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Election and the Environment


It’s amazing how little traction the environment has been accorded in this election. Although the economy and environment equation is often trumpeted (with social aspects thrown in for a good triple bottom line measure) it seems that it is the dollars and cents that matter more.
It is quantitative: It is used to pay bills. This is contrasted with the abstract and qualitative nature of the environment.
Interestingly politicians do not have problems articulating abstract and qualitative social issues. In fact there seems to be a tug war between most of the parties to see who can create the biggest nanny state. Which party can maximize government intervention into our lives to take care of us? Somehow we Canadians have gotten into our heads that the government must be here to solve our problems. Money for this and money for that. Money for our vote. In this case our economy pays for social programs.
Why does the link between economy and environment seem so elusive? The answer is pretty simple actually; the environment costs us money and we have to give the economy more money to pay for it.
Stephane Dion tried to make it an issue in the last election using his Green Shift program. He and the program were quite rightly dismissed by the electorate. Giving him full points for creativity the program was really about paying taxes for an environmental program that would then be used to fund social programs. Rather than protecting the environment it was more a ponziesque attempt redistribute wealth through an environmental tax.
In this election no one is trying that. Sure there is some discussion about cap and trade but it’s as if they are thrown out there in the hope that they may stick but more likely just become a bit of ephemeral election white noise.
Does the environment deserve more attention in this election? Yes. It will never get it though because politicians react to right now. They talk about what they think is important to Canadians at a moment in time.
In the absence of compelling evidence that our environment is being impacted it does not become an issue. A cold and wet spring does not help. If it was unseasonably warm the conversation would have shifted somewhat to climate change. If ducks were flopping around an oil sands tailing pond there would be plenty of conversation for sure. Still it would represent a cost to the economy that would require more of our tax dollars.
What makes cap and trade less compelling is that we already pay for the carbon that we use through taxes. It may not be called a carbon tax but it is. Why pay more taxes?
Some of our carbon taxes are used for programs that benefit the environment. For instance Infrastructure Canada’s Gas Tax Fund takes some of the taxes we pay for fuel to fund, in their words, sustainable municipal projects including community energy systems and solid waste management. In London, Ontario where I live gas tax money has been used to in part fund the construction of a new regional City owned materials recovery facility.
A comprehensive environmental policy is lacking for sure. Climate change is not the only environmental issue- just a single issue that seems like society’s pet environmental project and obsession at the moment. It’s as if all environmental concerns have coalesced into this perceived problem and even more dubious proposed solutions.
The real solutions need to consider redistributing existing tax dollars to deal with current environmental issues. That is our economy takes care of the environment (as it does for social programs). This includes taking additional steps to reduce pollution from various sources contaminating our environment on a much more basic level- allowing us to breath and drink easier.


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