It's not unusual to read some of Dion's critics charge that he has changed his mind by bringing in the Green Shift. I say, no, not really.
It's true he did not always believe that a carbon tax was the most effective way to get there, but the overall concept of what he has said he wanted to accomplish remains the same. He evolved his thinking with circumstance and market, and decided on a better plan.
Think back. This is what he said in one of his first speeches as Liberal leader to the Economic Club of Toronto:
January 16, 2007
ECONOMY AND ENVIRONMENT: SMART MONEY IS GOING GREEN
“Climate change is now seen as one of the defining challenges of the 21st century -- and as a global risk with impacts far beyond the environment.” –World Economic Forum, January 2007
When one sets out on a journey, it is important to have a clear understanding of the final destination. So in this, my first major speech as Liberal Leader, I begin by telling you what I want to achieve if I become Prime Minister.
It will not surprise you to hear that my goals are based on the three pillars of a prosperous economy, social justice, and a sustainable environment. These three pillars are not silos. They do not exist in isolation from each other. Rather, Canada must combine them, more effectively and more profitably than anywhere in the world.
The Green Shift sets out to be one part of that vision for Canada. It doesn't just tackle the environment, but obviously reaches out to include the economy and social justice. It is meant to incentify people and industry to modify behaviour and in industry's case, to make changes that will keep profit sound, through tax cuts.
The Con's are calling it everything from social engineering to a tax grab designed to justify loony Liberal social programmes. Both comments miss the mark of course and actually point out just how regressive their thinking is. The contrast is stark. I think most countries who have taken the environment seriously and have been successful, have been able to make the shift from thinking in silo's to knowing that going forward means thinking differently.
Oddly, even Layton doesn't seem to get this. The noises coming out of his mouth suggest he's looking out for the little guy, but he offers no relief or incentive to the obvious cost's that consumers will have to bear through a cap and trade system and he too seems to keep environment in more of a silo. Layton to me is a one topic at a time thinker and certainly not someone who can integrate complex issues into a plan. Not a big thinker in other words. That's not really a dig, I just don't think many are cut out to do that.
Harper on the other hand is that kind of person. Sadly his master plan has little to do with Canada as we know it.
Back to the Green Shift. Adam Radwanski wrote a thoughtful, though critical piece this week. Here is some of what he had to say:
Is it really revenue neutral?
Short answer: Only if you accept the broadest possible definition of what qualifies as a tax cut. But then, that's pretty much the definition we've been accepting for years.
Straightforward tax cuts, in the form of reductions to business and income taxes, add up to roughly $9-billion in Year 4 of the Liberal plan. The rest of the more than $15-billion the party expects its carbon tax to generate would go mostly toward spending initiatives dressed up as tax benefits and credits - a $465-million supplement for low-income workers, a $150 supplement for every rural resident (totalling $749-million) to help pay their bills, a $600-million capital cost allowance for green technologies, another $400-million for R&D, an $800-million boost to the guaranteed income supplement for low-income seniors. Biggest of all is a nearly $3-billion child tax benefit - quite possibly a worthwhile expenditure, as are many of the others, but not exactly a tax cut in the traditional sense of the word.
Personally, I'd prefer the Liberals would just acknowledge that they want to use the revenues from the carbon tax to help fund a platform that combines tax cuts and social spending aimed mostly at alleviating poverty - a defensible method of putting Dion's "Three Pillars" business into effect. But for the Tories to accuse them of being disingenuous, even if it's not inaccurate, is a bit rich.
I understand why he tries to parse it, it's traditional thinking, but really I think Dion has been making that link during his Town Halls without making it too complex. Adam's certainly right about the Con's though.
So, as these meetings go forward, I think there should be more emphasis placed on how we have to change our silo thinking. Dion seems to have already shifted in that direction based on a couple of things I read today.
The other thing I think the Lib's must do a better job at is pointing out the fact that cap and trade also brings costs that will be passed to consumers and both the NDP and the Con's have no plan to help the affected.
I'm not clever enough to come up with a model that could be used in a presentation, but if there is anyone out there that is or has, I'd love to read it.
Good or bad press, the Green Shift is in the news just about every day. It has changed the debate. We are still seeing old school methods of attacking and be assured that the Con's will hold to the tax grab line, but we can change that thinking. We are however seeing far fewer arguments over whether or not climate change is real and whether or not we must do something. True, the Con plan does nothing so it could be argued that they reside in the distant past, but even they have been forced to present something.
As it stands, Dion is the only one going forward in terms of thinking differently and in the end I think that bodes well. Tim Powers (Con strategist) tonight on radio said no one is paying attention. Kinsella, and John Wright of Ipsos, of all people, countered with, 'when people hear him and understand the program, clearly they like it'.
Dion all the while has been consistent. Imagine that in a leader?