Monday, May 19, 2008

The Suzuki Factor

David Suzuki's endorsement of Stephane Dion's carbon tax initiative is a mixed blessing.

Suzuki's outspokeness has made him a bit of a lightning rod for criticism that he's an extremist, a granola munching tree-hugger.

I think Suzuki sees the global warming issue as a politico-scientific challenge. Both sides have to work together like a team of horses or nobody gets anywhere - ever.

If Dion truly has the fortitude to stand behind the carbon tax policy and if David Suzuki genuinely believes there is no other way, the two must work together and very publicly.

For his part, Dion has to show a degree of genuine leadership that's rarely seen in the timid. He must refine his initiative, stand behind it, explain it, defend it and then persuade Canadians that it's not just a nice idea but an imperative.

For his part, Suzuki must use his considerable professional influence to enlist a large body of the best scientific minds in our country to join him in supporting the carbon tax proposal. They need to lend their voices, their credentials to present a solid scientific consensus on the issue. They need to assist Mr. Dion by doing everything in their power to explain the merits of carbon taxation to a sceptical and sometimes ill-informed public.

I think the concept is workable. A lot of the already stated fears are misplaced. For example, there's no reason that home heating fuel cannot be exempted from these taxes. I believe there are similar workarounds for other problems.

That's not to say that carbon taxes won't be felt. Of course they will as they must if they're to work. That's the whole point. The idea is to get people to change their energy consumption habits. If you must commute an hour each way to work, you might want to help us all out by ditching that SUV. Maybe you'll suddenly see the merits of car pooling or mass transit. Maybe jobs will have to relocate closer to the available workforce as has happened elsewhere, relieving already chronic congestion in our metropolitan cores.

Here's another thought. We don't consume energy equitably so why should those who consume substantially more not expect to contribute more in tax? If you want to live in a 4,000 sq. ft. house in exburbia because that's where you can afford that elevated lifestyle, don't complain that it's expensive to clog up the highways commuting downtown to work. That's your choice, live with it. If you want to spend your weekends racing about the lake in your ski boat rather than kayaking, that's your choice, live with it. If the taxes are unacceptable, change your lifestyle. Just don't bitch to me about how you choose to live your life.


Anonymous said...

I don't think you want to exempt home heating fuel. Heating and transportation are major sources of carbon emissions. You want to shift taxes, so that people can afford to heat their homes but still have a strong incentive to make their homes more energy efficient and to look for better alternatives. Sweden's carbon tax had a major impact on heating causing a switch from oil to biomass.

LeDaro said...

Talking about a major tax or carbon tax before election is a very risky strategy when gas is already at $1.30 a litre and going up.

When a party is in power it needs to carry out a major public educational process prior to imposing such tax. Ask Joe Clark about gas tax in 1980.

I am not against carbon tax but a proper strategy is needed.

Fish said...

Yeah selling the public on the idea of imposing yet another tax is kind of an uphill battle, but at least he's not going to have to worry about being accused of lying about it later.

Still, I think people are warming (no pun intended) to the idea of cutting emissions, and support from respected scientists such as Suzuki can only help. But like Mound said, it's important that Suzuki build a consensus within the scientific community to avoid being portrayed as an extremist.

The Mound of Sound said...

Of course this is an uphill battle which is why I feel Dion, with his communications and image problems, will need powerful, outside support.

If the scientific community can't or won't rally behind the carbon tax initiative, it's dead in the water. Simple as that. If they won't back Dion, loudly and forcefully, he'll never sell it to the Canadian voting public.

The real test of a leader is that individual's ability to persuade the public to support something unpleasant, inconvenient or inherently unpopular. That's the essence of leadership - bringing the public to support your platform.

In this regard, is Dion a strong leader? Not from what I've seen but I'm willing to have my mind changed.

The public fears and suspicions about a carbon tax are obvious. It's now up to Dion to address each and every one of them with a comprehensive, coherent and, ultimately, widely acceptable proposal. No one's going to support a bill if they think it'll leave granny without heating fuel next winter.

He also must address the universality of a carbon tax. How will it affect business as well as individuals. How will the tax revenues be levied? How will that revenue affect individual provinces? Will Ottawa claim the exclusive right to levy carbon tax without provincial approvals?

If he can't answer all these questions and the vast number of other queries and concerns with solutions the affected parties can be persuaded to support, he's dead in the water.

The one thing I fear is that Dion may not be up to the job. This is a real make it or break it deal. If he screws it up, if he doesn't get it right, if he doesn't succeed, it could set back efforts to tackle GHGs for years to come, perhaps even decades.

The Mound of Sound said...

LD - $130 a litre? Where? I ride a BMW motorcycle and filled up in Campbell River the other day. $1.459 a gulp! Yikes.

Fortunately even my car gets close to 40 mpg and, even then, I really limit the amount I drive.

And BTW Fish, good to see you resurface. How did those exams go? What manner of foolishness are you planning to immerse yourself in for your grad?

Anonymous said...

If he can he has been sadly underestimated, but, its not so much the carbon tax thats going to kill him, its the "election time" promise that will do the mosts damage. As soon as the campaign starts your going to see Trudeau promising no new gas tax..your going to see Chretien and old footage of him promising to cut the GST..and then your going to see Mr Dion promising a tax then promising to use it wisely...hell you may even see Dalton McGuinty promising not to raise "one single cent in new tax's". So, if Mr Dion does make this work, which I think is next to impossible, then, he's a freakin' political god!!

The Mound of Sound said...

There's no question he's got the odds stacked up against him Bill. If he doesn't handle this enormous challenge almost perfectly, he could be handing Harper an incalculable, lasting advantage and delivering a powerful setback to the GHG fight.

LeDaro said...

MoS, you're probably right. I did not fill up my car for a while. I have been walking a lot.

It is a huge job to sell carbon tax. A major public education process is needed. Do the Liberals, Dion, have the time and resources to carry out such an eductional process? I will say good luck to them.

Fish, I am also interested to know that how you did in your exams. All the best to you.

Fish said...

My exams actually went OK! I got my grades back a few days ago and was pleased to see that I had done all right on all of them!

As you've probably guessed I am currently in the process of studying for the bar exams, which will be over as of 2 days before my grad ceremony, so I will likely still be recovering from that particular hangover by the time I walk down the aisle and receive my degree, but rest assured I will be sure to get thoroughly plastered in front of my colleagues, future colleagues and the several judges that will be at the grad ball that evening!

Anyways, back to studying for me! The barrister's exam is one week from today, and the solicitor's exam is just a week later. I'll let you know how it turns out!

LeDaro said...

Fish, all the best. I am sure you will fight for justice or money ;)

MoS, I went to a gas station and double checked gas prices. In Atlantice Canada it is still 129.94. You pay too much on that Island.

rabbit said...

Suzuki has become a polarizing figure in the global warming debate. His views on the matter may well be correct, but he has been so strident and intolerant that he could do more harm than good in persuading the majority of Canadians that a carbon tax is a good idea.

Quotes like this...

"What I would challenge you to do is to put a lot of effort into trying to see whether there's a legal way of throwing our so-called leaders into jail because what they're doing is a criminal act,"

have destroyed his credibility.

Anonymous said...

Yep! A rich zoologist who jets around the world, and, an academic leader who probably hasnt pumped or paid for his own gas in years are going to lecture Canadians about why taxing thier food, rent and heat is the right thing to do. It boggles the mind. Mean while, back at Gotham it just me or is Pierre Poliviere getting dumber by the day?? billg

The Mound of Sound said...

Well Fish, my sincere congratulations on running the gauntlet of law school. Now the drudgery of bar ad and articling. Make good use of your time. Keep your eyes open and start hunting for the type of practice that best suits you.

Above all else, keep your options open. I studied heavily in criminal and family law. I wound up getting a thoroughly guilty lout acquitted while an innocent wound up later convicted and then had the matrimonial file from Hell. One of each and that was it. After that I wisely found a happy niche in insolvency and aviation litigation.

Find something you really enjoy. Otherwise it's a slide from idealism to realism ending up mired in cynicism. Whatever you do, do not choose Door 3.

I hope you have a great career.