The StarPhoenix, Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Liberal policies at odds with province
By Randy Burton
Here's my question for Liberal Leader Stephane Dion.
Standing on the brink of a federal election, which
face of the Liberal party should Saskatchewan voters
Is it that of Dion, whose climate change plan is too
radical even for Jack Layton and the NDP? Is it that of
Ralph Goodale, the stolid workhorse who has laboured
under a number of distinctly different Liberal leaders?
Or is it that of David Orchard, the political maverick
and anti-nuke who is the party's newest candidate in
Based on the reception the various players got at a
Liberal town hall meeting here Sunday, the answer is
Orchard. He received easily the loudest ovation of any
of the half dozen or so candidates presented, even
This, of course, is a reflection of the fact that the
meeting was held close to the We Are Many festival, so
the green contingent was out in full force.
Still, the Liberal identity is no idle question,
given the Liberals' latest political positioning. The
party will live or die in the next election based
largely on its so-called Green Shift, a carbon tax that
is going to present major challenges for the
Saskatchewan economy both in the energy sector and in
So when Dion asked to meet with The StarPhoenix
editorial board to promote a carbon tax, I took the
opportunity to delve into the area. Given that we're
home to 20 per cent of the world's uranium and given
that our provincial government is leaning toward
building a nuclear power plant, would the federal leader
support that idea, particularly since nuclear power does
not generate greenhouse gases?
Well, power production is a provincial
responsibility, Dion replied. The feds merely regulate
True, but Cameco Corp. CEO Gerry Grandey argues the
approval process for nuclear power plants is overly long
and cumbersome. Would Dion move to streamline the
As a matter of fact, he would. If he becomes prime
minister Dion would gather the various regulatory
parties under one roof to improve communications and
speed up the environmental approval process. That
doesn't mean less rigorous scrutiny, but it does mean a
more efficient approach, he said.
"I want them all in the same building and working
every day, effectively. It's as simple as that."
Interesting. So then how does Dion square that with
the fact his latest star candidate in Saskatchewan is
actually in favour of shutting down Canada's nuclear
power industry? Orchard has yet to clarify his position
on nuclear power, let alone uranium mining.
Well, says Dion, the Liberals have a big tent. "I'm
the leader. We have a policy. I have expressed this
policy to you and this is the policy we will implement
once we will be the government. Mr. Orchard has strong
views about a lot of things. I will not always agree
with him but I think he will be a very valuable
candidate in the north of Saskatchewan."
In the grand scheme of things, whether Orchard is a
Liberal candidate matters little to Liberal fortunes,
but it illustrates a key problem Dion faces.
Political veterans will tell you when you're
explaining, you're losing. And right now, Stephane Dion
is doing a lot of explaining.
For example, he's explaining why a carbon tax on
diesel fuel will actually be a good thing for farmers.
The world price of oil is going to continue to rise
and so will the price of fuel. If we change now to
various biofuels, not only will the environment be
better off but farmers will be better able to deal with
rising input costs.
Dion said: "When I read in the paper that Prime
Minister Stephen Harper is considering to cut taxes on
diesel this is the worst thing you may do because then
the country is less and less able to distance its
dependence on fossil fuels." Good luck selling that at
the farm gate.
Dion is also explaining a rather novel theory of
taxation. He argues smart tax policy is to tax "the
things we don't want," such as carbon emissions. Yet his
carbon tax will hit the price of electricity, fertilizer
and diesel fuel in Saskatchewan but not the price of gas
at the pumps in Toronto.
This is going to be difficult to explain in a
Saskatchewan federal campaign, in which words like
"crazy" and phrases like "screw the West" are likely to
Dion finds such low-road politics appalling, of
course, and rightly so. He is a sincere gentleman in a
ruffian's game. But you don't take a knife to a gunfight
and trying to explain a confusing and very likely
damaging tax in the midst of a national campaign is
going to be very difficult.
The last fellow to try it was a guy named Joe Clark.
Whatever happened to him?