Last night, I decided to head downtown to the NDP campaign launch to hear Jack Layton speak to local NDP candidates and their supporters. (I was also caught on tape by Gloria Galloway of the Globe and Mail) For those of you who know my politics, you will likely be surprised to hear that I went to an NDP event at all. I was a little surprised too.
I decided to go for three reasons. First, I am a long-time supporter of Linda Duncan’s, having known her long before she was an NDP candidate. In fact, Linda was one of the first people involved in environmental issues that I met after moving to Edmonton. Second, I have become increasingly alarmed by some of the statements made by some of Ms. Duncan’s caucus colleagues with respect to the oilsands and with respect to Alberta. Thomas Mulcair, an MP for the Montreal Riding of Outremont, has referred to the oilsands as “the worst pollution on the planet.” I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Mulcair, and was an unabashed fan of his during his tenure as Quebec Minister of Environment, but statements such as those detract from his otherwise good ideas relating to internalizing the costs of environmental damage on the oil sands (and presumably on other industries as well). Third, and most of all, I was interested to hear how Mr. Layton would handle these issues in launching his national campaign here in Edmonton. I am glad I went, but I am no closer to being an NDP supporter today than I was yesterday. That probably surprises no one.
Since I am mainly environment- and energy-focused, I was interested to see how Mr. Layton would deal with some issues he and his caucus have raised recently. In his morning kick-off speech before loading up the plane for Edmonton, Mr Layton promised to,”stop the subsidies to the big polluters and invest that money to foster the new energy economy.” In his speech last night in Edmonton, you would be forgiven if you thought the oil sands and climate change had disappeared from the agenda. Any discussion of these “big polluters” was absent, and Mr. Layton only made one mention of Mr Harper’s, “environmental record,”, which drew cheers and jeers from the gathered faithful. The climate had clearly stopped changing, perhaps due to earth hour.
Mr. Layton made no mention of other (often contradictory) energy policies such as ensuring low gasoline and heating fuel prices for consumers, or a punitive cap-and-trade system on industrial emissions. Denis Bevington, MP for the Western Arctic who was also present last night, has written in the past about the potential for a cap-and-trade system to, “crack down on big industrial polluters,” and “generate billions annually.” Mr. Layton made no mention of any plans to tackle GHG emissions, despite recently supporting the Climate Change Accountability Act which, again according to Mr. Bevington, “sets science-based (GHG) emission targets matching the European Union’s.” Putting these statements together implies a cap-and-trade policy which would lead to carbon prices upwards of $200/ton (according to Pembina Institute modeling work) and generate and re-distribute up to $70 billion per year from the sale of emissions permits. I am very much in favour of carbon pricing, although not in favour of this particular policy. Regardless, if you are going to suggest a $70 billion per year emissions reduction and income redistribution policy, it would seem like the time to address it would be during an election campaign. To put that into perspective, total government revenue for this year is projected to be $218 billion, so $70 billion is far from small potatoes.
The rest of the speech was devoted to health care, daycare, helping poor familes and seniors make ends meet and, somewhat surprisingly, Edmonton’s EXPO bid. I would not have imagined the NDP to be in favour of such events, but I am not surprised that Linda Duncan was a strong advocate for bringing such an event to Edmonton. So, no big surprises, and a few disappointments.
I expect and hope that NDP candidates face some tough questions at the doors of Edmonton voters as to what the party’s platform and vision for Alberta really is. Without anything more than un-funded promises of increased social programs, it will be hard to gain traction in a province that fears taxes almost as much as un-repaired potholes. Albertans should be worried about the prospect of a cap-and-trade system “cracking down” on the province’s industrial sector, while re-distributing revenues to social programs which benefit other regions disproportionately. While the C.D. Howe Institute showed that aggressive GHG policy need not be harmful to Albertans, there are tough questions we should be asking about the design of such a system given the possibility that the NDP and the Liberals could hold the balance of power, along with the Bloc Quebecois (the Liberals are also proposing a cap-and-trade regime this time around, by the way). I hope Albertans will ask some of these questions of the NDP candidates, and I know I will be asking them of Ms. Duncan.