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Two speeches


 

Has it been a week already since Stéphane Dion announced his plan to save the planet? Indeed it has, almost. Not that he announced the details of the plan, but he did announce its existence. Or at least its imminent existence:

In the coming weeks and months, we Liberals will release our plan on a green shift for the Canadian economy. We will set the agenda for an honest national debate on how to reconcile the economy and the environment so that no Canadian is left behind. I hope the Conservatives join us in this debate in an honest way. They avoid it at their own peril. Canadians are ready for this debate. They want solutions. They’re tired of excuses.

I am convinced that Canadians are ready for:

…a tax system that makes it easier to create jobs, not more difficult;

…a tax system that encourages innovation instead of stifling it;

…a tax system that discourages pollution instead of rewarding it.

It’s what I believe.

And since then, Dion has not hesitated to advance his bold plan. Why, just this morning, he was meeting with the rising musical generation of Sherbrooke. You scoff, but some of the Greater Sherbrooke Glee Club’s recent work on carbon sequestration has really been pushing the envelope.

Every day he doesn’t define his plan, the Tories will work hard to define it for him. But that is not the only danger or even the worst. The other risk is that if the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada can’t be arsed to pay attention to his own policy for saving the freaking planet, then nobody in Canada will get excited about it for him.

If I had a plan for a fundamental change in Canadian politics, I’d announce it. In the absence of a plan, I wouldn’t give a speech about how I had a plan. And if I had announced a plan was on the way, I would make a rather extravagant show of making sure I was getting the policy right.

How? By staying away from Sherbrooke’s music salons for just a few days while I met with the smartest minds in my party to nail this sucker down. Or by delegating to the kind of Liberals who have the firepower to cement a major cultural change in the party and, after that, in the nation. Perhaps Dion could have tasked Frank McKenna, John Manley and Chaviva Hosek to put the finishing touches on the plan. Perhaps he could have persuaded Carole Taylor to leave B.C. politics a little early for the greater good of nationalizing the carbon-tax policy she introduced there.

My point is that if you’re going to lead a revolution, you should look like you’re leading a revolution. If the usual dribbling-along of the party’s internal policy-generation process has failed to cough up a presentable  tax-shifting policy until now, it probably isn’t going to be up to the task “in the coming weeks and months.” And if the Liberals have trouble getting ordinary Canadians to pay them much attention, it may be because their leader isn’t acting like they should pay attention.

I have been thinking all morning of a speech Jack Layton gave to an NDP national convention in Quebec City in 2006.

At this convention, we have begun a campaign to persuade the people of Canada to elect an NDP-led government.

In the months to come, I am going to ask the people of Canada to hire me as their next prime minister.

In the months to come, we are going to ask Canadians to put a team of New Democrat MPs into office to make life better for today’s families.

In the months to come, we are going to ask Canadians to elect the New Democratic Party to lead the next government of Canada.

Remember that speech? No, because after sounding the trumpets of revolution, Layton didn’t do a single thing to transform the NDP into the kind of party that could realistically compete for four times as many seats as it had ever won. How odd and dispiriting that Stéphane Dion would use that as the model for his own strategy.


 

Two speeches

  1. What? No mention of how awesome Macleans’ bloggers are these days? Also, the SnapShots is extremely annoying.

    As to your other points about speechifying the revolution…meh. Bit soon to start pulling your hair out, innit? Try me in a month, and if he hasn’t said anything then, alright, point taken. But this post smacks of space-filler. And really, isn’t it about time you point out – again – that Coyne’s blogging, Potter’s wacky, and ‘our Kady’ is just so darned clever?

  2. Awesome awesomneness, Paul.

    Wackawacka!

  3. “No, because after sounding the trumpets of revolution, Layton didn’t do a single thing to transform the NDP into the kind of party that could realistically compete for four times as many seats as it had ever won.”

    Actually he did (see their comprehensive green agenda for example). You and the rest of the corporate media just didn’t care to notice.

  4. From the get-go, small l (l)iberals like myself have complained that Stephane Dion lacks a communications strategy, and clear policy.

    By unveiling this murky carbon-tax proposal he has underscored yet again that he lacks those two basic tenants of a victorious political leader.

    Would a carbon tax create fiscal room for investment in green technology? How would such a tax be revenue neutral? Would this not affect low-income people more than the wealthy?

    All important questions that no one has answers for. Because of this, Harper and the Cons can attack this policy and define it before the thing is even announced.

    I just keep wondering and wondering: who the heck is advising Dion right now? Who is in his inner circle that thinks these strategies are sound?

    PS: Paul Wells for PM

  5. “Actually he did (see their comprehensive green agenda for example). You and the rest of the corporate media just didn’t care to notice.”

    Are you saying that, quite literally, the revolution will not be televised? Because it would be awesome to actually use that phrase literally for once.

  6. I think the difference between the two speeches are pretty fundamental.

    Layton’s speech at the NDP convention was a gear up for an election that most people thought was going to happen in early ’07. Just look at the language. He is talking about an election campaign.

    Also coming out of that convention the NDP took a harder stance on Afghanistan, put forward their green plan, and started coming out on pocket-book economics. You may argue that hasn’t transformed the party the way that Layton was signaling but the NDP did do something.

    Dion on the other hand is going around with an empty policy. Again he is letting his opponents define him and what he is about rather than doing it himself. By the time it does come out it will likely be too late (some Liberals are saying that it won’t be until an election!)

  7. Typical stuff from the Kyoto crowd. They scream, “The world is in crisis! Conserve!”. Then they board their private jet to the next speaking engagement or tropical vacation.

    I do remember a quote from Glenn Reynolds, “I’ll treat it like a crisis when the people who keep telling me it’s a crisis start acting like it’s a crisis.”

  8. Who’s going to define Stephane Dion? John ‘real action’ Baird? I fondly recall Chantel Hebert’s cheekly titled article ‘Baird’s Bali flop will haunt Conservatives’. So in my humble opinion, I think the Canadian public is quite sceptical with what the current Conservative government thinks is the best way to deal with the enviromental problems Canada faces. Then again I could be wrong… Now off to my private jet!

  9. You’re pretty clear on what Dion could do to promote his “carbon tax” plan. Or his plan to have a plan.

    But you don’t provide much evidence of the changes Layton could/should have made to the NDP to make them realistically compete for four times as many seats.

    What should/could he have done?

    I’d argue his efforts in Quebec are, at least, one thing he’s done differently.

  10. Maybe he is going to name his dog Carbon Tax.

  11. I’d say Dion has been successful thus far. Within a week, he got Harper ruffled enough to give a speech about gas prices. Dion has ruffled the Tories and is waiting to see how they try to respond. He’s making them shoot in the dark. Then, the Grits can avoid the targets that Harper and his Con-men point out. Along the way, Harper my put his foot in it; I think Baird looked rather lame this weekend on QP. Give Dion credit for all this.

  12. Hitching his wagon to something (a carbon tax) that will result in no visible or measurable benefit for any Canadians whatsoever strikes me as being a bad idea.

  13. I think Dion attempted a chess move (still a poor one that was easily countered). My first impression of the carbon tax was that it was a stupid idea to offset against income taxes. I think the idea is full of holes that could be exploited. Had Harper taken the bait, he would have attacked on that flank and been trapped in tacitly accepting a carbon tax…just not the income tax offset. This would have allowed Dion an opening to shift the offset to a sales tax reduction after effectively disarming the CPC.

    I think this left Dion a bit flat footed.

  14. Oh, weren’t you aware? It’s a plan within a plan, just like Quebec is a nation within a nation. And I would argue that this discussion is proof that Canadians are paying attention, albeit only the ones who pay attention to such things. And, if my PolSci friends are any example, a hell of a lot of political science students are paying attention. But that may just be the type of people who take political science. One more segment of society that is paying attention to any and all policy moves: Those of us who just earned the right to vote this year and are yet to get to try it out. Tax Shifting has actually earned Dion a bit of credibility among university students. You know the demographic: the ones who vote Green,or Bloc, or NDP (depending on the province/region) because they don’t see any party with a vision? MAybe this plan within a plan is the beginning of a platform within a platform or a vision within a vision.

  15. —Tax Shifting has actually earned Dion a bit of credibility among university students—

    Great! More people who can’t pay the LPC bills.

  16. —Tax Shifting has actually earned Dion a bit of credibility among university students—

    How do they feel about paying more for everything, while having little or no income to be affected by tax cuts?

  17. Well, when you make as little as most students do, you get pretty much all of your income tax back anyways. What has earned him credibility is the idea of actually doing something, rather than just talking about doing something, or claiming that you’ll do something- in 20 years. It’s the idea of action that has earned him credibility.

  18. -Well, when you make as little as most students do, you get pretty much all of your income tax back anyways.-

    That was my point. Carbon taxes will increase the price of EVERYTHING you buy or use, but since you (and most of your fellow students) will not benefit from the “tax-shifting”.
    How does this earn Dion credibility among students?
    And how do they reconcile this latest policy with his previously public statements about not ever instituting a carbon tax?

    This gives him credibility how?

  19. @ jcl: I’m not a student, but I’m guessing it gives him credibility with them because it’s a real action to fix a problem they’ve identified/bought into. That is, they see this as being in their long-term interest, and are willing to pay the short-term price, if necessary (actually,*current* university students will likely be in full-time jobs by the time any price effects are felt, and will benefit directly from income tax reductions).

    Also, while the carbon tax increases will tend to increase prices (or rather, sellers’ costs), the income tax reductions will tend to decrease them.

    And, of course, many students (and people generally, on both sides of this issue, and other issues) are thoughtlessly supporting one side of the debate, without considering all of the consequences.

  20. re: Two Hats Thank you, that was my point- most students see CO2 emissions as one of the biggest issues facing our country. Yet, there has been no *real* action to adress it. Even the thought of a real, realistic plan makes sense and wins votes- even if the plan involves paying more for goods.

  21. I recently graduated university. I can tell you right now that the financial pain experienced in your first year or two out of your degree is huge. You start out at a low-salaries job, with high student debt and immediate high costs – apartment, daily bills, car payments, etc. Adding more costs to those bills but offsetting them with income tax cuts does nothing for low-income-fresh-out-of-university types. For example, on my taxes for my first year out of uni, I could not even recieve most of my rebates from tuition credits, etc because I did not pay enough income tax to make them applicable.

    If you raise the price of my groceries, gas costs, and home heating, I’m afraid you will not be getting my vote.

  22. I would have to respectfully disagree. Witness the backlash now being evidenced in the UK over carbon taxes etc. Historically speaking, people like to support a cause until it actually hits them in the pocketbook….(even the “green” NDP are calling for gas tax reductions, despite the fact that high gas prices curtail demand, which is what the had previously deemed desirable).

  23. My response above was to Sophie, but Riley snuck a comment in between :^))

  24. But Riley’s comment supports my argument, so it’s OK…:^))

  25. RE: “Layton didn’t do a single thing to transform the NDP into the kind of party that could realistically compete for four times as many seats as it had ever won.”

    I don’t know about that. I think Layton has achieved number of things that will make the NDP competitive for an increased share of seats.

    Let’s look at Quebec- a province that has 25% of the House of Commons seats and historically has never given the NDP more than 4% support in any general election and has never elected a New Democrat MP in a general election.

    Since Sept 2007, Layton has managed to get the NDP’s 2nd ever MP elected in Quebec, beating Dion’s handpicked candidate. The NDP has managed to overtake or tie the Liberals in popular support in the province of Quebec in almost every CROP poll since Aug 2007 (I cite CROP because they employ a sample size of 1000 people). The NDP now consistent beats the Liberals among francophones for support in Quebec and more recently the NDP has overtaken the Liberal Party in support the QC city region (Dion’s hometown- note sample size please) .

    When Canadians and Quebecers are asked who they would prefer to be Prime Minister, Layton is consistently the favoured choice over Dion.

    Outside of Quebec- Layton had focused on building a great team of candidates including well known 1st nations author Tom King. The Liberal Party has lost all of its seats in Alberta, in contrast, the NDP is in a strong position to take Edmonton-Strathcona in the next general election.

    The NDP has built a larger donor base than the Liberal party and this has resulted in the NDP out fundraising the Liberal party in numerous financial quarters since the 2007 convention.

    Finally, the NDP has articulated a clear vision and corresponding policies. Love them or hate them- with little effort one can determine the NDP’s positions on a whole host of issues as well as concrete action taken in the House of Commons to back these positions up. The NDP has a clear position and record on Afghanistan, the environment, changes to the immigration act, Harper’s budget, etc.

    Don’t get me wrong- there are many good things and bad things Layton has done (and not done) to increase the prospects of his party in the next election.

    Yet overall- he has certainly achieved some remarkable accomplishments since Sept 2006. I suppose time will tell if these accomplishments will translate into a significantly higher seat count.

  26. Greg,

    To be brutally honest, the NDP is way out of touch with the “average Canadian” that Jack harps on about so often…..most people feel taxes are already too high, and that more “income redistribution” (socialist buzzwords) are not required…..

    At best they’ll steal a few votes from disenfranchised liberals, at worst, as the Libs move farther right, they’ll steal leftist votes.

  27. Obviously I can’t claim to represent all university students. However, I do know a lot of them, from all walks of life- from those of us subsisting completely on scholarship money, student loans and minimum wage, to the lucky gits whos parents pay for it all. My point- among those of us who are politically obsessed enough to discuss such things, the general consensus had been that its worth it. Of course it will require cutting back- but thats the point, no? Obviously things will be more expensive the farther they have to travel to get to you. However, that could actually be beneficial to the economy in that it would force people to support their local industries. Lumber, fish, fruit, tobacco, grain and potatoes come to mind, of course depending on where one lives. Perhaps this ‘tax shifitng’ could actually help the many, many cottage industries throughout Canada grow. Perhaps industries that have all but closed down because of outsourcing would actually be revived.

  28. “Obviously things will be more expensive the farther they have to travel to get to you.”

    No, they don’t. Things like the cost of labour, economies of scale, and natural resource advantages can make things made alot further away cheaper to make and, in several cases, better for the environment.

    “However, that could actually be beneficial to the economy in that it would force people to support their local industries.”

    Supporting local industries does not equal benefits to the economy. We fought an election over this back in 1988. There is an economic argument to be made, but it has more to do with increased productivity from any reduced income and corporate taxes and not pseudo-protectionism (whether or not that was your intent, that is how it will sound to some).

    The environmental benefit is the pricing of carbon which can be done through other mechanisms such as cap-and-trade which is being promoted by both the NDP and the Conservatives. It would be quite the election if it was fought over the merit of these two approaches.

    But if recent history is anything to go by, it’ll boil down to escalating personal attacks until one side is deemed to have crossed the line by the public and takes a hit in the opinion polls mere days before the election and is unable to recover making the other guy the winner by default.

    “Perhaps industries that have all but closed down because of outsourcing would actually be revived.”

    Most of these outsourced industries were driven out because of the cost of labour, not energy costs. A tax shift still doesn’t change the fact that the cost of labour in most of Asia is still many times lower than here.

  29. No, but that wasn’t my point. My point was that taxing carbon would make transporting things more expensive, which would raise prices. I have no grudge against free trade- in fact, I support it. What I was pondering was if perhaps the high price of transport could offset the low cost of labour to make the two fairly comparable, which would be good for industries in Canada. I believe that if the prices were comparable, more Canadians would buy Canadian goods. However, at the moment it’s impossible to know. Further judgement is being reserved until the plan leaves napkins.

  30. -My point was that taxing carbon would make transporting things more expensive, which would raise prices-

    But isn’t the rapidly escalating price of fuel already making that happen all by itself?? I’m not convinced (along with “another university student”), that a carbon tax would have enough impact to offset manufacturing in countries with a wage scale 1/10 of ours, though…

  31. “What I was pondering was if perhaps the high price of transport could offset the low cost of labour to make the two fairly comparable, which would be good for industries in Canada.”

    The problem with this theory is that we would be exposing domestic industries to higher transportation costs for delivering raw materials to their site and delivering products to consumers. Imported goods would only face higher transportation costs from the port to consumers. They may face higher fuel charges filling up tankers in Canadian ports, but if it gets too ridiculous they could always import their goods into American ports close to the border to avoid a Canadian carbon tax. It may actually be worse for many Canadian industries.

    Also, if it was good for Canadian industries generally, I would suggest that the industrial heartland of the country would have moved on this issue already. BC, Quebec, and Alberta have all introduced carbon pricing schemes of some sort yet Ontario, quite noticeably, has not. It leads one to wonder why that is.

    I don’t think the McGuinty Government is against action on GHG emissions, but I suspect they haven’t done anything on a market-wide basis because Ontario has a higher number of price-sensitive industries (like manufacturers) who are already being hammered by the high dollar and have seen their profits evaporate. You can’t give these companies a corporate tax cut to offset their increased carbon tax because they aren’t making enough profit and offering them subsidies to keep them afloat kind of defeats the purpose of a market based mechanism.

    Still, as much fun as it is to speculate, I agree we are going to have to wait (and wait and wait) to see the proposal before passing judgement.

  32. Oh god no, not Carol Taylor from the BC liberal’s with their scam of a carbon tax plan. It will do little but hurt everyone who can feel the hurt and the rest will go into general revenues, and Carol will go out and buy another pair of fabulous boots to keep her pretty but old toes out of the muck.
    Dion’s plan as far as I can tell so far is different and I am willing to wait to hear more. Baird can yell and scream all he wants, he offers nothing. Harper offers nothing, Rona offered nothing and now she’s a bobblehead. Baird was a bobblehead for months until he was permitted to open his mouth again. Then Lunn was turned into a BH, so who is next in that sorry crowd?
    When the election is called, when the Harper Party has truly stuck both feet deeply into it and the election is called, then we will see if the Liberals really have a Plan and a Platform. If not, then we are as badly off as we thought with the CONs, They are not Tories. Best we all vote Independent next election.

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