Monday, October 19, 2009

Politics: Coming Around on Carbon

Member of Parliament Gerard Kennedy spoke at a town meeting at Runnymede Public School in Toronto, Ontario on 17-October-2009

TORONTO, ONTARIO - One of my favorite Canadian stories to tell outside this country is about a day in 2007 that I decided to attend an event in my neighbourhood put on by then candidate-designee Gerard Kennedy to promote his "Carbon Challenge" within the community. The public meeting was held in St. Pius X Catholic School, a building I had never entered before. It turns out that Kennedy wasn't particularly familiar with the building, either. By chance, I encountered him walking with an aide from the subway station to the school--and it took the three of us several minutes to find the door that we were supposed to be using to access the auditorium. Kennedy had been a serious candidate for the leadership of the Liberal Party just months before (in the convention that anointed St├ęphane Dion), and not only was he so human that he wasn't sure how to get in to his own event, but he had arrived by public transit! The thought of, say, John Edwards, being in a similar situation in the United States was unthinkable.

Now Kennedy is the Member of Parliament for the Parkdale-High Park riding in which I live and the Critic for Infrastructure, Communities and Cities. Some things do not change, though. While the door to a Town Meeting event he held this Saturday at the Runnymede Public School may have been well-marked, it was clear that he was not operating with an extravagant budget. The projector for his presentations was balky and never really worked correctly, and there were issues with the handouts. Volunteers outnumbered paid staff by a large margin. The Liberals might be one of the two major parties in Canada, but they are clearly not rolling in money.

I attended the meeting largely to hear Kennedy's take on what is happening in parliament and in politics generally, and while some of his statements reflected the Liberal party line widely seen elsewhere, he did say a number of interesting things. On a very local issue, he offered a different take on the recent Metrolinx policy on the Georgetown Line commuter rail expansion (which has been well-covered in substance by Steve Munro). He thinks the specification of "Tier IV diesels" as mandatory for Georgetown Line trains, a technology that is not commercially available, serves as a step toward revising the plan to call for electrification, which obviously is an available technology. "I don't think this issue is completely in stone yet," he stated.

Most interesting to me was his take on what has always been a key issue for him, the environment. During the 2008 campaign, a key issue in the riding was the difference between the climate change initiatives between the Liberals and the New Democratic Party (NDP). The Liberals had offered the infamous Carbon Tax, which while really an interesting and more widely-based reform of the nation's tax structure addressed carbon dioxide emissions through direct taxation, whereas the NDP favored cap-and-trade measures on carbon dioxide emission which would be compatible with what then-candidate Obama was proposing in the United States. The NDP argued that cap-and-trade would have the same impact as a carbon tax in a manner that would be more compatible with other programs around the globe, an argument rejected by the Liberals, who claimed that industry could game a cap-and-trade system.

While he made it clear that the Liberal Party position with respect to the upcoming Copenhagen conference has yet to be determined, Kennedy stated on Saturday that "the minimum acceptable outcome from Copenhagen will be a cap and trade plan." At another point, he pointed out, "in effect, cap and trade properly implemented is a tax on carbon." I happen to intellectually agree with these statements, and it was nice to see a leading Liberal politician use such language which he refused to use during the campaign.

And the zeitgeist on the next Federal election as assessed by Kennedy? "It looks like we won't have an election until after the Olympics, at the earliest."

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