The Green Party’s green plan

Elizabeth MayCanada’s Green party released its own detailed climate-change plan today, calling for a $50-a-tonne carbon tax, rising to $100 a tonne by 2020, among many other things.

That’s the big newsmaker. The tax would translate to 12 cents a litre more on gasoline (about a 10-per-cent hike), rising to 24 cents a litre over 12 years, and the Greens promise to cut income and payroll taxes by equivalent amounts, plus remove subsidies for the fossil-fuel industry. If you’re going to go with a carbon tax, which I’m increasingly of the opinion is a fundamentally bad idea with certain specific things in its favour, this is the way to do it. It can’t be a money-grab.

The Greens talk about using the federal government’s spending powers in some pretty clever ways. City governments are always coming to the feds with their hands out, for example; the Greens propose making funding for city projects contingent on municipalities’ adopting policies to reduce their own greenhouse-gas emissions (they’d apply the same standards to anybody who gets federal funding, in fact). This is the kind of really excellent idea that the Greens can propose because they stand no chance of forming a government, with all the compromises and informal debts that winning an election requires. Having someone on the national political scene making the argument is certainly refreshing, though.

The Greens also insist on meeting Canada’s Kyoto targets, with the proviso that basically everything would be done, at least at first, through the treaty’s Clean Development Mechanism. Buying credits from abroad, that is. That’s also honest, if politically problematic.

The rest of the document — dozens of items, from rebuilding the national rail network to retrofitting 100 per cent of Canada’s buildings to be more energy-efficient by 2025 — is more a laundry list than a set of proposals one could reasonably expect a government to adopt. It’s in keeping with Green leader Elizabeth May’s plea to other Canadian politicians: “Please steal these ideas.” They’re evidently from people who know what they’re talking about on climate change and how we might avert it, but have no particular philosophy of government to apply. There are a lot of promises to “work to assist…” and “work with all governments and businesses in Canada to…”.

What there isn’t, to the Greens’ enormous credit, is any pure insanity. Where they propose relatively loopy things — phasing out all coal, oil, gas, and nuclear power plants — they acknowledge that the time horizons are long (no sooner than 2040 for that one) and all the authority is not in the federal government’s hands. That’s an important improvement even from the Greens’ 2006 election platform.

Every time they speak up, they’re worth paying more attention.

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