Monday, August 11, 2008

On turf wars

The Guelph Mercury reports on the NDP's environment platform rollout. But most interesting is the response from the Libs and Greens, who are apparently attempting to rewrite history in order to take credit for the NDP's policy proposals rather than working to get them implemented.

Here's the candidate response to the NDP's plan for building retrofits and efficiency incentives:
Valeriote said the NDP has borrowed liberally from policies introduced in 2005 in the Liberal's "Project Green" plan, which included a retrofitting program and numerous incentives to help industry embrace green technology.

"It's nothing new," he said. "In fact, I think they are just trying to repackage what we've already introduced years ago."

Mike Nagy said both the NDP and Liberals have stolen directly out of the Green party's playbook, claiming as their own environmental plans that were conceived by his party years ago.

"It's almost laughable to see how many of our policies they have taken and called their own," he said, adding the Greens are the only party with new and original environmental strategies.
Now, I'm probably less of a policy purist than some NDP supporters: to the extent another party wants to implement a good idea, I'd prefer to see a cooperative effort to get the policy implemented rather than an argument over who came up with it first. But with both the Libs and Greens apparently outraged over the idea that the NDP's platform might be similar to plans they've proposed, let's look at some history on retrofitting in Canada.

Naturally, the easiest place to start will be in the more recent past, where Valeriote seems to think that the concepts of retrofitting and tax incentives appeared to Stephane Dion in a vision in 2005.

Here's the problem with that claim, though: two parties made an extensive national retrofitting program part of their environmental platform in 2004. And the Libs weren't one of them.

Which means that to the extent that using another party's policy without credit could be seen as a wrong, the Libs themselves were guilty of it in 2005. And now, in trying to express outrage that the NDP would claim credit for a policy which he apparently sees the Libs as having stolen fair and square, Valeriote can only be seen as just slightly less honest and believable than Krusty the Clown - if perhaps no less laughable.

So what about the Greens? It's entirely true that they were the other national party which had shown interest in the idea of retrofitting by 2004. But can they plausibly claim original ownership of the concept - either in general, or compared to the NDP and its current leadership?

To answer that question in part, let's take a look at how long Jack Layton has been involved in the push for retrofitting:
In 1988, Toronto hosted one of the first major scientific conferences on global warming. Shaken and inspired, Jack Layton set out to build consensus on City Council to respond locally to the emerging global threat.

By 1990, Toronto had set three world precedents. First, it committed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20% before 2005. Second, it created a dedicated Energy Efficiency Office to coordinate the response. Third, it created the widely-emulated Toronto Atmospheric Fund (TAF) to finance innovative and effective green projects.

Launched using a $23-million endowment from a property sale, this rotating fund operates at zero cost to taxpayers—projects pay for themselves out of their energy savings. TAF initiatives have already cut 250,000 tonnes of carbon emissions, with annual savings of $2.7-million in the city’s operation costs alone. TAF’s success disproves the stale assumption that a clean environment and a thriving economy are competing priorities...

In 1993, Layton assembled a consortium of companies, unions, city agencies and energy experts to develop the world’s first plan to retrofit an entire city for energy efficiency. BBP projects have so far retrofitted 500 buildings, cut 132,000 tons of carbon emissions, supported hundreds of jobs, saved building owners $19-million in energy costs, and provided healthy returns for investors.
So at a time when the Green Party's vote count across the country wouldn't have been enough to win some ridings, Jack Layton was already putting a retrofitting and investment incentive plan into effect in Toronto. Which makes it seem at best a remote possibility that it was the Greens (rather than any other source of information) who would actually have provided the template. And that's without getting into the sheer improbability that it was the Canadian Greens that came up with the idea in the first place, such that it would be theirs to "steal".

Again, the broader issue isn't so much who actually came up with any particular idea such as retrofitting. But from the Libs' and Greens' response, it's clear that they're far more interested in picking fights with the NDP than in cooperating on policies which all three parties seem to agree on in principle. And the fact that neither can be bothered to bring any facts to that battle should offer plenty of reason for environmentally-conscious voters to pool their support behind the NDP.

(Edit: fixed link, wording.)

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