Milke: Rachel Notley’s carbon tax let-them-eat-cake moment
MARK MILKE, FOR THE CALGARY HERALD, CALGARY HERALD 12.17.2016
CALGARY, AB.; OCTOBER 23, 2014 -- Calgary Herald staff mugshot of freelancer Mark Milke. (Ted Rhodes/Calgary Herald). For Postmedia story by .
/ CALGARY HERALD
A chronic problem in politics is the presence of ideologues who take otherwise good ideas too far, or dream up policy ideas disconnected from reality.
The latest example: Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, who in a Wednesday press conference defended her government’s decision to enact a higher carbon tax on everything in 2017.
In response to a question on how Albertans should cope with higher fuel costs, Notley informed Albertans that, “It’s not just a question of having a more fuel-efficient vehicle; it could sometimes be a question of taking a bus, walking — you know, those kinds of things.”
Unwittingly, the premier parroted the 18th century French queen,Marie Antoinette,who in response to hunger in Paris and a lack of bread for the poor, remarked they could always eat cake.
Antoinette lectures aside though, there was nothing fundamentally wrong with a suggestion we all get more exercise. I prefer to trek to downtown Calgary because it takes me only 40 minutes on foot.
The problem with the premier’s response was that it ignores how most people cannot walk or take transit for much of what they do. They live, work and play in diverse spots where hoofing it is often impractical, or ill-advised. (Don’t advise seniors to traipse around town in -30 C.) Transit options are often non-existent, such as in rural areas, for commercial loads or 5 a.m. trips to hockey practice with kids and their equipment.
The core issue is how Notley’s statement revealed an ideology severed from the practical world.
Ideologies are a set of ideas that frame a person’s view on certain matters, usually policy and politics. But to be of any benefit, the ideology should be cemented to what is workable on the ground.
In contrast, Notley’s ideology is this: We in Canada must all kill cheap coal power tomorrow and tax carbon heavily, even while China does neither and builds new coal-powered plants. That ignores what is possible in a world with limited choices.
In general, there is nothing wrong with desiring the use of less carbon-based fuels and more renewables.Whale oilwas once used in lamps. It was replaced by kerosene, which later gave way to electric power. But those developments were driven by technology and affordability, not political diktats which ignore capabilities and costs, which then hurt real people.
Example: We know how Alberta’s new carbon tax and associated policies will play out, given the policies mostly replicate Ontario’s disastrous approach.
There, killing coal early, subsiding renewable energy, and guaranteeing payments to power producers sent utility bills soaring for Ontarians and added to the debt of the provincially owned utility. The government actions sent a chunk of the population into energy poverty. The policies made Ontario uncompetitive for investment and jobs.
This matters on the ground. As retired banker and columnistParker Gallantlately noted, theOntario Association of Food Banksrecently chronicled rising electricity rates in that province since 2006: Up 3.5 times inflation for peak hours, and at a rate of eight times inflation for off-peak hours.
The Notley government plans to cap electricity price increases and subsidize some Albertans to mitigate the coming carbon tax hit. But governments cannot subsidize everyone, or control prices forever without an investment collapse. That’s why the premier will subsidize utilities with our tax dollars.
But the plan to borrow from future taxpayers to bail out current poor policies merely highlights her unsustainable and anti-reality ideas. None of it is a long-term remedy for the government’s short-term, self-created ideological problem.
Besides, the carbon tax hit will cost large and small businesses more; they will pass the costs down to consumers, already grappling with a shrunken economy.
Higher costs billed to an economy with less cash sluicing around always equals higher unemployment. That is the other reality the regrettably ideological premier is missing.Mark Milke is a Calgary author.