Opposition leader Stephane Dion’s Green Shift plan has our normally unflappable Prime Minister using words like “crazy” and sounding like a bit like a lunatic himself this past week.
Stephen Harper’s venom over the green initiative has him making vigorous attempts to convince Canadians it will be a mere tax grab if Dion ever gets into government, and that it will “screw everybody across the country.”
What’s got him so riled up?
Green Shift is nothing short of a $15.4 billion tax that shows Dion’s got the guts to tackle climate change for real; he’s putting it all on the line for the planet and he’s asking Canadians to elect him — or not — on the basis of this 48-page plan.
The ambitious new tax will be offset by equivalent cuts in personal income tax and business taxes, as well as tax breaks for the poor, the elderly and northern and rural Canadians.
For Yukoners, the Northern Residents Deduction will rise from $6,000 to $7,000 and be indexed thereafter.
“We will cut taxes on those things we all want more of such as income, investment and innovation. And we will shift those taxes to what we all want less of: pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and waste,” says the document.
The idea is to reverse climate change by making polluters pay without punishing the innocent. Although, in many cases, those two are one in the same.
Take the case of home heating oil — who in Canada won’t be heating their homes this winter? We will all be polluting and we will all be paying.
The first year of the plan will see home heating oil increase by $50 per year for the average Canadian household and by $203 per household by the fourth year.
The Liberals hope to counteract this punishment with personal income tax rewards for low-income households, the disabled, and by introducing a new child tax benefit worth $350 per child on top of what families receive now.
“By the fourth year of our plan, we expect that a family with two children and a combined income of $20,000 will save almost $2,500; a family with two children earning $40,000 a year will save nearly $2,000; a family with two children earning $60,000 will save over $1,300, as will a family earning $80,000,” says the Liberal Party of Canada website.
The weakest part of the Green Shift plan is that it shies away from taxing gas at the pump — something BC will do beginning July 1.
Dion rationalizes his decision by saying taxes on gas already meet the tough requirements of his plan, and that the worst offenders will be punished nicely at the wholesale level by paying new taxes on a whole range of fossil fuels.
The carbon tax will start at $10 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions and rise by an additional $10 per tonne each year until it reaches $40 per tonne within four years.
“The 700 large final emitters (the worst polluters in Canada — mostly heavy industry and power plants) will account for a significant majority of the revenue within the Green Shift,” says the document.
Critics note the carbon tax will punish consumers more than Dion’s document lets on by increasing the cost of practically all consumer goods, from new cars to food.
Green Shift acknowledges a rise in home heating costs, but not what other companies might transfer onto the consumer once they’re forced to pay more to fuel their factories or tractors.
I doubt if the tax cuts for business to encourage energy efficiency and discourage pollution will do anything to keep prices to the consumer down.
Nor will the tax incentives for developing green technologies and green scientific research, or the incentives for Canadians to do home renovations that will make them more energy efficient.
Dion is selling the new tax as “revenue neutral,” which it appears to be on paper.
He promises to keep his government accountable by having Canada’s Auditor General review Green Shift tax revenues annually to make sure they have been returned to Canadians.
Similar plans have been in place in Europe for years and, next week, Canada’s first carbon tax will come into effect in British Columbia.
BC residents will suffer a $10-per-tonne carbon tax beginning July 1. The tax will rise $5 a year until it reaches $30-per-tonne in 2012.
Similar to the Dion plan, it is being touted as revenue neutral.
It has the backing of the Sierra Club of Canada and the David Suzuki Foundation, but curiously not the provincial NDP, which has been campaigning hard against it, arguing it will hurt BC’s most vulnerable.
It is for the same reason that federal NDP leader Jack Layton has also come out swinging against Dion’s proposal.
Rather than punishing the poor, Layton says he supports a “cap and trade” system that would force big polluters to pay $35 per tonne of carbon emitted.
As for Harper and his Conservatives, their plan for the environment so far has involved abandoning Kyoto, firing Rona Ambrose, the pretty woman from Edmonton, and replacing her with John Baird, the loudest politician in Canada, and little else.
Dion feels it’s up to him as the only leader who cares about the environment and who can possibly get elected to risk being bold.
And Green Shift certainly is that.
This summer, the Liberals will run it up the flagpole on the rubber chicken circuit and attempt to bring the Conservatives down with it in an election this fall.
Juliann Fraser is a writer living in Whitehorse.