Letter: Elizabeth May responds to column critical of climate plan

A recent column by Les Leyne took aim at the Green Party climate plan, but his main point appeared to be that as leader, I will not be in a position to implement it.  The same might have been said of another small party a half century ago. In 1966, the NDP was in no position to hold enough seats to form government.  But working with the minority Liberal government of Lester B Pearson in a collaborative parliament, our national universal single-payer health care system was put in place.  In fact, in Lester B Pearson’s service as prime minister, he never had a majority, yet his government updated or created most of what we now consider our social safety net – universal health care, the Canada Pension Plan, Canada Student Loans, a 40-hour work week, two weeks’ vacation, and improved unemployment insurance.  All that and a new flag! The NDP held a balance of power under leader David Lewis in that parliament.  It has been far too long since Canadians saw an era of parliamentary cooperation in the interest of the common good.

Green Party goals are clear: we need to elect Green MPs to ensure a more cooperative approach to politics.  We need Green MPs to ensure that the increasingly partisan NDP and Liberal parties do not allow the Harper Conservatives to form government in a minority parliament, as those parties did in 2006 and 2008.  And we need Green MPs to have a detailed and realistic climate plan ready to implement immediately following the election.

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There are many reasons for expeditious action on climate, but here is a pressing reality. On October 19 Canadians will go to the polls; on November 30 we must be prepared for the deadline negotiations for a new climate treaty at the international climate talks in Paris.  With fewer than 40 days to replace the non-action plan of the Harper Conservatives and to recruit a strong, science based, experienced negotiating team to hit the ground running, whether it is a minority NDP or Liberal Parliament, those parties will need Green MPs.

That is why we unveiled our climate plank early.  Far from proposing unrealistic goals and plans, we want to be ready for other parties who will need those details.  Contrary to Mr. Leyne’s assumptions, the carbon fee and dividend approach to carbon pricing was not based on the BC carbon tax.  The only similarity is that both are revenue neutral.

Carbon fee and dividend has been widely supported internationally.  In fact, it was proposed in the US House of Representatives in 2009 by both Democrats and Republicans.  Sadly, it was not adopted

It is straightforward and easily implemented.  A fee is collected at the source of  carbon pollution, the funds are aggregated and redistributed as a dividend to every Canadian.  Border adjustments on imports will also be implemented.  It is economy-wide, predictable and all funds are returned to Canadians. As such, it is not a tax.

The international movement Citizens Climate Lobby has been working at the grassroots level to promote fee and dividend. One of its most respected advocates is Dr. James Hansen, director of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.   In an open letter to The Guardian, Dr. Hansen took aim at cap and trade (the carbon pricing mechanism favoured by the federal NDP).     

According to James Hansen, cap and trade “is a hidden tax... because cap and trade increases the cost of energy for the public. As utilities and other industries purchase the right to pollute with one hand, adding it to fuel prices, while with the other hand they take back most of the permit revenues from the government.  Costs and profits of the trading infrastructure are also added to the public’s energy bill....The public must understand the different between cap-and-trade and fee-and-dividend.”  

On the other hand, Dr. Hansen describes fee and dividend as a “transparent, honest approach that benefits the public.”

The Green Party recognizes that pricing carbon by itself will not be sufficient to make the significant transition away from fossil fuels required by the science.  We need to diversify and strengthen our economy with more renewable energy sources – wind, solar, geothermal, tidal and small scale hydro.  We need to make massive investments in energy productivity, creating tens of thousands of jobs across Canada in public transit, enhanced bicycle and pedestrian access, and the overhaul of our buildings – residential, business and institutional – to save Canadians money now wasted heating the outdoors in winter and cooling it in the summer.

We also need to plan to protect lives and property through adaptation to those levels of climate change we can no longer avoid.  Preparations and fortifications for sea level rise, increased flooding, periods of increased drought can no longer be avoided. Our universities are already doing necessary research into determining which tree species, and which specific gene types within the same species are best able to cope with anticipated climate changes.  We must be vigilant in protecting key salmon habitat as it too is threatened in a warming world.

Climate action has enormous potential in creating green jobs and enhancing economic health – from coast to coast to coast.   Climate action requires that we set partisanship aside and be prepared to work together.  Greens offer our climate work and experience in the vital negotiating process to ensure we are ready for Canada to, once again, play a leadership role in global climate action.

Elizabeth May, O.C. is the MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands and leader of the Green Party of Canada.  She has worked for climate action for over three decades and has been the only Opposition MP at climate negotiations over the last 4 years. She is the co-author with Zoe Caron of Global Warming for Dummies.

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