The Green Shift Aftermath
Comment: By thegreenpages contributing editor Fraser Los
A week after Canada’s election, media pundits are bemoaning the vacuous nature of the 2008 campaign. Fair enough – I’m sure many Canadians agree. But the media must share some blame, along with attack-prone political parties, for what amounted to a shocking lack of substantial information offered to the public.
For the first time in Canadian political history, environmental sustainability formed the central policy plank defining an election. And for many analysts, the results are already suggesting the whole endeavour was political suicide. Based on the countless radio and TV ads attacking Stéphane Dion’s “tax grab,” it’s not hard to conclude the green shift lost this election for the Liberals.
But think again. This election’s most unfortunate feature was the miserable way that a revenue-neutral carbon tax was explained to Canadians, not just by Dion but also by the media. In both instances, a lack of analysis and communication robbed the country of anything close to a proper understanding of this important issue.
We saw the Liberals cowering back and forth from what is a very reasonable policy – one that echoed the beliefs of over 230 of Canada’s leading economists, who unanimously called for a similar price on carbon. But wavering took hold as the debate devolved into howls of “increased taxes,” as if they weren’t being offset by income tax cuts, and the Liberal brain trust never seemed willing (or able) to fully get behind the plan. This anti-information farce worsened as many media pundits decided not to analyze the green shift. Instead, they uncritically quoted blatant misconceptions and argued that the policy was too hard to understand.
Canadians were treated to total communication breakdown, with no one properly explaining the green shift policy, let alone defending it, and mainstream media unwilling (or unable) to offer any insight except to quote its detractors’ exaggerated claims without any explanations required.
There is only one way to explain all of this: Much of the media in Canada, along with political strategists from both major parties, are still firmly entrenched in the fallacious belief that environmental issues are fringe issues, and disconnected from those that matter, such as economy, health and social issues. They do not yet understand that any green-based tax shift is as much an economic policy as it is environmental, and therefore should be front and centre in any discussion of long-term economic improvement for Canadians.
In troubled economic times such as these, political analysts and journalists have always held firm to the notion that lesser issues fall by the wayside. And so they assumed the green shift was no longer worthy of air-time. But modern environmentalism is no longer just about feel-good nature loving and “save-the-whales” activism. Today’s environmental worldview is about pushing realistic policies that will strike a sustainable balance between society’s economic development and the health and well-being of its inhabitants.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, for example, has recently touted BC’s carbon tax plan as “the greatest economic generator you could embrace” because it will spur on investment in green technologies. The key point here is that green tax shifting is embraced as a positive economic stimulus, not just an environmental saviour.
A green economy will form the next economic revolution, whether Canadians are ready for it or not. Better to prepare for it now and capitalize, than to play catch up to the rest of the “green” industrialized world. Ultimately, this notion will only gain traction in Canada when mainstream media (and the mainline political strategists who depend on them) start to catch on. Until then, the Canadian public will be treated to more of the same lack of substance and cynical politics.
Fraser Los is contributing editor with thegreenpages, but his opinions are all his own. Although he was driven to distraction by the 2008 election, he does not consider himself a ‘media pundit’.