Monday, September 15, 2008

Why I Won’t be Voting for the Liberals

In 1988 I was eighteen, and it was the first time I was entitled to vote in a Canadian federal election. The central topic of that election was the Free Trade Agreement. I was very enthusiastic about politics and a supporter of the Liberals. We lost that election, but I have always supported the Liberals since then.

Unfortunately this year, twenty years later, I will not be voting for the Liberals. And while I seldom blog about substantive issues in Canadian politics, today is an exception. For I feel that the vast majority of our political parties and leaders have let Canadians down in a big way. And the biggest failure, in my opinion, has been Dion’s leadership of the Liberals. Typically the Liberals are a party which balances noble aspirations with sage policy, but since the departure of Paul Martin back in 2006 things have gone seriously awry for the Liberals.

So what is the main shortcoming of Dion and the Liberal's platform this election? Basically, by collapsing the Liberal Party into the Green Party, Dion has jeopardized the core values and principles that should be at the forefront of any decent government.

Head over to the Liberal’s website to see the details of their proposed “Green Shift”, the central policy issue Dion has decided to hang the fate of the Liberal’s on. Dion begins by stating that “the time has come to do what is right, not what is easy”. I do not disagree with Dion that climate change is a pressing problem, and action is necessary; but his decision to make this *the* issue of the election, and a new carbon tax the central policy of his government, will cost the Liberals the election. And rightfully so.

The aspiration to have greater control over the Global temperature may be a noble aspiration, but it is a *global problem and challenge* and thus requires a global solution. So nothing Canada does to reduce our own carbon emissions will, by itself, have any real impact on climate change. The actions of the US, China, India and the rest of the world will determine what the global emissions of green house gases will be. So there is no Canadian solution to climate change. We are deluding ourselves if we believe there is. A political party that premises their whole domestic political campaign on such an agenda is either very insincere or completely inept. Either disqualifies them from winning my vote.

Secondly, even if one does believe that the most important issue facing Canadians is tackling climate change, it doesn’t follow that the best solution need come from the federal government rather than provincial governments. The challenges facing each Canadian province are different, and so I believe it is reasonable to assume that the most efficient, cost-effective solutions will come from provincial governments rather than an ambitious political campaign that proposes re-shaping the fundamentals of distributive taxation in the hopes of winning an election.

And even if one does believe that tackling climate change is the most important issue facing Canadians, and one that Canadians could solve, and one the federal government is best positioned to tackle, one could reasonably question the wisdom of a carbon tax. And this touches on some of the biggest reservations I have about the Green Shift. The central idea of the Shift is that tax breaks will be given and then the government will tax people on their pollution. Call me an old fashion welfare stater, but I am not willing to give up on the central tenets of distributive justice this easily. The amount one is taxed should be primarily determined by one’s *income and wealth*, not by how much one pollutes. It is easy to demonize those who live in less energy-efficient homes, or who have many children, as “polluters in need of punishment”. But I have no interest in supporting a government that buys into that mindset.

The last time I voted for the Liberals Paul Martin had a solid track record with the economy and a commitment to improving the healthcare of Canadians. Little in Dion’s Green Shift resonates with my moral sensibilities or comprehension of sound government policy. The fact that Dion believes taxing individuals for polluting will also combat poverty and create “Green” jobs (what are they?) simply baffles me. Recognising the limits of what government can actually achieve is one of the most important virtues of a political leader. Dion may have his heart in the right place, but that is not enough for good government. In fact, good intentions alone can often have disastrous consequences. By putting all his eggs in the “let’s try to have greater control over the Global temperature” basket, Dion has done little to convince Canadians that he could lead a government that would reduce the national debt, tackle poverty, unemployment, healthcare, education, etc. Anyways, that is my two cents worth.

That is all I want to say about this coming election. When the Liberals lose this election I hope they will seriously reconsider their central values and principles, and offer Canadians a Party that seriously engages with the complex challenges Canadians face this century.