23 May 2008

Jack Layton, Exploiting Poor for Political Gain

Carbon tax would hurt poor, shouts the headline.

That's Jack Layton, Leader of the NDP, criticizing the Liberals' yet undisclosed plan to introduce a carbon tax should they be elected. As Layton pontificates,

those advocating a carbon tax suggest that by making the costs for certain things more expensive, people will make different choices. But Canada is a cold place and heating your home really isn't a choice.

This speech took place at a homeless shelter. Layton was supposed to be there for a fundraiser. However, never loathe to turn away an opportunity to slur the Liberals, Layton did his disingenuous best on that score and then talked about his own environmental plan.

(Living in BC I wasn't at the event, but I do wonder how much of Layton's presentation was about the homeless shelter, whose fundraiser he was there to promote.)

Liberal Leader, St├ęphane Dion, is expected to announce his environmental plan to penalize activities that contribute to global warming. As Layton would be aware, since it's public knowledge, Dion has claimed that his plan would be revenue neutral: the carbon taxes raised would be returned in the form of lower income taxes and in other tax mechanisms aimed at helping low-income people.

While it's unknown what Dion's plan will look like, I think it's likely to be similar to the scheme introduced by the BC Government.

In the case of British Columbia, low-income residents will be better off. Each BC resident will receive $100 in advance of the tax being implemented. Before people are out-of-pocket, they'll have to have poured about 4,200 litres of gas into their tanks. It will be the gas guzzlers whose pockets get dinged, therefore, not the pockets of the poor.

My hope is that Dion's plan will be more robust than the BC plan, with the at-pump penalty considerably heftier. However, implementing even a low-rate carbon tax would be a start. It could be increased as need - more likely, political will - dictates.

As for Layton's latest foray into sleaze politics, this financially-challenged person is tired of the man's presumption that he speaks for us all - as though the poor were one undifferentiated blob.

Having recently been Coordinator of a national group of low-income women, I can say that Mr Layton does not know what's best for us all. The experts on poverty and its solutions would be the people living the experience. The NDP - which paints itself as the champion of the poor and disenfranchised - insists on solutions which do not take into consideration the heterogeneity of persons living within Canada's lowest income group or the differences amongst us concerning our most basic needs.

For the NDP, solutions always lie in bigger government - i.e., bigger federal government, bigger provincial governments. But most low-income groups realize that electoral and democratic reform must be our top priority - so that we get to have our say, and are enabled to participate more in decision-making and influence the political process.

Democratic reform should include shifting some of the power wielded by Canada's largest governments downward, to the municipal level. In this way - provided revenues also get shifted downward - local governments, which end up facing the consequences of failed upper-tier policy, can be held answerable to their neighbours. More power and resources held in the hands of local politicians could only encourage healthier, sustainable community economic development.

It's no surprise that this proposal is one that no party, particularly the NDP, seems willing to endorse. It would require relinquishing a good part of their power.

(For the record, I'm not a Liberal supporter.)

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