What does the Canadian election tell us about the environmental debate?

Recently, there has seemed to have been a shift in the international tenor of the environmental debate. The nomination of John McCain made the Republican Party the last major center-right party in the world to embrace some sort of affirmative strategy to effect global warming. (about mid-way through the previous government, the Conservative Party of Canada switched their position, and in the last unfortunate election, the Liberal Party of Australia, a huge producer of coal, also switched their position)

At the time, there was a little victory jig. However, two things have no happened that are putting a damper on the watermelons (green on the outside, but red on the inside)

First, the Drill Here, Drill Now movement in the United States has gotten international attention. Last month, I was at a conference of European center-right parties. People were aghast at what Newt and crew were up to. Left leaning academics who had been with Democrats told them that the hope of a Kyoto-style agreement in 2012 was understood to be over.

The second is likely to be the Canadian election. There's a telling piece in today's Telegraph-Journal, a Canadian paper. John Williamson, from a Canadian free-market think-tank, notes several things that came from the election:

Dreams of a carbon tax are dashed now, although few environmentalists will publicly say so. More likely, they will soon assert the messenger failed, not the carbon tax idea. But of course, we know this is bunk. The Liberals campaigned unequivocally on a revenue-neutral carbon plan to save the planet. It was soundly rejected.

The policy itself, not Mr. Dion's egg-headed intellectualism, was the political albatross. Long before the campaign was underway, the Liberal Party's own pollster was warning that the public was not buying the so-called Green Shift. A leaked memo from Michael Marzolini on April 29 was unequivocal: "It was our recommendation that if a carbon tax shift absolutely must be part of our platform - and we do not recommend this at all - that it only be part of a larger environmental strategy involving actual popular proposals." His forecast: "Making a carbon tax shift the key plank in our appeal to the electorate is a vote loser, not a vote winner."

A British journalist getting a briefing on the election got the message:

At a breakfast sponsored last week by the Canadian High Commission in London to discuss the election results, one British journalist astutely observed that the rejection of the tax by voters of a G7 nation could have consequences for the climate change debate. Despite all the scare-mongering from the United Nations and hand-wringing about an alleged "scientific consensus," Canadians nonetheless refused to swallow the tax. If courteous Canadians (that's how Europeans view us) are willing to say "no thanks" to elite opinion-makers, might not voters in other democracies?

With respect to paying more for energy, Canada found its voice in the global warming debate. It certainly wasn't the one environmentalists envisioned when the carbon tax was proposed.

One should also point out that the clarity of this message cannot be understated. If not for the economic troubles that emerged late in the Canadian campaign, the Conservatives would likely have won a majority, potentially reducing the Liberal party to a third-party status.

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Canadian politics

The Tories  are in power because the liberal constituency is fragmented, with the NDP and the Liberals plus the Greens splitting the votes.  Together, these three outpolled the Conservatives, but control less seats in the legislature than the Tories.  That's how Parliamentary systems work.  No surprises there.  The Liberal base is torn between voting for a lackluster Stephane Dion and a slightly stridet NDP.  But Canadians by and large aren't disappointed, because it's a matter of time before the Tories mess it up.  BTW Alberta Harper's work home (he's actually from Ontario) will be doing away with health insurance premiums from Jan.1.09.