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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Is Harper's ecoTrust Really a Fiscal Imbalance Fund?

Is Harper taking his western base, particularly Alberta and Saskatchewan, for granted, yet again? Premiers Stelmach and Calvert are taking the Harper eco-Trust idea to task. They are calling for the funds to be distributed in a way that responds to solving the emission issues by focusing funds where the GHG problems are, like Alberta and Saskatchewan. Instead, the Harper Cons are proposing a per capita distribution and a pre-emptive promise to Quebec that is tied to elections, in Quebec and federally.

Quebec is the place Harper chose to announce a potential (subject to budget approval) funding for reduction of air pollution and GHG emissions. Quebec has to amongst the least offensive place when it comes to GHG emissions. They have Quebec Hydro and are very clean comparatively.

Politics is trumping sound policy and effective programming in this initiative so far. This is more about a back door delivery of “fiscal imbalance funds” and a political message to Quebec. Harper’s speech is tribute to “self” and a menu of the Cons concessions to Quebec in the past year, none of which I begrudge. Think UNESCO voice for Quebec, big cash into the 400 anniversary of Quebec City, and bridges, highways, water systems and airport expansions are the items Harper mentions in his “eco-Trust-me” speech.

The speech pays a nod to the different “energy profile” of each province and the different priorities they have. He notes the “solutions have to be customized” and that GHG “emissions have to be mandatory across the country.”

This all this distinctiveness in these provincial energy profiles, priorities and need for “customized solutions” it is hard to see the logic behind a per capita fund distribution. Unless the logic is to favour Quebec and Ontario because it is about where the votes are in puruste of a majority and as for the environment, well not so much.

All this happens at the expense of Alberta and Saskatchewan – yet again! I am sure Prime Minister Harper has heard the expression "The West Wants In?" Well a new version is emerging under the Harper government. "Why Are You Leaving the West Out?"

Harper is quickly becoming the closest thing we have seen to a centralizing Prime Minister since the reigns of Chr├ętien and Trudeau. Strange isn't is, what power will do to some people, and what they will do to retain it.

9 comments:

  1. I'm sure Dion, who holds one seat in AB and Sask with no reasonable liklihood of increasing would be highly motivated to fund those provinces instead of Quebec or Ontario. Give me a break.

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  2. ken chapman5:02 pm

    eric I am not sure about Sask...but Harper owns Alberta with an enormous popular vote support in all the recent polls.

    He will sweep Alberta again...maybe McLellan' olds seat is at some risk in Edmonton with a strong candidate. Edmonton can be contrarian...especially provincially.

    Dion will do well to concentrate GHG mitigation funds in those places where the problem is the largest...Alberta and Saskatchewan. Good policy and politics

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  3. I'm an Alberta Conservative, and even I think Stelmach is nuts for asking for money from the government, we have the largest surplus and the main target of the media when it comes to GHG emissions.

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  4. ken chapman6:39 pm

    HI Dazzlin'...I think it is fascinating Stelmach is posing the idea that if the feds want to really deal with pollution issues and GHG especially, perhaps our federal tax dollars could be applied to where that problem actually is.

    To distribute per capita makes this money more like social and health transfersto provinces. Not targeted. Not strategic, but rather political and process driven.

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  5. I agree that it would be hard sell by the AB government to ask for more money.

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  6. You are right when you say that Quebec has very low GHG emissions. 96% of all electricity produced comes from hydro power.

    You don't feel comfortable with the fact that the ecotrust money is distributed per-capita. I think it makes perfect sense. Let's turn this the other way: Alberta shouldn't be rewarded with more money because they pollute more. I think they've made enough money aldready by polluting!

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  7. ken chapman12:45 am

    blueberry your point is well taken. Canada should not be asked to foot the bill for Alberta pollution from energy production by it self. But if Harper wants to be part of the solution and be taken seriously, then he really ought to put those financial resource towards the solution at the place that has the problem. Alta and Sask!

    Alberta gets the same financial benefits from oil sands as does Canada - a 50/50 split of eco-responsibility seems fair to me, particularly if the nation wants the energy.

    This ecoTrust gambit is a good idea if it is intended to redistribute wealth for political reasons. That is the purpose behind it and Harper should be able to do that rather well, given the way he announced it.

    It is not a serious concentrated effort at reducing GHG emissions or other atmospheric pollutants if it distributed on a per capita basis.

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  8. Anonymous8:19 am

    blueberry,

    I disagree with Ken. Your point is not well taken. If hydrocarbon reserves were dstributed evenly throughout Canada, then some sort of per capita or uniform provincial payment would make sense.

    But they are not. Yes, Alberta is blessed with having an abundance of oil, gas and coal reserves. But all of Canada shares in this wealth. Quebec, for example, is blessed with an abundance of hydroelectric opportuntities, which just happen to be non-emitting. If the focus of the Eco-Trust is on reducing emissions from industry (versus consumers), then money should be spent where the opportunities are. Not where they are not. Even the Pembina Institute - certainly no apologist for the Alberta government - recognizes this.

    I would certainly agree on a per capita payment scheme if money was being directed to encourage individual citizens (consumers) to reduce energy usage (and thereby emissions). But that is not what this program is about, and hence my problem with the allocations.

    I also find it somewhat tiring that people continue to bring up the "Alberta is rich, they can pay for it" commentary. Yes, Alberta's REVENUES are rising, but ask any businessperson (even the owner of the local corner store), that revenue growth does not necessarily mean you have more money to spend. Alberta's costs of infrastructure, healthcare, etc. are rising significantly, as the province struggles to accomodate economic and population expansion. Shouldering the entire economic burden of reducing emissions due to the energy sector when all of Canada benefits is clearly unfair.

    Throwing more money at Quebec, so they can have free daycare and the lowest tuition prices in Canada - while the rest of us have to pay our own way - is also unfair, but apparently politically reasonable. For the Tories and the Liberals.

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  9. Anonymous3:09 pm

    Anonymous 8:19 am,

    The benefits that Quebec provides to its citizens are a reflection of the governments they elect. Not money being 'thrown at them' from Alberta.

    Forcing Alberta's industry (rather than all Canadian taxpayers) to foot the bill to stop externalizing pollution costs may be reasonably accomplished through regulation, alone rather than subsidies. Didn't Encana just make the most profits of any company in Canada? Ever? Industry makes a big deal about it now, because they want to fear-monger to convince people like you that Alberta's economy is going down the toilet if any mandatory regulations are enforced. Suncor has been on the record in the past though, suggesting that the costs of complying with Kyoto targets for the oil sector would work out to less than $0.25 a barrel.

    The bottom line is that Alberta's posturing about being unfairly targeted isn't protecting Albertans its protecting the multinational corporations that are the source of Alberta's GHG emissions.

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