the green shift is confusing

Green Shifting Doesn't Have to Make Your Head Spin

Since Liberal leader Stephane Dion was apparently downplaying his party's Green Shift plan by not mentioning it when speaking recently in Toronto, and then avoiding it again when visiting Western farmers, I figured a highlighting of said plan is in order.

When asked about the centrality of the Green Shift to the Liberal platform, he was quoted as saying "You have said it was, but never me." That's a bit confusing, but perhaps an understandable statement given in the context of announcing big handouts to farmers (who are worried about being hit financially from the plan).

So what to think of the merits of the Green Shift plan?

In A Nutshell

The Liberals would introduce a $10 per tonne of carbon emissions tax at the wholesale level, increasing by $10 in each of their four years in power to $40 in the fourth year (by comparison the international consensus seems to be that $30 per tonne is necessary to be effective - in BC they started at $10, rising to $30 by 2010).

The heaviest fossil fuel consumers will likely pay the brunt of the tax- heavy industry and power plants. Gas pump prices would not affected since taxes there already exceed those in the plan.

All the tax revenue collected is promised to be offset by equal amounts of either tax cuts or new spending.

Sounds pretty simple right?

Obviously there is a plethora of questions that spin out of any attempt at explaining the idea. Luckily it's receiving a ton (no pun intended) of editorial attention so there is no shortage of thorough analysis, that doesn't have to make your head spin, if you look in the right places.

The Ottawa Citizen published two great articles over the weekend on the subject. The first explains the subject of pricing carbon broadly and how the Liberal plan stacks up in contrast to the options out there. The second summarizes why it is likely to be a tough sell to the public.

Toronto based environmental lawyer Diane Saxe wrote a straightforward piece outlining her reasons for supporting the Green Shift and debunking some associated myths.

It will be extremely interesting to see who comes out in support of the plan or against it. There are lots of criticisms to be made centering mostly around (a) the timing of such a tax (current economic woes); and (b) the complexity of tying it in to other spending (and not just a direct income tax cut). But in general it seems to me that experts in the field of policy and environmental law agree that if you are going to aim for reducing carbon, the plan makes sense. Whether or not carbon reduction should be a national priority is another question. However, if you say it is (and all parties do - including the Conservatives), then some sort of price on carbon is the only way to really make that happen.

Finally, if you want to hear about it straight from the leader himself: download the mp3 version of Stephane Dion's interview on TVO's The Agenda with Steve Paikin from last week.

Photo: Angie McKaig.

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