“As citizens of the planet, it is our responsibility to put the planet before politics and urge the next B.C. government and federal politicians to do the same.”
Mike Harcourt, et al, Globe and Mail Online, Saturday, May 9, 2009
At a critical time, B.C. New Democratic Party leader Carole James decided it was expedient to put politics first, and tomorrow, it looks like she will pay the price.
The B.C. election campaign that wraps up today has been both shocking and inevitable. It was shocking, for example, that so many traditional New Democratic Party (NDP) supporters, from David Suzuki and Tzeporah Berman to (most surprisingly) former NDP Premier Mike Harcourt, should speak up in praise of Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell’s carbon tax.
And it was inevitable that the NDP would dismiss THAT as politics, making a strained claim for environmental high ground on the basis of the party’s other policies.
In fairness, you could make a compelling argument that the NDP’s environmental platform really is better than the Liberal platform overall. And if you look to the years when Mike Harcourt was the B.C. Premier (1991-1996), there is no question that the NDP has a better environmental record than the Liberals.
But the people who currently support NDP leader James – the people who decided to play politics with the carbon tax – seem to be members of the same labour-linked group of New Democrats that drove Harcourt from office, making room for the disastrous reign of Premier Glen Clark. And Clark’s record of environmental activism was spotty at best.
But let’s get back to the carbon tax, modest in the extreme, but still the best and most aggressive climate change policy to have been implemented anywhere on the continent. If, as seems likely, the Liberals win tomorrow, the tax will stand and governments across the continent will either ignore the result or will treat it as a tacit electoral approval of the simplest, cheapest economic weapon against climate change. Carbon taxation will be considered available for use in every jurisdiction in Canada and the U.S.
If the NDP win, governments will almost assuredly take note, consigning any carbon tax plan to the trash bin as political poison. The policy will be lost, not just in B.C., but in every jurisidiction where a politician has the wit and cuation to sniff the political wind before implementing risky new policy. Which is to say: everywhere.
The reason, of course, is that it’s just too easy for someone looking for cheap political advantage to savage a tax, no matter whether it is environmentally noble or revenue neutral.That’s what the NDP did, and for some in the environmental movement, it was unforgiveable. Climate change is, with the arguable exception of the effects of overpopulation, the most critical environmental problem facing humankind. If we don’t deal with it, and quickly, the implications could be deadly – for billions and within a generation. In order to deal with it, conscientious politicians in all parties will have to stand up for good policy. They may argue during elections over what is the BEST policy, but you cannot excuse (at least, I cannot excuse) a party that would launch a full-blown, mid-term campaign to block the ONLY AVAILABLE policy – a carbon tax – when economists are generally agreed that such a tax is the most elegant instrument yet conceived to fight global warming.
It still surprises me that the Carole James New Democrats didn’t do the math before they launched themselves on this course. The traditional right-of-centre base in B.C. runs beween 40 and 50 per cent. The traditional NDP base is weighted closer to the high 30s, stretching in good years as high as 42 or 43 per cent. And, traditionally, the NDP has been able to count on environmentally conscious voters to choose that party as a preferable alternative to the Liberals – even if it means foresaking the single-issue Green Party
If you subtract the Liberal base from 100, it’s clear that the NDP really needs that green/Green support if it hopes to win an election. James and company decided to take a risk. They thumbed their nose at an influential and passionate group of traditional supporters and they attacked the carbon tax, regardless that many of us had pleaded personally with them to back off their callow “axe the tax” campaign. They told us, en effect, to go to hell. They rebuffed the most sincere entreaties from people like the environmental icon Dr. David Suzuki.
So, Suzuki, among others, has spoken against them in the strongest and most specific terms. He has decried their choice of politics over planet. And in response, they played politics all the harder, trying to dismiss him as a Liberal puppet – yet another unforgivable insult, to his record and to everyone else’s intelligence.
I truly hope that the New Democrats lose a tight race tomorrow. I hope, then, that James and company either acknowledge how mistaken they have been on this issue – or that they get out of the way to make room for more enlightened leadership.
For “traditional” New Democrats, for people like Mike Harcourt who have stood up for a whole suite of progressive environmental policies – some of which the NDP are more likely than the Liberals to implement – that may be a bitter pill. But bitterer still is the sight of a party parking its principles on the single biggest environmental issue facing humankind.
One final hope: if the Liberals win tomorrow, there will be a good opportunity to argue that the environmental vote delivered that win (whether the voters actually inked a Liberal name or split off to the Green Party, allowing a Liberal victory). There will be a good opportunity to go to a re-elected Premier Campbell, to commend him yet again for the carbon tax, and then to urge him in the strongest possible terms to extend his efforts, not just on climate change but on a host of other environmental issues. (The excellent list in the Globe and Mail opinion piece would be a terrific start.)
Tomorrow can be better than today, but not if we choose petty games over prinicpled action – not if we put politics ahead of the planet. In this case, perhaps regrettably, that means, not if we vote NDP.