Canada is two weeks in to its third election in four years, and environmental issues have been … well, not quite front-and-center, but definitely somewhere in the foreground. And that could be a very bad thing for the chances for a carbon tax in the U.S.
The election has been pretty dull, even by Canadian standards. Aside from an argument over whether the televised debates should have four or five party leaders on stage (take that, America!) there have been very few sparks. The governing Conservatives have a campaign message centered around making Stephen Harper look less like an android and more like he wears sweater vests and demonizing the Liberal leader Stephane Dion as a "risky" choice.
The leftist NDP has tried to recast itself as a reasonable choice, not just for the third-place "conscience of Parliament," but as the loyal opposition or even, in their dreams, the party of Government.
But it’s the Liberals who have put a carbon tax at the center of their platform.
The "Green Shift" should be familiar in conception to Grist readers: establish a carbon tax, reduce taxes on income. The problem is that the Liberals haven’t exactly ignited voter interest. The polls have been noisy to say the least, but the latest poll I could find shows the Liberals 15 points behind [PDF] the Conservatives. Other polls have the race substantially closer, but none have the Liberals winning.
What happens if the Liberals lose? The only serious attempt to bring a carbon tax to Canada will have been defeated, and it’s possible that British Columbia’s provincial carbon tax may die after that province’s next election as well. This point was made by Marc Lee a few weeks ago, and reported by the Tyee’s Tom Barrett. The fear among some greens, apparently, is that if both parties fall on a carbon tax, then strong efforts for carbon pricing will be dead in North America for the foreseeable future.
Now, frankly, I don’t think that’s likely. Washington will continue to make its own laws for its own reasons, and the rest of the continent will get pulled in whichever direction that happens to be. Merits of the proposal aside, I was never terribly optimistic about a carbon tax in the U.S. anyway.The hypotheticals about my own national election really change that very little.