Here’s a request. You’ll all be busy, but maybe sock this one away until February or something.


CalgaryGrit on the new, more compact Liberal caucus:

“The one bright spot in this is that it will be a small, but impressive, Liberal caucus. Dion, Rae, Ignatieff, Kennedy, Dryden, Hall Findlay, Goodale, Dosanjh, Trudeau, Garneau, LeBlanc, Dhalla, Holland…I could name a dozen more quality MPs easily.”

It is easy to quibble with any of the names Dan mentions, but take the broad point. These people are grownups.

Is it too much to ask, then, that they act like grownups in the next Parliament?

I’m not talking about decorum. Tempers will rise and insults will fly. But on the long list of complete Liberal failures in the last Parliament was an inability to take the long view; to look past tonight’s national newscasts and the apparently overwhelming need to get a clip of a barking MP onto them; to remember last week’s story and keep reminding Canadians of it; to build a narrative, using the simple crafts of storytelling, about the government they faced and the government they wanted to become; to use supportas strategically as contention; to notice when one day was different from others and use a variety of techniques to spread that message among Canadians; to develop a communications strategy more sophisticated than firing off six identical emails a day to the automatic-delete sections of 100 reporters’ emailboxes (“Minister X is letting Canadians down on xxxxx by his performance on file yyyyyy, said Official Opposition Whatsis Critic zzzzzz. ‘I see here in the Globe that frumf frumf frumf frummp,’ Mr. zzzzzz said….”).

Here is some gentle counsel for the next Liberal caucus, from a guy who watched the last Liberal caucus: if you discover you’re devoting 80% of your energy in Ottawa to Question Period, then soon enough you’ll look back at 2008 as a high point.

‘k thanks.

Filed under:

Here’s a request. You’ll all be busy, but maybe sock this one away until February or something.

  1. Sorry Mr. Wells – you can’t hang all this on the Liberals – look what they had to ask questions of – most of the time – Peter Van – there’s isn’t a question I can’t answer with an insult” Van Loan!
    Anyway – I have a BIG BONE to pick with the Main Stream Media….back on September 18th – it was announced that (whoever was PM) would be meeting with the President of the EU and President Sarkozy of France (wearing his EU hat) to formally kick off negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the EU.
    Only David Olive of the Toronto Star picked up on this and boosted it…I tried to kick it up into view several times – to no avail!

    So – Harper – for whatever reasons – and certainly not in anticipation of the meltdown – started this – but made all efforts to low bridge it before the election – because he knew how the public would likely react – and you guys just let it lie!

  2. How about MPs electing a new Speaker? It’s time for a change.

  3. Recommended Watching for the Liberals: Prime Minister’s Questions from the Palace of Westminister on CPAC. That’s how real grown ups behave.

  4. Hear hear, Dot. I was practically dancing around the room when the first polls showed Peter Milliken going down, but sadly he battled back. Paul’s advice is doubtless sage politically, but I do think the Liberals, grown-ups that they are, could try and help cancel the QP screaming match, and the first thing to do is Dump the Kingston Chump.

  5. “The one bright spot in this is that it will be a small, but impressive, Liberal caucus. Dion, Rae, Ignatieff, Kennedy, Dryden, Hall Findlay, Goodale, Dosanjh, Trudeau, Garneau, LeBlanc, Dhalla, Holland…I could name a dozen more quality MPs easily.”

    What makes them impressive? Dion just got a glasgow kiss from the electorate, Rae/Ignatieff/ Kennedy/Hall Findlay/Trudeau/Garneau are all new and we don’t know if they are impressive or not and a bunch of others have been around for a while and if they were impressive we would know about it already.

    That list of names points out the Lib weakness, not strength, because they don’t have any experienced pols with deep ties to the party that are capable of leading.

    Many of those names have been in national politics for less than 3 years and Libs are desperately spinning how ‘great’ they are. As Public Enemy warned, don’t believe the hype!

  6. Wabbit, I asked months ago and never got a good answer. If Peevy Hell is the only one answering questions in QP, what on earth were the Liberals doing devoting all their energy to that farce?

    The answer I got was that it got clips of Rae and Iggy onto the nightly news. Because that really helped.

    The smart thing to do would have been to abandon QP and look for other possibilities. Leave Denis Coderre and Mark Holland to ask the questions. Give a news conference the day you introduce the policy explaining why — and predict that soon enough, Harper will start answering questions and complaining that the opposition isn’t taking QP seriously. Then send Dion and Iggy back in — but before you do, predict the PM will clam up again. Make *him* the predictable one. Make *him* react. The way the old Reform party used to do to Chrétien.

    On Canada-EU free trade, here’s fun background reading.

  7. Agree with Dot. Milliken has been a disastrous speaker. Time for somebody new. It’ll be a Conservative this time, as there is no balance of power to consider.

    Unfortunately, Canadians returned a lot of overly partisan MPs on both sides of the floor (Baird, Poillievre, Goodale, Holland)…given that cast of characters I don’t expect the decorum will improve much.

  8. WW, maybe you missed it but the good Mr. Coyne was drooling over the prospect for a couple days in these blogs.

    And SuperMaude is on the alert.

    I’d recommend a column by Doug Saunders in the Globe (a week or so ago) on the difficulties involved. Our Leader will have to kick the provinces into line ( Hello! Danny?) before the Europeans will take us seriously. The EU Trade Commissioner who was pushing the issue is no longer there. Sarky has the attention span of a gnat. And the EU has a few other things on its’ collective mind at the moment.

    But you’re right. The ball is out there. It would be good to keep our eye on it.

  9. Not that I personally want them to improve….but….Wells is correct. Thats why gasbags like Thibault got blown away. Too bad Szabos didnt have the same ting happen.

    Anyway, no question the Liberals have the horses to do some serious Loyal Opposition work…criticism, hold to account etc. Question is will they? Mind you that takes….ulm….leadership.

    BrainDrainXP…absolutely thats how its done. And I wish they would assign one day as PM questions. It would help.

    As for Van Loan….as Spector is fond of saying, its called Question Period, not Answer Period.

  10. Spot on Wells. QP is very low on the pecking order of what Canadians care about, especially given the standing ovations for dire questions and non-answers.

  11. Wag that finger, Mr. Wells. WAG IT.

    Liberal caucus, take note. Otherwise he’ll stop the car. Right. Now.

    I do believe the Liberals have to find different ways of dealing with being called Taliban huggers all the time and need to find a way to insist that the Government side actually answer questions, but that’s tall order these days, when the theatrics are the only thing the “journalists” actually care about.

  12. Thibault was doing exactly what old school lawyers do Stephen – unlike Tilson – who – to quote a lawyer friend of mine – uses the last of the three lawyerly options – if the facts are on your side – plead the facts – if the legal precedents are on your side – plead the precedents – if both of those fail – bang the table…Tilson is a bang the table kind of a guy!
    Oh – and thank you for quoting ol’ Normie – made my day!

  13. Canadians would care if MP’s cared. Make the content compelling and part of the strategy.
    Its an incredible forum, but it gets wasted…used for purposes that dont work well.

    The commons committees started to become more of the same, with the same worthless goals…tactics without a strategy.

  14. criminy! you have the nads to point to the liberal bench about QP decorum?

    talk about media narratives…

    but yes, if you mean that they should take control of the agenda by dealing with the likes of van load and pollievre (sp?) as little children, then there is no disagreement there…


  15. Canadians generally care about what the media cares about. And the media are obsessed with question period. Always have been, always will be. Look! Puffin poop! Over there! Puffins… and they’re pooping! That’s material for three columns, a cover story and five blog posts. Next up, liveblogging puffins at the zoo. And they’re pooping. Policy? Nah, too complicated for our readers. Did I mention a puffin just pooped?

  16. BTW…it would be nice if the decorum of QP and parliament in general could be brought up a few notches beyond schoolyard taunting…and that takes effort from both sides of the house (getting rid of Milliken would go a long way too)…


  17. And the issue I have with the MSM still wasn’t addressed…
    Had Harper had to answer
    a) Why did you initiate these Free Trade talks without public discussion and
    b) why did you hide it in the lead up to an election…

    He might have been found shffling his feet once too often!

    Mind – I don’t let the Opposition of the hook – Martha Hall-Findlay held the Libs. International Trade critic post as I think I recall – between her and Rae covering Foreign Affairs I would have thought they could both have jumped all over it!

  18. Looks like it was a long night for Austin too. Here’s an actual quote from the blog post he’s commenting on:

    “I’m not talking about decorum.”

  19. Of course the government has some reponsibility for decorum….but that isnt the point.

    The point is focus. Its better if it gets brought out in a witty and articulate manner rather than angry and dumb….but regardless of the style the Libs were all over the map. And QP is one arrow in the quiver.

    Its the Opposition that needs to show it is ready to govern. It does that by showing it is as on or more on the ball than the government is. The governments job is to govern, which it can do without the opposition….so the pressure is on the opposition to show it can hold the government to account, point out flaws and contrast approach. QP is one of the tools to acheive one of those goals.

    Wells is correct. But hey the Liberals are the Natural Governing Party so they don’t need to listen to anyone.

  20. Based on what he said last night, and has been repeating, in the same tone, in interviews this morning, can one really include Dosanjh in a list of “grownups”?

  21. “It is easy to quibble with any of the names Dan mentions…”

    It’s almost as though it was easy to anticipate what you guys would write or something.

  22. Who is actually calling the shots behind the Liberal curtain these days, incidentally? Dion always looked like he was fighting off some puppeteer, and anyway nobody can now take him seriously. Couldn’t Ignatieff and Rae work out some informal dual-kingship thing for the interim, so as to implement actual strategy like this post recommends? Or is that not where the power lies these days in the smokeless Grit backroom?

  23. Question Period is the least of Government. You can’t get anything accomplished there.

    You must know that The Hansard is the narrative of government, day by day. Liberals don’t need to write it because they live it. The narrative you are speaking of is, I think, something worked out in the public message aspect. We don’t need Trudeaus and Obamas with their narratives because those are the stories that do harm.


  24. Mea Culpa. It just seems like Dosanjh has already headed off in a far different direction from what you’re asking for.

    If that’s him alone (and it may well be), then it doesn’t matter. If it is a broader signal of what’s to come, it becomes more significant.

  25. Actually that was a bit snappy of me. I’ll stop playing schoolmarm, if only briefly. I actually haven’t seen what the Ujj is saying, but I’m sure it’s choice. But not as good as what the Globe is hearing off the record today from certain Ontario and New Brunswick precincts, one imagines….

  26. I guess it was (a long night) Paul…my bad…

    Creating that narrative requires that the media presents it, no?

    So I guess the onus is on you guys…


  27. So Wells, any insight on whether Dion will be leading this more compact Liberal team?

  28. PW, I just want to tell you that my child who calls you “Well” saw you on Mercer last night…she and I were ecstatic!

  29. Thibault was doing what old school lawyers do….snicker…like Matlock in the final season maybe. He was handed a golden opportunity and he blew it. He let himself get sucked in.

    Tilson might be an old warhorse but he took 51% of the vote in his riding.

    Anyway. Liberals have some hard thinking to do, the resource constraints they are facing will hamper their efforts but it doesnt change the tasks they have.

    No shortage of horses, so there is no excuse not to have a workable and beleivable strategy.

    But you know, the Liberals apparently knew what they were doing when they chose Dion, just like the Cons did when they chose Clark or Campbell.

    It is about leadership, and that includes Party leadership….I’ll let you figure that one out.

  30. Jen, you two and a few others are the audience that matters. Hi to Mike.

  31. Some clever blogger with a Lexis account should start a running tab on the words “high-placed Liberal Party source” or just “anonymous Liberal”. I suspect there will be a lot of hits over the next few months (or even weeks).

  32. The first party caucus to start acting like grown-ups in the House will win much respect.

    Or they’ll get eaten alive.

  33. Ti-Guy wrote

    “I agree with Wells insofar as QP has to return to what it’s intended to be, since it’s the feature of Parliament that forces the Government into public debate and it is a daily theatre that can potentially be compelling for the rest of us Joe Six-Packs and Mary Wineboxes.”

    That’s a useful thought that I am sure never betrays itself in action or attitude. I can only help so much, and am not really interested in helping, just observing.

    The alcoholic who won’t admit the problem will always relapse. If you want to read a partisan purpose into my comments or Well’s go ahead.

    I would never ever try to speak for Well’s, I don’t do irony that well, but from my partisan perspective I would be THRILLED if you left M Dion as your leader.

    As a citizen knowing that this government could screw up and need replacing….well I would rather the Liberals got their act together sometime before the Mayan Calander says the world ends, thats Dec 2012 BTW.

  34. Sisyphus

    “WW, maybe you missed it but the good Mr. Coyne was drooling over the prospect for a couple days in these blogs.”

    Must have – since most of Mr. Coyne’s foot stamping clenched fist rants were focused upon the Harper Sellout of Mr. Coyne’s pet Libertarian theories – I was tending towards MY hands over ears singing La La La in his direction….

    No – my main point wasn’t that Harper was entertaining it – heck – if Mulroney / Cretien / Martin / Harper had started thinking about broader diversification of our Trading Policy than the easy “North / South” Agenda of our “friends” in the White House – we would not now be so vulnerable to the spasmodic sifting of the elephant – but rather that he wasn’t prepared to telegraph the news – because he has such contempt for the general Canadian populace that he thinks we would do a knee jerk – like we did with – without thinking through the benefits!

    And some of the benefits are that anyone wanting to do business the the EU has to be committed to Green policies – which would back Harper into a course he has been most aversive to thus far!

  35. Oops – that penultimate para. should read

    “…No – my main point wasn’t that Harper was entertaining it – heck – if Mulroney / Cretien / Martin / Harper had started thinking about broader diversification of our Trading Policy than the easy “North / South” Agenda of our “friends” in the White House – we would not now be so vulnerable to the spasmodic sifting of the elephant – but rather that he wasn’t prepared to telegraph the news – because he has such contempt for the general Canadian populace that he thinks we would do a knee jerk – like we did with Mulroney – without thinking through the benefits!

  36. The uncomfortable truth is that Parliament has is a side-show. No one cares about question time or what happens in it.

    Harper found he could govern quite effectively with only lip-service to the house. He has also discovered that he can do pretty well at election time by fielding deaf-mute candidates.

    We have a presidential system in fact if not in theory. Time for the other parties to face up to it if they want to get back in to power.

  37. Forgive me for being stupid and naive, but I’m 28 years old. I’ve been following politics regularly for the past 10 years or so.

    When I see statements like “QP has to return to what it’s intended to be,” it genuinely puzzles me. In my relatively short life, I have never read about or watched any news reports where QP was conducted in a civilized, orderly way.

    In other words, I’ve grown up knowing only about dysfunctional QP.

    Does such a thing exist? Is this why voter turnout amongst youth is so low?

  38. Mike514

    I am a decade older than you and “QP has to return to what it’s intended to be” puzzles me as well. I don’t think there ever was a halcyon age of socratic debate in the House, it’s just us old timers wishing for the ‘good old days’.

  39. You had me, right up until “Holland”.

    One of these things is not like the other…

  40. Mike514 – if you research the date that TV was introduced there might be some relationship. But not a lot. It’s always been something of Show Time. The recent deterioration has been extreme.

    The best work in the Commons, I think, has always been done in the Committees (same with the Senate).

    And that’s gone so well lately.

  41. Mike 514: “I have never read about or watched any news reports where QP was conducted in a civilized, orderly way. . . . Does such a thing exist?”

    Yes, I believe that Chastity was known
    And prized on earth, while Saturn fill’d the throne,
    When rocks a bleak and scanty shelter gave,
    When sheep and shepherds throng’d one common cave,
    And when the mountain wife her couch bestrew’d
    With skins of beasts, joint tenants of the wood,

    For when the world was new, the race that broke,
    Unfather’d, from the soil, or opening oak,
    Lived most unlike the men of later times,
    The puling brood of follies and of crimes.

    – Gifford’s transl. of Juvenal

    Seriously, though, if the MP’s were a bit more skillful I think QP would be much more watchable. “Ask a stupid question and get a stupid answer” should be carved above the door of the House by now.

  42. Well, I for one, would like to quibble with that list of Liberal MPs!

    As for QP, I think it’s time for Miliken to go. He’s great with procedure, but it’s time to keep these people in line.

    And, yeah, the Liberals still don’t have a narrative. Hopefully they’ll find one soon. Because “Harper is a liar” and “it’s time for a new tax” clearly didn’t resonate with the electorate…

  43. I notice that sweater vests start at just US$35.50 from L.L.Bean. US35.50 x 76 = US$2698.00. Just sayin’.

  44. “‘it’s time for a new tax’ clearly didn’t resonate with the electorate…”

    This is what is most disheartening to me. I happen to be one of those Canadians who saw the Green Shift for what it really was and that is a ground-breaking visionary way of addressing climate change, the greatest challenge of this millenium.

    Dion’s suggestion that we should turn Canada into the new Mecca of green technologies was right on the mark and as visionary as it gets. It would have put Canada on the map and rescucitated our manufacturing sector.

    Other western countries who have had the foresight of implementing a carbon tax didn’t offer an income tax reduction along with it. What Dion was proposing was nothing short of “avant-guardiste.”

    The policy, as I saw it, was far from perfect but it most certainly was worth debating and discussing across the country. I will never forgive the Liberal caucus and the punditry for dismissing it as too complex. We missed an enormous opportunity to implement a much needed change in Canada.

    Instead, we now have returned a government that is not only dead set on turning back clock on Canada’s efforts to meet the climate change challenge but this Tory team is also determined to sabotage any such efforts on the world stage.

  45. Oh My – what a surprise!
    Mr. Harper just announced a six point economic plan out of his back pocket (or maybe from under the sweater)…and surprise surprise – he plans to meet with EU leaders at the end of this week…
    Would that be October 17th pray?

    How reactive!

  46. LOL @ “I notice that sweater vests start at just US$35.50 from L.L.Bean. US35.50 x 76 = US$2698.00. Just sayin’.

    Liberals, you’ll have some measure of revenge, and soon — you’ll be able to watch us righties be in severe pain on November 4th/5th.

  47. On first glance, Wells’ suggestions seems like a good idea. Of course develop a better narrative and of course develop a more thoughtful and long term strategy. What could go wrong with that? On the other hand, not showing up at QP might backfire. What if the NDP and BQ decided to keep going? What if the BQ said they were standing up to the Tories and the Liberals were just sulking? Would the liberal resposne play in Quebec?

    Likewise a more detailed and sophistical political critique could get them criticized for being excessively wonkish. And being respected for being good parliamentarians isn’t enough. The history of the CCF/NDP is filled with hard working leaders in Alberta, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and (until recently) Nova Scotia who got lots of respect and few votes.

    Of course this leads to larger strategic questions. I will hold off on those until this blog decides to discuss this in more detail. Since at least Clark the media has had an overwhelming preference for Conservatives, hampered only by the party’s self destruction in 1993. For much of the national media, there are people who are economic conservatives and social liberals, and there are people who are economic conservatives and socially less liberal. How can Liberals attract the former, especially since Harper has decided that he will no longer challenge Liberals on such issues as abortion, capital punishment, bilingualism and the Charter of Rights?

    I might further point out that EC/SLs are not actually that much for political mobilization anyway. After all, the history of such classical liberals as Tocqueville, Constant, Ortega y Gasset, Milyukov, Weber, Albertini and Croce is more a fear of popular politics and a willingness to compromise with sinister authoritarian politics. And as for the neoclassical economics of von Mises and von Hayek, the ideal way to win elections is not to hold them (at least, that was their policy in Chile). I don’t want to bitch about media bias, but I do want to make two points. First, despite being an intelligent and respected cabinet minister and despite getting more votes, Dion won fewer seats and fewer endorsements than a fatuous twit like Stockwell Day. Second, when looking over the roster of Macleans’ pundits, the word that comes to mind when encountering Barbara Amiel is “compromised.” Certainly nobody seems interested in offering Alfonso Gagliano a column.

  48. Funny, I am hoping the Conservatives take the same advice. Take the long view,FINALLY(!!) realize they are not being sassed by Chretien anymore and get on with the show of governing. Here’s how they can change the dynamic to their benefit: Announce an important policy in the House with a short heads up to the opposition and media. Have more than one MP field questions with prepared and detailed answers on the policy. I said announce “A” policy. As in one, singular. See how it goes over, see how the media reacts, see how you the opposition responds. Do it again if the coverage dynamic swings in your direction. But they won’t because they will convince themselves that that wouldn’t be treating the opposition with respect. Even though Cdns would respond positively and would like to see a real debate.

    The CPC would be wise to take its entire communications shop, put in on the curb and begin filling it back in a completely different type of person than the war room drones who scupper about filling the air with useless partisan noise. Thank you for your time from a card carrying member of the CPC

  49. You and I are on the same page, boudica. As far as I’m concerned, Canada now deserves any and all environmental, economic and political fallout that may come from our failure to move on GHG emissions and our efforts to stymie international agreements.

    We were presented with a strong policy solution. We turned it down. May we get what we deserve.

  50. “Other western countries who have had the foresight of implementing a carbon tax didn’t offer an income tax reduction along with it. What Dion was proposing was nothing short of “avant-guardiste.””

    Isn’t it exactly the same thing that Campbell just did in BC? I guess that little fact kind of ruins the “great visionary” storyline, though. Forget I mentioned it.

  51. Andrew, I’m beginning to understand how some of my American friends (democrats) felt when they woke up the day after with yet another 4-year term of Bush policies to come their way.

    I berated the lot of them for being stupid in allowing Bush to return to office and told them that they deserved everything that was about to come their way.

    Little did I know that we would do the exact same on this side of the border.

  52. sbt, Campbell’s policy included an income tax reduction?

  53. Boudica and Andrew,
    You two missed what the voters in their wisdom did not. Namely, that the green shift was not a pure carbon tax (how could it be when it exempted 40 percent of emissions?) but rather was a massive wealth transfer scheme. If the Liberals really had come up with an effective carbon tax, they may have had less difficulty selling it. (less/less difficulty, not no difficulty, I must emphasize.)

    The challenge for the Liberals is to begin to think long term. If they continue to focus on 24-hour newscycles they will remain in opposition for a very long time. Not that I care, but they might.

  54. Thanks sbt, I didn’t even know that theirs was also revenue neutral. Guess that means that Campbell’s policy has also been torpedoed by the Tories.

  55. Two cents: the 40% exemption thing is spin. Differential increases in excise tax was a matter of harmonizing the tax on carbon.

    I’d also quibble with 40%. Is gasoline really that high a percentage?

  56. boudica: don’t tell BC Liberals that they have been stabbed in the back by their CPC pals. The NDP will crush them, all thanks to the toxic cloud their federal cousins created around the idea of a carbon tax.

  57. Style: It may have created more wind turbines and solar panels (and associated companies) however.

  58. Just like the wind blows strongly and the sun shines for many hours in Alberta.

    I’d be perfectly satisfied with Alberta imposing an equivalent carbon tax and keeping the revenues for itself. That is, opt out of the federal plan. The Liberals should have thought of this.

  59. wrto Campbell’s carbon tax:

    The day it was introduced, gas went down $0.03/L, from about $1.40/L or so. It creeped up to about $1.48/L, but is now sitting at about $1.15/L or so.


    Market forces will by far exceed the impact of any tax placed on fuel, or any drop in tax placed on fuel.

    Who are the chicken littles, I wonder…


  60. Style, you are missing the point entirely. Energy-saving technologies are the future, not fossil fuels. The Green Shift was designed with that vision in mind and sought to position Canada as the first country to realign its economy around that very fact.

    The income tax reduction was just a way to encourage behavioral changes so as to prepare us for the future.

    We have missed the boat but rest assured that some other country with a more enlightened government and population will fill that gap and benefit from it.

    Canada will look back on Dion’s plan and wonder how it allowed itself to miss out on such an opportunity.

  61. “Why do we need a carbon tax to encourage people to develop them? What is the information that is missing from the market that the Government needs to provide? I’m not a laissez-faire radical but I do think government intervention in the market should be driven by a good argument for why the market would fail on its own.”

    And here I thought that the sub-prime market disaster and the ravages it caused around the world had done away with those questions…

  62. Andrew has a good point Boudica as the next sound you hear come this spring will be the falling of King Gordo and the repeal of the BC Carbon Tax = Axe The Tax!

  63. Style, the conservative plan is a more devastating tax (marginal cost of CO2 emissions $65/tonne) with no corresponding cut to other taxes. The proceeds would fund a pork-barrel ‘technology fund’. The only reason why conservatives support it is because they know the CPC will back down when it comes to implementation.

  64. @Style:

    “Why do we need a carbon tax to encourage people to develop them? What is the information that is missing from the market that the Government needs to provide?”

    There’s no information missing – the problem is that there is no cost to individual citizens or companies from emitting GHGs but there is a cost to society as a whole.

    Putting a cost on the individual emitter causes economic trade-offs that are more intelligent for society at-large.

  65. “I think you might have skipped a few too many steps for me to follow you…”

    Style, I’m saying that there are times when state intervention in the market is completely justified. Redressing a fossil-fuel driven economy in an attempt to shift it towards the market of the future is one such instance.

    The point about the sub-prime mess is just to underscore the problems with the purist approach to free market capitalism.

  66. I fear that, for better or for worse, this election has killed off any possibility of a Carbon Tax until our US comrades come ’round to it. Meanwhile, the market will take care of overconsumption. (In what key will its victims whine, I wonder?) Too bad, since something like a carbon tax would, if malleable, have helped to offset the severe problems rural communities will soon be facing.

    I wonder why Dion didn’t call it the “Carbon Bonus” or “Carbon Happy Hour” or something.

  67. “Andrew has a good point Boudica as the next sound you hear come this spring will be the falling of King Gordo and the repeal of the BC Carbon Tax = Axe The Tax!”

    I doubt the BC NDP will repeal the tax even if elected. Think about it. You’re putting your faith in the NDP to cut taxes. They’ll probably end up “restructuring” it or something.

    As for Harper, he’ll probably end up implementing one of his own one way or another. Maybe he’ll auction off all the credits under an eventual cap-and-trade system and “force big polluters to pay” while using the revenue to finance corporate and income tax cuts to “protect consumers from higher costs”. Sounds alot nicer than the green shift, but it’s pretty much the same thing.

  68. Maybe he’ll rag the puck for two more years. Then the four global mean surface temperature records will all have been declining for ten years, and this issue will die its most deserved death.

  69. The Green Shift was a great policy, don’t get me wrong. That’s why every economist out there supported it.

    But it didn’t create an overly compelling narrative. Especially not once people started worrying more about the economy than the environment…

  70. Jack Mitchell, you really think that the problem was Dion’s pitch? From where I’m sitting, his comm strategy was doomed to fail given that his own caucus kept sabotaging it in the press. There were some columnists/pundits who tried to bring the issue to their readers but the vast majority were too busy pinata-zing Dion to even bother contributing to the discussion.

    I won’t point the finger at Harper because only a fool would expect that man to engage in a reasonable policy debate. Harper is motivated by one thing and one thing only: destroying the Liberals. He doesn’t even believe in climate change so no point in looking his way for leadership.

    That being said, we didn’t need Harper to hold a debate in Canada. It could have happened without him.

  71. Peter, you seem to be unaware of the signs of an increase in sunspot activity. Expect more warming, and concern.

    Also, a carbon tax is good policy even without a belief in AGW.

  72. “But it didn’t create an overly compelling narrative. Especially not once people started worrying more about the economy than the environment…”

    Calgary Grit, give me a break. The Green Shift had a “compelling narrative” built in it. The problem was the lack of support within the Liberal caucus for it. Wayne Easter was trashing it and Rae/Iggy were apologizing for it.

    It never had a chance.

  73. Andrew,

    If GMST’s turn around and go back up, I will be the first to change my mind. Right now the facts say otherwise. As far as a carbon tax being good policy otherwise, you are right, so long as it is someone else and not us. If one of our competititors decides to unilterally increase their cost structures making our industries prosper at the expense of their standard of living, great. If your opponent is scoring own goals, don’t for heaven sakes get in the way.

  74. Peter, a carbon tax is less economically damaging than income taxes. If you believe otherwise, I’d be fascinated to hear your reasoning.

    High corporate tax rates decreases investment in Canada, leading to decreases in jobs, wealth, etc. But if you think the road to prosperity is littered with cement plants, coal power plants and steel mills, you’ve got to be kidding me.

  75. boudica: “you really think that the problem was Dion’s pitch?”

    FWIW, I do, I think the tone was all Green Balaclava and no “income tax cuts for everyone!” He was trying to appeal to tax-cutters and to the environmentally conscious on the same issue. That invited the “Tax On Everything” attack, since tax-cutters are suspicious of Noble Acts for the Good of Mankind and could not but see the income tax cuts as secondary to the revenue-raising carbon tax.

    At a minimum I would never have uttered the words “Carbon Tax” in the whole campaign: “Green Tax Cuts” or something would have been a little less honest but a lot more savoury. The emphasis should have been on bribing Canadians, not on appealing to their better instincts.

    I guess the fundamental problem is that Dion is not a politician. He thinks, in his heart of hearts, that when you’ve proven your case and footnoted your sources, Justice will Prevail. Alas, he was not being peer-reviewed last night.

  76. “- it exempted car fuel. That greatly reduces its advantage over cap and trade in the opinion of economists.”

    Huh? Firstly, gasoline is already ‘carbon taxed’ through fuel excise taxes. Secondly, Harper’s plan exempts half of Canadian emitters.

    “- And the tax isn’t tied to the emissions directly – it’s based on the dirtiness of the fuel. So, you can only avoid the tax by switching fuels, not by reducing emissions. Which is a disadvantage.”

    Huh? The tax was equal by tonne of CO2 emitted equivalent.

    And you avoid the tax by using the fuel more efficiently.

  77. “On the costs, the Green Shift is much more costly for producers than the Tory plan. The Tory plan imposes a $65 charge for emissions *above* a certain threshold. The Liberal plan taxes every ounce of fuel purchased (based on its carbon intensity). $40*everything is more than $65*a fraction…”

    The marginal effect is important. In deciding to undertake a new project, $65 per net new tonne of CO2 is a whole lot worse than $40 per net new tonne of CO2. Do you not understand how cost benefit analyses are done? Companies only produce to the point where marginal costs equal margin revenues. That happens much sooner at $65 a tonne, ergo, lower production/GDP.

  78. Also, don’t forget the implications of using that $65 per tonne on a porkbarrel ‘technology fund’ which will inevitably be used very inefficiently, as opposed to the $40 being spent on the most efficient use by the taxpayer/corporation.

  79. “Economists prefer carbon taxes to cap and trade because cap and trade can’t be applied to small emitters, like car drivers.”

    You can include individuals in a cap-and-trade scheme by simply assuming that all the carbon in a fuel is converted to CO2 once burned (like a carbon tax) and force the wholesaler to buy the necessary permits to cover the emissions caused by the fuel they sell to their distributors. The individual car driver wouldn’t be buying permits themselves but would be paying for them directly through higher fuel prices and thus included in the scheme.

  80. Andrew,

    I am all for lower taxes of all kinds. But why pick on what did that element ever do to you? I propose an aluminum tax, or maybe an iron or sodium tax, and I will not stand for this ani-carbonism.

  81. Andrew ” But if you think the road to prosperity is littered with cement plants, coal power plants and steel mills, you’ve got to be kidding me.”

    No Andrew, however the road to prosperity does run by the full employee parking lots of those very things.

  82. Style: the idea is that if a carbon tax were to be extended past $40 per tonne, the excise on gasoline would increase accordingly. It’s not really an exemption. Think of it as a simultaneous lowering of excise and increase of carbon tax by the same amount. Once there is no more federal excise to lower, overall taxation will rise. Frankly, this is a moot point as Harper’s plan wouldn’t tax gasoline directly either.

    “Businesses care about total costs, maybe more than economic actors care about marginal costs. ”

    Yes, the do care about overall costs insofar as it defines their profits, but more important is marginal cost. Firms generally don’t want to produce something that will cost more than it brings in in revenue. Also, since cap and trade relies on entitlements to existing firms, the $65/tonne CO2 represents a significant barrier to entry to new firms which would have to compete with existing firms that don’t have the pay the tax.

    “I don’t understand why you’re opposed to subsidizing new technology. As pointed out previously, portions of the carbon tax will be spent on government programs. Why will this revenue be spent more efficiently than the Tory plan’s revenue? Companies will also be able to trade emissions permits between them, with the same effect you’re proposing for the carbon tax.”

    I’m opposed to subsidizing green technology because subsidies are astonishingly, grossly ineffective. They cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars per tonne of CO2 reduced. Why is this? Because government is very bad at picking winners. Government is good at setting rules. The market is good at picking winners. Let each do their job.

    I also dislike the idea of a huge government bureaucracy established to measure, validate, and administer emissions and emissions credits. There are stupendous incentives to engage in fraud for everyone involved in a cap and trade system, and little incentive for government to stop them. A carbon tax would be much harder to evade, and government would have incentive to ensure evasion doesn’t occur.

    Why do I prefer a carbon tax to a sketchy cap and trade entitlement scheme with pork barrel subsidies for white elephant technologies? Maybe I’m a real conservative.

  83. Well I am glad to see that there are now huge fans of consumption versus incoe taxes. Where were all these defenders when the GST was being discussed?

    As well, i am assuming Andrew you now think we made a mistake in making an exemption in GST for food. So will the next Liberal platform, to be consistent, include adding in the GST on food so you can lower to overall rate?

    The ledgerdemain going on about the exemption with gas, no it is a harmonization, is crap. The excise tax is there for another reason. A carbon tax exists seperate to that, it was politics plain and simple. It was a mongrel of a plan.

    Mulroney implemented GST after studying it, implemented it after there was lots of political cover and after he had won a second majority. It was a harder sell because it was replacing a tax that consumers never saw, so there was no obvious income tax drop.

    Chretien still ran against it 3 years after it was implemented, and left it in place.

    It may be the right thing to do, but it was being done in the wrong way, by the wrong people at the wrong time.

    Would Harper put it in place, sure I bet he would if he had the right political cover to do it under, and he had a majority.

    You can’t just do things by fiat, the difference between an academic and practical approach.

    The Liberal party made its bed, as noble as it might have been, and now it is paying the price for drinking its own bathwater. And probably set back the concept 5 to 10 years in this country.

    Given that its an early snow and colder than normal summer nobady seems to fussed about it.

    So back to Well’s point. There is a way to get things done, a smarter more strategic way…some of which has to do with ideas, but this is all about how you sell and market the party and the impression you give.

    You know that feeling you get from used car salespeople…you never know if you really got the right deal, because there doesnt seem to be price integrity. Its a brand isssue, and chasing the 24 cycle without an overarching theme or startegy leads to that same impression….”Crazy Liberals house of politics, come on down”….your seeing the same issue with McCain, in case you think I am saying its a left/right thing.

    Its subtle and it goes deeper than partisanship. Why are the cons here laughing, me included, because we know the lessons. The effects of not following a strategy are burned into conservative memories. So maybe the Liberals and the others on the left are going to have to go through the same pain to relearn it.

    Have fun, and see if you can do the journey in less 14 years.

  84. “Would Harper put it in place, sure I bet he would if he had the right political cover to do it under, and he had a majority.”

    Harper wouldn’t. He’s betrayed any integrity I once lent him as an economist with the GST cuts.

    His bread is buttered in Alberta. That is why we have the cap and trade sham he developed, and I’m sure he will shelve/gut by the time it begins to have any teeth.

    The CPC being based out of Alberta also is dangerous for long-term prospects in Ontario. Unless the party is eventually co-opted by Ontarians, there will always be distrust of it here.

  85. OK, I know this has been raised elsewhere, but someone please explain to my why I’m seeing David Herle on TV and in the paper speaking about the Liberal party. And critiquing the campaign…. well, I guess he knows what it is to run a lousy campaign. I’m reminded also of Stephen Le Drew trashing his party as a pundit at every opportunity for the last while now.
    Why do people with little credibility get treated so well by the press?

  86. How to fix House decorum:

    Let the Press Gallery members air the footage from ANY camera angle…. not just then one that the switcher puts on the feed.

    Everything will change, instantly.

  87. The number of times Dion has said the Green Shift exempts gas are too many to cite. Dion and Stephen seem to have this right.

    “Cap and trade relies on entitlements to existing firms” – no, it doesn’t. Either the cap is constant for all firms (and must be adjusted from time to time to take account of new entrants) or there are auctions for the permits. The costs are the same for new entrants or existing firms in either case. The fact that the Green Shift cuts profits much more than the Tory plan is explains why it would have graver economic impacts.

    Subsidies have lots of problems and I don’t feel like looking at the technology fund again to see if it avoids any of them. I wanted to point out that both plans involve government spending but the Green Shift’s spending is in areas with a pretty reasonable government role, so I’m going to drop that.

    The thing about that massive bureaucracy is that it wouldn’t actually be additional since major facilities are already subject to environmental inspections. Also, it’s what you need to do if you want to target emissions rather than fuel purchases.

    sbt, what you are describing would be a carbon tax because it doesn’t rely on the amount of emissions actually produced by the end user.

  88. Andrew,
    How can you say that the CPC is based in Alberta? It has 143 seats, of whic only 27 are from Alberta and 117 are from outside Alberta. That doesn’t look like an Alberta party to me.

  89. “The thing about that massive bureaucracy is that it wouldn’t actually be additional since major facilities are already subject to environmental inspections.”

    We’ve heard that before.

    The fuel tax infrastructure already exists. Excise taxes are already collected on most fossil fuels, and those that aren’t are sold through relatively few channels.

  90. NO question that the economic theory of consumption taxes versus income taxes is right.

    So Andrew, do you support and do you think the new converts in the Liberal Party would support putting the GST on food and lowering the amoutn or putting GST on food and lowering income taxes.

    Just curious.

  91. I don’t think it’s politically expedient. Furthermore, I don’t see the case, economically:

    -The food of the GST-exempt variety tends not to be very ‘consumptive’.
    -a tax on food would be rather regressive, and would require bolstering the GST rebate to low-income earners.

    Other than that, I suppose I would support applying GST to food. However, I do believe that progressivity in the tax system is important.

  92. “sbt, what you are describing would be a carbon tax because it doesn’t rely on the amount of emissions actually produced by the end user.”

    Sure it does. A wholesaler that sells more fuel “produces” more emissions and needs more permits to cover the costs of selling that fuel. Those permits would cost whatever the permits are trading for on the open market and would be buried in the price the consumer sees at the pump. It’s no different than a coal plant producing more energy by burning more coal and covering the increased emissions by purchasing credits and burying those costs in the consumer’s electricity bill.

  93. Yes, those are all features of a carbon tax. Cap and trade provides an incentive for the coal plant to lower its emissions even as it consumes more coal to produce more energy.

  94. If any plant were to devise a credible plan to permanently (or sufficiently permanently) sequester CO2, then I think there would be a sound basis for claiming tax credits on the carbon tax (that is, $40 per tonne of CO2-equivalent proven to be sequestered). Interestingly, I read something about a process involving seawater and carbon dioxide from natural gas plants’ stacks to create cement. Not only would it be a much less energy intensive way to produce cement (using waste), it would sequester CO2 and partially desalinate water (making it easier to fully desalinate). Technologies such as this are sorta the point of a carbon tax.

    In other words Style, nothing prevents a carbon tax from rewarding CO2 capture and sequestration.

  95. Advice to Liberals – Do some bloody research for QP- Not just reading the morning papers.

  96. Recommended Watching for the Liberals: Prime Minister’s Questions from the Palace of Westminister on CPAC. That’s how real grown ups behave.

    Why is that recommendation only for the coughMulcairsputterJohnBaird Liberals?

  97. Paul, what is interesting is how little experience the Liberal front-bench has, given that the Liberals are Canada’s natural governing party. Only Dion and Goodale was part of the Chretien cabinet as far as I can tell.

    Dion: obviously a lot of experience
    Kennedy: 3 years as Ontario education minister,
    Rae: Ontario’s worst premier ever
    Ignatieff: none
    Dryden: social development/HRDC minister for 2 years
    Hall Findlay: none
    Goodale: minister since 1993
    Dosanjh: [lousy] BC premier for 1.5 years. Minister of health for 2. Some BC ministerial experience (since 1995)
    Trudeau: none
    Garneau: ran Canadian space agency
    LeBlanc: none
    Dhalla: none
    Holland: none

    (I don’t think experience makes you better, but it gives you a record you can check against)

    On the other hand, for Harper, the low quality candidates that came with the Reform wave are starting to retire. His haul this election includes some promising folks.
    Lisa Raitt (ran Toronto port authority), John Weston (constitutional lawyer), Peter Kent (needs no introduction), Gail Shea (PEI minister), Alice Wong (has a phd), Keith Ashfield (New Brunswick cabinet experience), Boughen (2-term mayor of Moosejaw), Randy Hoback (chairman of the western wheat-growers association), Leona Aglukkaq (minister of health in Nunavat), Rodney Weston (minister of fisheries in New Brunswick), Peter Braid (Director of Operations at Sun-Life Mutual), Terence young (Ontario MPP who ran consumer safety group), Andrew Saxton (CEO of investment firm).

    These aren’t necessarily star candidates, but they give Harper a broader range in picking cabinet members. In particular when it comes to minister of agriculture.

  98. Style, you might not know this but Dion has said over and over again that his Green Shift would be coupled with the cap/trade program. He had no objection to it. He has said a hundred times over that the problem with the cap/trade system is the length of time it would take to implement it whereas the Green Shift can be started right away.

  99. I don’t know, Style. I haven’t seen the draft of the implementing legislation. It is really unthinkable (for political reasons) that there wouldn’t be credits for CO2 sequestration as part of the implementation of the Green Shift. Just because it wasn’t mentioned in the proposal AFAIK doesn’t preclude it.

    It’s also easier to fix that problem than fix the fundamental flaws with cap and trade.

  100. hoser, your bias in compiling those lists is laughable. You mention some PhDs and not others.

    It is arguable whether Rae was Ontario’s worst premier. I’d give that to Eves, in recent memory.

  101. Okay fine, Iggy and Dion have phd’s. I’m not saying the Conservative caucus is better – on average, it isn’t. I am saying that the gap between the two “teams” has not been narrower since 1988, and that it is amazing how little experience the Liberal frontbench has considering they were in power 2.5 years ago.

    I think we are seeing a potential reversal of the federal and provincial dominance of the Tories and Liberals. Traditionally, most premiers (especially Ontario premiers) have been Tories, or at least on the right. The Liberals controlled the national levers of power.

    That has changed in the past few years. If you are a talented young Liberal (and here I am talking about party workers, not just ministers), Dalton McGuinty looks like a way better lunch ticket than Dion (or Martin in his minority government).

    Why do the Tories have a surfeit of folks with provincial experience? Because the provincial Tories just lost in Ontario, New Brunswick, PEI, and were reduced to a minority in Nova Scotia (and the Tory premier of Newfoundland supports the Liberals federally). Meanwhile the Liberals govern 6 provinces, including the biggest three.

  102. There’s a theory that no party can hold both Ontario (Queens Park) and Ottawa simultaneously for long. It’s almost unusual that it took 5 years (since McGuinty was elected) for Ontarians to begin to even feel lukewarm about Harper’s Conservatives.

    Given that Harper is much to the right of most Canadians, ideologically, I think it will take less time for the left and centre-left to re-coalesce around the Liberals than it took for the right to reorganize. Indeed, you see it in the tightrope that Harper has to walk. Any major misstep would see public opinion shift away from him sharply.

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