Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Dion’s Environmental Delusion


The environment, i.e., the issue of global warming, will not determine the next election. The Conservatives have muddied the waters, the Liberal track record is poor, and quite frankly this is not the burning issue that many make it out to be. The changes are gradual enough and the effects not injurious in the way an economic downturn or health care cuts would be. The very notion of Dion building a platform around the issue of global warming, especially when he will not consider anything as meaty and concert as a carbon tax, is patently absurd.

The Liberals need to create a so called “wedge issue”, a la SSM by proposing legislation that will divide the public. (To describe SSM as a wedge issue prior to 2003 is to abuse the term. Sure there was mixed feelings about SSM prior to the 2003 Ontario Court decision, but it was hardly on the political radar the way it was after Chrétien’s decision not to challenge the ruling.) In the past I have mentioned two such possible wedge issues, viz., marijuana legalization and legalized euthanasia and have said the former has far more potential, but is also much more dangerous. A carbon tax would also fit the bill.

The other thing the Liberals need to do is they need to get back to their socially democratic roots based on a strong commitment to universality. The type of small potatoes grab bag hopelessly diffuse pc special interest liberalism now on offer is uninspiring to say the least. The Liberals need to commit to two or three policies that would further the cause of social democracy in Canada and be an expression of the party’s renewed commitment to universality. In the past I suggested that Liberals commit to giving all Canadians, as is the norm throughout the rest of the Western world, a minimum of 4 weeks of vacation a year. I also recommended that they propose including dental care as part of heath care and introducing a pharmacare program, a la what is available in Britain. To make the latter two seem more economically palatable the Liberals could propose raising the GST back up to 7%. Finally, the Liberals could again revisit the issue of Child Care. The problem is they fumbled the ball the last time around and they seem unwilling to commit to a truly universal system. Peace meal childcare does not address the problem and so does not stand any hope of being a political winner.

15 comments:

Red Tory said...

I don’t really disagree with you in principle, but with the economy headed into a serious downturn, I don’t think people are going to be in any mood to gamble on expensive social programs. Personally, what I think the Libs should do is take what are conventionally supposed to be strengths of the right-wing when it comes to economic management and turn them against the Conservatives. I don’t think many Canadians are aware how wildly this government has been spending and how much they’ve compromised our fiscal position with their reckless tax cuts. In tandem with that, the Libs are going to have to come up with some creative economic initiatives and “opportunity” incentives of their own that won’t break the bank. They need to attack this government on its lack of vision and imagination. I would also suggest they come up with some kind of a pledge to “open government” and “real accountability” even despite their past record. The Cons have been so atrocious in this respect, I think they can make a case for significant improvement.

Jim said...

Sorry RT, tax cuts are a vision for conservatives and libertarians. Although I was not enamored by some of the spending in the first two Con budgets, they were appealing to the masses and in a minority position, I am willing to forgive the Cons. They did pay against the national debt, and as a small business owner, they delivered to me in a huge way. Please remember that small and medium business is the heart of this country's success and overall employs more people than the major manufacturing sectors.

In the latest budget they paid huge against the debt instead of tossing the billions into feel good programs. As someone with children I welcome debt repayment...they will have to shoulder the load when they enter the workforce so I am all for lightening their load. Do you have kids, RT?

Admittedly, cutting the universally hated GST may not have been the most fiscally prudent course of action as it took billions out of the national coffers, but it was "promise made, promise kept".

With the surplus that has been occuring, it is my belief that Canada will be just fine...if it is economically rocky, we just pay less to the debt. Please don't forget that Harper is an economist, not a school teacher.

Financially Canada is in good shape and if the Democrats take the White House and reopen NAFTA it will only be better...we can sell our oil to China at a premium.

Jim said...

Sorry, I forgot to respond to Maple's original post...

As a minarchist libertarian I am for the legalization of marijuana, but as a policy plank, I believe it is a non starter and would fail...you just aren't going to sway enough voters. Also I am against any sort of statist child daycare system. Even if it was workable (which I don't think it is), it would benefit urban dwellers, but where is the gain for a family in Bella Bella. Truly, an unworkable program that could not be evenly shared. Besides, you had your children, why force others, through more tax burden, to rear them?

Red Tory said...

Jim — Yea, I suppose you might be right about that "vision" thing. I'd never really thought of tax cuts in that way. Not that I've got anything against them per se, but I don't think the Conservatives have implemented them very effectively. For example, cutting the GST was a complete waste.

I'm self-employed. The Conservatives have done nothing advantageous for me on the tax front. At least not that I've noticed. Personally, simplification of the tax code would be the best thing anyone could do! As for kids, I have four. Three of them are out on their own now and the other is in Grade 11. So again, the Conservatives have done nothing whatsoever for me in that regard. Not that I expect government to do anything much for me. I never have — and in that respect I've never been disappointed.

Koby said...

>>>>>> I don’t really disagree with you in principle, but with the economy headed into a serious downturn, I don’t think people are going to be in any mood to gamble on expensive social programs.

This is true and why I think that the Liberals must be prepared to raise the GST. Besides it forces the issue politically. The choice is simple social program A or Harper’s GST cut; now choose.

>>>>> “Please don't forget that Harper is an economist, not a school teacher.”

He has an MA in economics. Big deal. That hardly makes him an economist and certainly not one of any consequence. Dion, by contrast, is a political scientist of some repute.

>>>>>> As a minarchist libertarian I am for the legalization of marijuana, but as a policy plank, I believe it is a non starter and would fail...you just aren't going to sway enough voters.

Over 50% population favors legalization. The last poll I saw was 55% in favor. Anyway, this is what I have said before and my opinion has not changed.

“Harper has been trying to create distance between himself and his social conservative base and the Bush administration ever since he became Prime Minster. If the Liberals promised to legalize marijuana, not only would Harper find himself in lock step with Campaign for Life and Real Women, but Dick Cheney, George Bush, John Walters, Fox news, the Washington Times, James Dobson, Pat Robinson and the faculty at Bob Jones University will line up behind him. The Liberals could play the nationalist card and social conservative card all at once. The thought of being able to strike a fatal blow the US war on drugs will make Canadians a little giddy. If that was not enough, on the flip side of things, a legion of rock stars, intellectuals, movie stars, and high brow magazines, such as the New Yorker and Harper’s will line up behind the Liberals. Canada would again be "cool". Imagine a hundred thousand people or more at a pro legalization concert in Vancouver, say, in the midst of an election campaign. Seattle’s Hempfest regularly draws over a 100,000 and in terms of significance such a concert would, how should I put this?, smoke it. It would not be possible to organize anything now, but should the Liberals announce such a policy now and stave off an election for say another 6 months it may be possible. Dion would certainly not lack for name recognition anymore. Overnight he would become a household name, not just in Canada but abroad as well. Continuing on, such a promise would tear the Right apart. Libertarians and social conservatives would be at each other’s throats and the National, Post and great swaths of the Sun Media chain will side with the Liberals on this one!”

>>>>> “Also I am against any sort of statist child daycare system. Even if it was workable (which I don't think it is), it would benefit urban dwellers, but where is the gain for a family in Bella Bella.”

Of course it would be workable. Some from of “statist” day care in the West is the norm not the exception. Anyway, what is proven to be unworkable is the situation we have now. The “market” has not stepped up to the plate. Not only is daycare in short supply, it is also outrageously expensive. Indeed, it is sometimes cheaper to send a 19 year old to university than it is to send a 1 year old to daycare.

I should note something about this form of spending, dental care and child care are not optional in the way that buying a vacation place is. Dental bills and day care bills are just as much reality of being a parent as paying one’s taxes. By the way, I wonder what judge would say if a parent made the argument that he did not feel obligated to pay for his 10 year to get 2 cavities filled. If the state is not obligated to provide it and no where is it written that parent is obligated to do it, surely it is fine to have the kid’s teeth rot.

Where am I going with this? Well, given that such spending is hardly discretional, the question becomes who can provide such services more cheaply? Business? Individuals? The state? I think the answer it clear. The state can provide it more cheaply than the others.

Taxing the public more for services they must purchase anyway is hardly the same as taxing the public more to pay for long drawn out pointless and futile counterinsurgency operations.

WesternGrit said...

I agree... Good post. Might I add, "It's the economy, stupid".

Cool Blue said...

I also thought this was a really good post.

The Libs really need to offer something besides just complaining about what Harper is doing and then not trying to stop him from doing it.

If they were serious about legalization though they'd try pushing it now. The NDP and BQ would support them.

However as a wedge issue I don't really think it would be effective:

"Over 50% population favors legalization. The last poll I saw was 55% in favor"

If this is true then that means 50-55% of the vote is split between the Libs, NDP, BQ and Greens.

That leave 45-50% all to the CPC themselves. You only need around 40% for a majority.

That's why as a wedge issue it won't work.

In a multi-party system wedge issues are hard to take advantage of unlike in the USA.

For example, when the Libs pushed the SSM wedge issue they were reduced to a minority, and then lost power less than two years later.

Harper won on the promise of reopening the SSM issue.

The SSM issue had the effect of rallying the CPC supporters and getting them to volunteer and open up their wallets.

Anti-SSM voters had no other party to give their vote to while the pro-SSM had 4 parties to split their vote.

I suspect euthanasia would have the same effect.

Koby said...

>>>>That leave 45-50% all to the CPC themselves. You only need around 40% for a majority.
That's why as a wedge issue it won't work.

I will go you one better. Older people vote in disproportionately large numbers and young people vote in disproportionately small numbers. As with SSM, the older one is the more likely one is to be opposed to legalization and to vote.

However politics is not that mechanical. Indeed, politics more about defining yourself and opponent(s) in terms that are favorable to oneself than whose policies necessarily poll the best. SSM was not a winning issue in terms of the support it garnered amongst voters, but having the Conservatives defend a legally, morally and intellectually bankrupt position certainly helped the Liberals. The same would be true for legalization. Having the ability to force the Conservatives to defend a prohibitionist model that is so filled with holes it is considered a form of madness, “reefer madness”, would real boon for the Liberals. The issue would also as I said rip the right in two. Name me one other issue on which the National Post would said with the Liberals?

>>>> Harper won on the promise of reopening the SSM issue.

The hell he did. SSM dogged Harper in the early part of the election campaign and would have continued to do so had the Liberals neutralized the issue by stupidly promising to put a lock box around the notwithstanding clause. After that, the focus was no longer Harper’s legally morally and intellectual bankrupt stand on SSM, but was rather whether it was ever permissible to use the notwithstanding clause. By the way, Harper won thanks to the RCMP. It is not often in politics that you get 16 point swing in Canadian politics virtually over night, but that is precisely what happened when the RCMP announced that the Liberals were being investigated. The Liberals went from being 8 points up to 8 points behind.

Cool Blue said...

"As with SSM, the older one is the more likely one is to be opposed to legalization and to vote."

Exactly. And how do you think the average senior feels about pot and euthanasia?

"The hell he did. SSM dogged Harper in the early part of the election campaign and would have continued to do so..."

My point wasn't that SSM won him the election, but that he won the election despite holding a position that had the support of the minority (45-50%).

I don't think it was the NWC promise that changed the channel on SSM. Rather I think it was the GST cut announcement, though I agree that the NWC proposal was one of the stupidest things I've ever seen.

What the SSM issue did was rally social conservatives who didn't trust Harper and who would have stayed home on voting day.

The issue actually cranked out more conservative voters. Euthanasia will do the same thing and unlike the pro-side, all the anti votes will go to the CPC.

I love the website by the way. There aren't a lot of blogs that discuss the strategic side of things like you do.

Koby said...

>>>> My point wasn't that SSM won him the election, but that he won the election despite holding a position that had the support of the minority (45-50%).

Actually he had the support of the only majority that counted, viz., those who actually did vote. However, as I said before the issue was actually a looser and not a winner. Things are never so simple as trotting out policies that majority likely voters favor.

The problem with SSM for the Conservatives was that their support of the issue conformed like no other issue to the picture the Liberals had painted of them for several years now. It was a policy that fit the stereotype. Furthermore, it was particularly unpopular in precisely the urban centers the Conservatives needed to make inroads in, viz., Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. It helped prevent the Liberal vote from collapsing altogether.

Finally, there is, as I have said, a real value in having your opponent argue for a position day after day that educated opinion, including the media, has abandoned as untenable and SSM was no exception. Sure a large minority of Canadians might have been slow to warm to the idea, but negative media coverage and the intellectual poverty of the Conservative position was far more important to how people viewed the parties than how they viewed the issue itself.

Something similar would happen with regard to the legalization of marijuana. Sure a huge percentage of the population would remain uncomfortable with the notion and a small minority vehemently opposed. However, the longer the issue dragged out the more damage would be inflicted on the Conservatives. One can not flog snake oil for only so long before one’s reputation credibility lies in tatters. The media, academia and indeed the blogsephere would quickly devour Conservative talking points. Leaving the emperor with no clothes.

On the flip side of things, the Liberals are never so popular as when they are challenging social taboos. Trudeaumania and the 1968 omnibus bill and 2003’s “Cool” Canada and SSM, Iraq and decriminalization come to mind.

Koby said...

"I love the website by the way. There aren't a lot of blogs that discuss the strategic side of things like you do."

Thanks

Cool Blue said...

If SSM was so damaging to the CPC then why during the SSM debate did they reduce the Libs to a minority and then win power?

What SSM did was galvanize the opinions of those who wouldn't vote conservative anyway.

On the otherhand, it solidified the social conservative support behind Harper. Before the SSM debate social conservatives were skeptical of Harper and many of them would have voted Christian Heritage or just stayed home.

Pot legalization isn't as much of a slam-dunk as you think it will be. Not all of the media will be for it, especially since the media loves sensational "the sky is falling" headlines. Rather than reporting "everything will be okay", they'll be reporting on every possible bad thing that can happen.

Recall that when Chretien toyed with the idea of decriminalizing pot, there were hysterical articles on how the US border would be shut down.

The CPC would use it to appeal to the "soccer-mom" crowd and possibly increase their vote among women. They'll play up the idea that our schools would become filled with drug dealers who prey on our children and the police wouldn't be able to do anything about it. They'll show pictures of kids smoking outside high-schools with captions like "Remember when your only worry was if they smoked cigarettes?".

Seriously, if it was such a slam dunk, why didn't Chretien do it with his massive majorities? Even then he was only talking about decriminalization, not legalization.

Running an election on pot legalization be a disaster.

Koby said...

>>> If SSM was so damaging to the CPC then why during the SSM debate did they reduce the Libs to a minority and then win power?

The RCMP’s announcement on December 27th 2005 was the pivotal event of the campaign. After that the polls turned. By itself the story was not terribly damaging and of course nothing ever came of it. However given what happened with the Gomery affair, it turned out to be the tipping point. It was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:CombinedPollsVotes-39Cdnelxn.png

As for SSM, by the time the December election had ruled around the issue was more or less spent. SSM had been the law of the land since July 2005. There were hiccups along the way. Harper’s announcement on November 29 that he would hold a free vote on the subject went over like a Led Zeppelin and Anders’s “homosexual sex marriage” mail out, besides being just plain weird, did not go over well. The damage done to Conservatives was that the issue limited their opportunity to grow their vote in urban Canada. The issue had convinced young urban voters that the Conservatives did not share their world view, but far more importantly it made many other urbanites feel leery of just what Harper might do if he had a majority. Towards the last week of the campaign, when it was just assumed that Harper was on his way to victory, the issue started to come up again.

>>>>>> “On the otherhand, it solidified the social conservative support behind Harper. Before the SSM debate social conservatives were skeptical of Harper and many of them would have voted Christian Heritage or just stayed home.”

Support for Christian Heritage party (the definition of bit player) has been remarkably steady since 1993. The notion that large number of voters would have broken for CHP or just stayed home had Harper not promised a free vote on the issue just does not hold water.

The Christian right made noise about bringing down James Moore and Gerald Keddy over the issue, but talk turned out to be pie in sky nonsense. Those fundy candidates had no impact on those races and Moore and Keddy ended by increasing their margin of victories.

>>>> Pot legalization isn't as much of a slam-dunk as you think it will be. Not all of the media will be for it, especially since the media loves sensational "the sky is falling" headlines. Rather than reporting "everything will be okay", they'll be reporting on every possible bad thing that can happen.

The Canwest papers are solidly behind the idea and hardly go back on rather blunt editorials they have written over the years without loosing face altogether, the Sun papers are mixed bag, but then again who really takes them seriously anyway, and CBC will be even handed. CTV is the wild card.

>>>> “Recall that when Chretien toyed with the idea of decriminalizing pot, there were hysterical articles on how the US border would be shut down.”

Recall how the Economist pronounced as “Cool” how the New Yorker called us a “Northern Light”, how the Washington Post wrote “Whoa Canada” how San Jose Mercury if Canada would like an 11th state and how the Liberals were riding high in the pools and how a record number of Quebecers approved of the direction the country was going. Oh yeah and subsequently the whole moving to Canada thing following the 2004 US election.

>>>>> “They'll play up the idea that our schools would become filled with drug dealers who prey on our children and the police wouldn't be able to do anything about it.”

Not even the Conservatives are that dumb. After all, how many pushers do you see hanging around school yards with alcohol underneath their jackets? “Hey kid want to buy a mickey?” The product will be available through legal channels. Kids are not going to buy weed, whose quality and potency is unknown, from some thug when they can get their older brother to pick up some grade A pot, whose quality and potency are guaranteed, from the local liquor store. Such a talking point would be good for all of a few days before it became a running joke.

>>>> Running an election on pot legalization be a disaster.

Who said anything about running an election on pot legalization? I said the Liberals should adopt such an idea not run a whole campaign based legalizing pot. As for the idea itself, the issue is pregnant. The polls regularly put support for legalization at over 50% and that is without any institutional backing whatsoever and billions spent over the years on anti drug initiatives. The battle for hearts and minds is all ready won.

Mushroom said...

Koby,

In light of the Spanish general election, you are right. The Socialists under Zapatero were able to win re-election by painting the conservative Popular Party as homophobes. The article is here:

http://www.thetimes.co.za/News/Article.aspx?id=714362

Dion should also use immigration as a wedge issue. Zapatero had offered a blanket amnesty to undocumented workers and the result was the Popular Party made gay marriage and immigration talking points. The link is listed below

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120519857159726053.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

An ideal election campaign would be having Harper talk about immigration and same sex marriage in the first few weeks. Dion can also use a blanket amnesty on illegal immigrants to increase the tax rolls in order to fund more social programs.

So instead of concentrating on the legalization of pot, which is almost the same as expanding the distribution of prescription heroin, I would make a blanket amnesty to illegal immigrants a key platform. Who will say that the Grits don't stand for anything?
We can monopolize the left if we campaign on this issue.

Koby said...

Mushroom

I am uncomfortable with offering an amnesty to illegal immigrants. It is not because I am against such a policy in principle, indeed far from it. Rather I fear that an offer of such an amnesty would turn immigration into an issue in way that it is not right now. As with every other Western country Canada needs a huge number of immigrants to offset the aging of the baby boom generation. So far we have been remarkably successful in that regard. Why risk what is already working? The stakes are too high. Spain also needs a large number of immigrants. Indeed it needs much more. It is one of the oldest societies. According to 2002 figures by the year 2050, if current trends where to continue there would be one pensioner for every three workers in Spain. Where the Spanish case differs is, as with virtually every other European nation, immigration is very contentious issue there. Zapatero had no choice to tackle the issue head on.

As for Zapatero support for gay rights, I am of course supportive. However, thankfully the battle for SSM in Canada is over. Harper lost.

Harper, as stated in Rediscovering the Right Agenda, very much believes it is in the Conservative party’s interests to pursue socially conservative ends. I believe that he is mistaken. The polls might be with him, but a commitment to honest debate, good arguments and being on the right side of history matters more. With SSM off the table, what remains? There is no talk of the Conservatives banning abortion or bringing back the death penalty and then there is the fact that abortion is an extremely complex issue and the emerging consensus against the death penalty is because of what it means in practice. Few Canadians are philosophically opposed to idea of executing Clifford Olsen. That leaves stem cell research, euthanasia and drug policy. The first issue is really a no brainer. It is really shooting fish in barrel. The second issue is a winner so long is it narrowly focused and amounts to no more than allowing us to kill actively who we already kill passively. As for the third, Marijuana is a key part of the cool Canada brand and should be nurtured. Legalized prostitution is another issue, but alas I feel the Canadian public is still to hopelessly conservative for that to be a winner.