Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Taxing the Truth

Unless they caught it on the radio, or watched the evening news last night Canadians probably overlooked the return of the House of Commons. If you watched a moment of coverage you probably heard at least once from Conservative MPs, or the Prime Minister himself, that the NDP and Tom Mulcair (NDP - Outremont, QC) are in favour of an “economy killing carbon tax.”

The Conservatives created this line of attack a few weeks ago when an internal memo was “accidentally” leaked to several journalists. Go figure! Not long after several Conservative MPs began to repeat the allegation. Following these criticisms Aaron Wherry of Maclean’s did a little fact checking. He found the basis of the Conservative allegations were baseless.

And then Parliament resumed. Three member statements from Conservative backbencers, Mr. Andrew Saxton (CPC – North Vancouver, BC), Ms. Shelley Glover (CPC – Saint Boniface, MB) and John Williamson (CPC – New Brunswick Southwest, NB) were dedicated to attacking the NDP for a policy they do not have. Mr. Wherry gave an excellent rundown of the multiple attacks launched by the Conservative Party yesterday on this topic yesterday, and the history of the attack here.

The NDP’s policy is for a cap-and-trade system, which we quantify the amount of carbon dioxide generated and produce permits. Companies/large emitters have to purchase these permits if they exceed their allotment. It is hoped that these permits would create a market environment and incentivize companies to cut emissions. Such a market-friendly policy is normally is not what is expected of the NDP, which is perhaps why in 2008 the Conservative Party platform also promised a cap-and-trade system.

The hypocrisy speaks for itself.

Andrew Coyne in the National Post broke down the debateand pointed out the contradictions on both sides. Coyne does an excellent job of laying out the case but I feel this is a bit too much of “they are all crooks!” angle. By Mr. Coyne’s definition any regulation can be interpreted as a tax, as anything that increases costs are ultimately passed onto the consumer. Perhaps he’s right, and the NDP (and all cap-and-trade proponents) are trying to avoid the dreaded tax label.

Beyond being insulting, the attack by the Harper Conservatives is frankly lazy. They are literally going back to their old playbook and seeing what worked in the past. Stephen Harper (CPC – Calgary Southwest, AB) destroyed Liberal leader St├ęphane Dion (LPC – Saint-Laurent – Cartierville, QC) over his proposed Green Shift. It appears instead of coming up with a new line of attack the brain trust behind the Prime Minister has decided the old one will work fine.

A number of journalists have been incredulous at the brazen attack given that it relies upon the stupidity of the voters to work. Aaron Wherry, Don Martin, Andrew Coyne and Chris Selley have all criticized the Harper Conservatives for their hypocritical and crass attack. As Selley puts it, “So, on the off chance you doubted that the Conservatives think you’re a slack-jawed, credulous moron, there’s your proof.” 

I cannot imagine that treating Canadian voters like a bunch of ignoramuses, or behaving in such an arrogant fashion would be rewarded. Still, we expect politicians to bend the truth and massage information to present themselves or their parties in the best light, but to outright lie is something else entirely. The Conservatives hope to repeat the attack enough times that it becomes engrained in the Canadian psyche. Media will have to do its level best to educate the public and resist simply repeating the talking points, and informed citizens will have to endeavour to make sure the truth wins out.  

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