The NDP’s green problem

Check out this coverage of the spat between NDP leader Howard Hampton and Green leader Frank de Jong (for non-Canadians, the 46-year-old “New Democratic Party” is the leftmost mainstream party) over whether charging people to use natural resources and roads means “privatizing” them:

Mr. Hampton denied twisting the Green party’s positions.

“I have not mischaracterized their platform one bit,” he said during an early-morning campaign stop in Sudbury. “I encourage people to read their platform and think about the implications of private water, private electricity and private roads and think about what that would mean for average working people.”

Mr. de Jong said he has no interest in privatizing public services. He admitted the Green platform does call for new water taxes, but said that is vastly different from privatization. And while the Greens back the construction of private renewable energy projects, their platform makes no mention of private roads.

“Howard is fishing for something, but he’s in the wrong pond,” Mr. de Jong said.

For his part, Mr. Hampton attacked the Green party’s call for electricity rates to be increased in the next three years to reflect the true cost of power generation.

“They are all in favour of letting rates go through the roof and laying off tens of thousands of workers,” he said.

It’s hard to grasp how both propositions in that last quote could be true — if electricity rates went through the roof and the generation system that’s now almost all in public hands became a profit-making venture, why would they have to lay off tens of thousands of people? And if they could lay off tens of thousands of people while making more money … why does the power system need them now?

The NDP’s caught. It’s been the default party of sandal-wearing granola-crunchers for a long time, but it’s also the party of big labour, and those two constituencies are increasingly mutually exclusive. Voters have realized that you can’t be in favour of making stuff free, like water, while simultaneously being in favour of limiting its use — unless you also favour extremely heavy regulation. That’s how the NDP would solve most problems, but it’s sure not a vote-getter.

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4 responses to “The NDP’s green problem

  1. I would assume that the layoffs Hampton refers to are expected to occur in manufacturing if the price of electricity was no longer subsidized.

    Is this not the argument for subsidizing electricity prices? That it is, in fact, a subsidy to manufacturing?

    The fact that it has now become a subsidy for A/C in homes and offices all across southern Ontario is just one of those unintended consequences that bedevil any sort of subsidy.

  2. You might very well be right. In which case I’d say it’s even worse — that taxes should be higher than otherwise necessary, squelching actual productive enterprises, so people whose businesses depend on artificially cheap electricity get to pretend they’re profitable.

    That’d be a double whammy, in fact, since they’d get to avoid pursuing energy efficiency, too, while the rest of us pay extra to help them out.

  3. Since when do commercial consumers of electricity pay the same rates as residents?

  4. “You might very well be right. In which case I’d say it’s even worse ” – Reevely.

    What is even worse? If I am correct, then so is what Hampton said. Removing the subsidy from electricity will cause the flight of manufacturing to areas of higher subsidy and thus a loss of jobs.

    I think you are saying here that the subsidy is worse. On this we are probably in agreement, that subsidies are bad because of their various distortions and unintended effects.

    However, the point I was trying to make was that your characterization of Hamptom’s remark as self-contradictory was a result of your misunderstanding him: he was not referring to job losses in the power generation industry, but in the manufacturing industry.

    If McLeod is correct ( I have no idea one way or the other ) then the solution seems quite straightforward: remove the subsidy on residential electricity use, but leave it on manufacturing use. Since subsidies are bad, a smaller, more accurately directed subsidy must be an improvement.

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