that the Green Shift would be a horrible intrusion into provincial jurisdiction and that it would create a precedent for the federal government to, say, tax hydro power, which has its own set of environmental issues and is something on which Quebec is very dependent.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:56 PM  

  • "If he nonetheless promises to implement the Green Shift regardless, he'll be taxing Alberta's emitters on top of the provincial tax, which would be overkill from an environmental perspective and thus reveal the Green Shift to be what it truly is - a mechanism for inter-regional wealth transfer."

    I don't necessarily agree with the environmental overkill statement but the Liberal document has a throwaway line saying:

    "We will work with provinces such as British Columbia and Quebec that have already moved on carbon pricing, ensuring our system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is administered fairly, in a way that strengthens our economy."

    It's dubious as to what this line actually means but I suspect that the provinces who have applied carbon taxes would request an equivalent price on carbon be applied to all provinces. I also suspect that Campbell would demand to keep all tax revenue since he has already implemented tax cuts that he would be forced to reverse if he loses that revenue.

    What Dion decides to do with BC is going to play a huge role in this debate. If he allows BC to keep the revenue, he would then have to explain why Alberta and Saskatchewan shouldn't be allowed to do the same and if he doesn't allow BC to keep the revenue from its present carbon tax, Campbell probably won't be happy (he'll need to raise taxes) and Dion will have three western Premiers demanding to keep their carbon tax revenue in the middle of the election.

    Whatever decision he makes, it's going to cause some problems and that should make for a good election.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:16 PM  

  • Preston stepped it up when the federal Tories crashed.
    The ALP is not the party to transform. An Alberta Reform-Alliance-WildRose-Socred amalgamation is a more likely scenario.

    By Blogger art, at 10:08 AM  

  • Is anyone out there questioning this "Carbon Capture" plan? Is this a viable option?

    It seems like both Premiers are getting a free ride when it comes to this subject.

    Now I haven't had the time to do my research so I checked out wikipedia right quick. It doesn't sound like the best plan. Can anyone confirm these things:

    "The earliest possibility for deployment of CCS at utility scale is not expected before 2030."

    "CCS could lead to a doubling of plant costs, and an electricity price increase of 21-91%. Money spent on CCS will divert investments away from sustainable solutions to climate change."

    "The technology uses between 10 and 40% of the energy produced by a power station. Wide scale adoption of CCS is expected to erase the efficiency gains of the last 50 years, and increase resource consumption by one third."

    Does anyone care about these things? Or is everyone happy with "Cool, he'll just put it back in the ground, good idea. Don't ask questions."

    By Blogger me dere robert, at 10:24 AM  

  • You missed the point entirely. The political calculation behind the Green Shift is that the Liberals recognize they have no seats to lose in Alberta (where most of the large final emitters are concentrated) but they hope to pick up seats in regions that stand to benefit from the spending plans under the Green Shift (primarily Ontario and Quebec).

    Thanks for your reply. You are assuming voters outside of Alberta trust the premier of Alberta (a debatable point). You also forget that the Liberals are nothing if not pragmatic. They may thank Stelmach for endorsing the approach in the Green plan and "promise" to take a good look at coordinating with Alberta should the plan ever come to pass.

    By Blogger Greg, at 10:39 AM  

  • "They may thank Stelmach for endorsing the approach in the Green plan and "promise" to take a good look at coordinating with Alberta should the plan ever come to pass."

    Dion is not going to get off that easy. We're talking about billions of dollars here. The west would demand assurances before a federal vote that they get to keep their revenue and they will likely demand it every day of the campaign until Dion gives an answer and, since the media like a fight, it will be front page news every day of the campaign until he does. Dion's going to need to make a decision before election day and whichever way he goes, someone is going to be mighty upset.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:35 PM  

  • The west would demand assurances before a federal vote that they get to keep their revenue and they will likely demand it every day of the campaign until Dion gives an answer and, since the media like a fight, it will be front page news every day of the campaign until he does.

    Then it may become a case of I will show you mine if you show me yours. If Dion is worth his salt (mind you that is an open question) he can say that he won't negotiate a deal during a campaign, especially with a hypothetical carbon plan produced at the last minute by Alberta. If he is smart he will say he is pleased that Stelmach has seen religion and it will be his first act as PM to sit down with him and go over Stelmach's plan in detail.

    By Blogger Greg, at 1:07 PM  

  • "he can say that he won't negotiate a deal during a campaign, especially with a hypothetical carbon plan produced at the last minute by Alberta."

    What's hypothetical about saying you are going to match the Liberal carbon tax rate provincially if Dion is elected? And we're not just talking about Alberta here. We're talking about Saskatchewan, probably BC, Newfoundland and maybe another province dependent on coal like Nova Scotia. And what's Dion going to say? That they can't be trusted to spend their own money? That didn't exactly work out last time.

    "If he is smart he will say he is pleased that Stelmach has seen religion and it will be his first act as PM to sit down with him and go over Stelmach's plan in detail."

    But this is the whole problem. Dion says he is going to negotiate with Alberta and Saskatchewan and all the federal tax cuts and credits are in jeopardy. Everyone who is voting for Dion because of those tax cuts and credits now start to wonder if they are actually going to get them. People start wondering what else in the Liberal Platform is negotiable. Layton starts waving the Liberal Red Book at campaign stops vowing Canadians will not be fooled again.

    Also, you have to look at what such an event would have on other provinces. Have you ever wondered why Ontario does not have a provincial carbon tax? It's because it hits Ontario's price-sensitive manufacturing base hard. Very hard.

    McGuinty sees the writing on the wall though, which is why he has come out in support of a cap-and-trade which is likely going to happen anyway and he supports the federal carbon tax shift because at least he sees a net flux of revenue into his province under that scheme. Once it becomes apparent that other provinces may be allowed to opt out of a federal carbon tax for a provincial one, and all but force him to implement a provincial one as well, Dion may find him less friendly on the whole tax shift plan.

    Also, I don't think it is in Dion's interest to suggest that negotiations will take place after the election should he win when the Conservatives are essentially campaigning on steady as she goes government.

    The ballot question would basically become the do you want to pretty much know what you're going to get or do you want to roll the dice?

    Once the other federal parties remind everyone of the Martin Liberals record of provincial side deals and the bickering that resulted, that alone could keep or swing enough Ontario seats to keep the Conservatives in power.

    Of course, for any of this to come to pass, the Premiers have to want to play hard-ball with Dion. For all we know, these discussions are already happening behind the scenes and a deal will be reached before the election campaign.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:55 PM  

  • "What's hypothetical about saying you are going to match the Liberal carbon tax rate provincially if Dion is elected?"

    OK, that sentence is just funny. But hopefully you get my point that their policy would be as real as Dion's at this point.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:58 PM  

  • OK, that sentence is just funny. But hopefully you get my point that their policy would be as real as Dion's at this point.

    It is true, we are talking about the Liberals, the party that gave us 13 years of daycare -- on paper.

    By Blogger Greg, at 2:09 PM  

  • There are still a lot of kinks to be worked out in carbon sequestration but, in the long run, it might turn out to be a partial solution. Right now, it's pretty costly and experimental but, for all intents and purposes, so is solar power, hydrogen cells, ethanol, etc...

    Mercer had a good bit trashing Stelmach on this earlier this year.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 2:45 PM  

  • On carbon sequestration, seems like a pretty short-term solution... just pump it underground... is anyone concerned as to what happens when the Earth burps?

    Not to mention it's not really clear how much carbon will be burned in transporting, pumping, and storing this stuff underground...

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