Nova Scotia Premier Rodney MacDonald’s clumsy—not to forget sleazy and embarrassing—gamesmanship with carbon tax cost figures last week was probably his panting, puppy-hopeful attempt to curry future favour with the man he believes will still be prime minister after Tuesday.
He’s probably right that Stephen Harper will win the election. But he’s almost certainly wrong to believe Harper will thank him for his support. Can you say Atlantic Accord?
Perhaps worse, MacDonald has tossed off whatever tatters were left of his own credibility in order to make nice with the federal Tories.
After last Thursday’s provincial cabinet meeting—five days before election day—MacDonald used a scrum with reporters to diss Liberal leader Stephane Dion’s Green Shift carbon tax plan. He claimed his government had costed out the impact of the Liberal plan and the green shift would take a $600 million-a-year bite out of Nova Scotia’s economy.
“This is a huge number with a huge impact,” he said, and then added, in case anyone missed the point: “That’s one of those issues people need to keep in mind when they’re casting their ballot.”
Except, of course, that MacDonald was fiddling the numbers. And more.
According to an analysis in allnovascotia.com—the local subscription-based online business news service that has provided the best coverage of the federal campaign locally—the numbers MacDonald pulled out of his hat and claimed he’d just learned about were actually based on calculations the provincial finance department completed way back in July.
And those numbers didn’t show what MacDonald said they showed. The premier claimed the tax would cost the economy $600 million a year; the real numbers show $600 million to be the gross financial cost of the carbon tax in the fourth year after it was implemented. The net—or real—cost to the economy would be closer to $160 million that same year.
That’s still a lot of money, of course.
And it begs a question. What would Stephen Harper’s own barely whispered about greenhouse gas policy—Turning the Corner: Regulatory Framework for Industrial Greenhouse Gas Emissions—mean for Nova Scotia. (You can read it as: http://www.ec.gc.ca/doc/virage-corner/2008-03/541_eng.htm )
We do know it will have an impact. It’s a sort-of regulatory, sort of cap-and-trade program with relatively modest environmental goals. But, according to the government’s own explanations, Canadians can expect to pay “higher prices,” particularly for gas and electricity, and bear economic costs that “are not trivial” as companies pass on costs they’ll have to pay to meet the targets. “Overall,” the government paper notes, “the analysis indicates that the regulatory framework will have a measurable, negative impact on Canada's real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) level.”
Incredibly, Environment Minister John Baird is refusing to say how much that negative impact will be until after the election. (And the press has let him get away with it!)
Just as incredibly, at least according to Rodney MacDonald, the Nova Scotia finance department—which has devoted untold hours to figuring out just how awful the perennially-second-place-in all-the-polls Stephane Dion’s Green Shift plan would be for Nova Scotia if and when he ever gets the chance to implement it—still hasn’t bothered to figure out how much Harper’s plan would cost us…
But that’s OK. Don’t worry. Be happy. Rodney MacDonald says his good friend Stephen Harper “has indicated a willingness to sit down with us and talk about the regulations.”
Uh… Earth to Rodney. Atlantic Accord?
At the same time, MacDonald claimed nasty, arrogant Liberal leader Stephane Dion—was he the one who said we had a “culture of defeat?” Oh, no, right, that was Stephen Harper—had indicated he wasn’t willing to sit down with the province and discuss the impact of his plan with the Nova Scotia government.
Wrong. Again. Still. Always.
That same afternoon, a surprised Dion told reporters he’d be happy to talk to any premier about potential negative impacts of his plan.
And so it went. Election 2008. Another wasted opportunity.