Monday, August 26, 2019

On mixed signals

Cam argues that the Libs' latest messaging on carbon pricing is a mistake in the sense of a political gaffe. And watching only the headlines today, that take would appear to be borne out.

But I'll respond that while a posture of studied ambiguity about carbon pricing may represent an error in strategy, it does reflect a deliberate choice.

And to be clear, an utter lack of clarity as to their plans for carbon pricing is exactly the message the Libs have chosen to offer:
In a news conference Monday morning, McKenna used careful phrasing to say that the current plan has no “intention” of going past $50 per tonne since it ends in 2022, but then added that decisions about future price increases will be made after discussing it with provincial governments.

“In 2016, we negotiated for a year with provinces and territories that included a price on pollution until 2022,” she said. “So there’s no intention to go up beyond that, any decision would be made in discussions with provinces and territories and stakeholders.”

She was asked specifically if she’s ruling out price increases beyond 2022, but didn’t respond directly. “All we’ve done is we’ve negotiated until 2022, so I’m not in a position to negotiate anything past that,” she said. “I think that there’ll be an election in 2023 and I think that might be a discussion for that election.”
While it's true that the Cons were quick to seize on the shift in position, the more important gap between the Libs' position and other policy options is that on the other side.

After all, it's generally recognized that the existing carbon price falls far short of representing a viable answer to our climate crisis - leaving the Libs vulnerable to significant challenges from the NDP (and the Greens) offering far more thorough proposals to a growing pool of voters whose desire for meaningful climate action will influence their ballots.

By deliberately failing to take any position, the Libs figure to be trying to take the best of both worlds: their environmentally-branded candidates (echoed by the Cons) can hint at increased carbon prices they haven't committed to, while the national campaign can point to the lack of any promise and accuse the Cons of fearmongering for asserting as a certainty something which isn't actually in their platform.

Unfortunately, that political ploy will serve only to muddy the waters for voters who demand more than deliberate obfuscation (along with counterproductive choices) in confronting the most serious challenge of our time. And anybody serious about reining in our carbon pollution will need to make clear that the Libs can't claim the benefit of their consciously-cultivated doubt.

Update: And this is surely exactly what the Libs were after - credit as a party to "fight climate change" from a prominent environmental voice, without actually presenting a plan or even a promise to develop one. 

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