Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Carbon tax, shmarbon tax

Phil Burpee, letter to the Editor - There’s a lot of bleating recently about the monstrous, society-fracturing evils of the dreaded Carbon Tax. This is choice, because pretty much all the sheep making the noise are the same folks who just experienced the ousting of a rotten and cynical political philosophy under the banner of the syphilitic old PCs, an administration in a long and ugly decline since the time of the last great progressive Premier of Alberta, the Honourable Peter Lougheed, much of whose political philosophy was gleaned from his long friendship with Grant Notley, the father of our current Premier. Now, I will be the first to agree that there was a time when the PCs actually did seek to advance the betterment of the people of Alberta, but you’d have to go back to the early days of the tenure of the estimable Don Getty to find it – and even Big Don couldn’t manage to successfully quarterback a team which was quickly prostrating itself before the rising oligopoly of Big Oil and its mangy running-dogs.

The answer, say the loudest bleaters, is to extract the pure essence of a lost conservatism and transplant it into a brand new body – aka the Wildrose Party of Alberta. But this fix has some deep structural flaws, the first of which being a penchant for simplistic solutions to otherwise complex and near-intractable problems. Suppressing hydrocarbon royalties and exonerating corporations from their rightful obligations to the fiscal health of the province are what got us in this mess in the first place. And this has been exacerbated by a lazy and reactionary refusal to do anything substantive about diversifying a dangerously narrow and top-heavy economy, including taxing a planet-threatening pollutant..

So, let’s be clear – and let’s not be surprised. The carbon tax as rolled out by our NDP government represents a fundamental tenet of socialist economic thinking, that being the principle of the redistribution of wealth. For as the venerable Frank H. Underhill would have had it – “The basic principle regulating production, distribution and service must be the common good rather than private profit.” This tax is deemed revenue-neutral inasmuch as the monies accrued do not go into general pool, but rather are immediately returned back into the economy, either in the form of rebates for those less able to bear the cost of the tax, exemptions for farm-fuel, or into grants and incentives for those seeking to advance alternative-energy business models and thereby advance the aforementioned sorely-needed economic diversification, not to mention begin to seriously address the mounting problems stemming from a general and alarming warming of the atmosphere. And perhaps the most ridiculous aspect of Wildrose/PC blathering is this wholesale bowing-down before some semi-mythical ‘free market’ and allowing for the unfettered play of ‘market forces’. Come on – give your heads a shake. Does anybody seriously think that rural electrification, Medicare, labour rights, child labour laws, workers’ compensation, foreclosure protection, market access, fair commodity pricing, social security, and the Alberta Wheat Pool came about as a result of market forces? Quite the opposite. Indeed, as Henry Wise Wood, former President of the United Farmers of Alberta and Chair of Alberta Wheat Pool observed – “Democracy may be simply defined as the people in action.” Yep.

Outside of the murky recesses of Donald Trump’s brain or the Steering Committee of the Wildrose Party of Alberta, it has now become general economic orthodoxy in all advanced jurisdictions to either levy a carbon tax or implement a cap and trade scheme to do exactly what climate-change deniers profess to be their holy of holies – submit carbon emissions to the robust winds of the marketplace. Because it will only be through the progressively-added cost of sticking to a hydrocarbon economy that we begin to create viable alternative methods of generating wealth. It must become unprofitable to pollute. The marketplace is ten thousand years old – it wasn’t invented by mercantile capitalists. And it is certainly not the exclusive plaything of trans-national corporations and their one-percenter fat-cat operators. It belongs to us.

So let’s get on with things. History is relentless in its advance. Wildrose stands with its mouth agape just like the bellowing dinosaurs of old who dumbly witnessed the advancing asteroid. The difference now is that we are able to still mitigate and deflect to the extent possible this onrushing ‘asteroid’ of climate change. Let us therefore be thankful for the bravery and forthrightness of Rachel Notley who has the wisdom and foresight to see in the advancing calamity of our times the opportunity to shift ourselves up by the seat of the pants and actually move forward along our evolutionary pathway. The alternative to action is submission, acquiescence, and fatalism. And such is the behaviour of sheep on their miserable way to the stockyards – bleating uselessly all the way.

Phil Burpee


  1. A real work of art. Thank you!

  2. Anonymous13/1/17

    We should banish the oil industry, in fact all industry, and return to a society of "hunters and gatherers"? It's fine to wax poetic casting blame and aspersions, but do you offer a viable alternative? After the self-righteous indignation and self-aggrandizement of Trudeau and Notley, when have glibly consumed all the pie in the sky and have wasted every penny of the carbon tax, what will we do? Get real, Phil.

  3. Phil Burpee14/1/17

    Cheap shot - and wrong. This is the standard knee-jerk comeback whenever suggestions are made concerning our over-dependence on the hydrocarbon economy. "Shut it all down - get a horse." Viable alternatives are being presented every day in any number of ways, if only with individual fuel conservation, better insulated homes and lifestyle modification. And look out your window - turbines harvesting electricity from the wind, largely as a result of green initiatives from government. As early as the 1970s there was widespread awareness about what was then known as 'air pollution' and we began to scrub smokestacks and make smaller cars with better engines. But now the stakes are vastly higher. The entire biosphere is at risk. How many times does Notley have to say it? - it's all about transitioning from non-renewable to renewable sources of energy without unduly undermining the economy or peoples' right to employment in the process. And it is now universally understood that placing petroleum products in the 'real marketplace' which takes into account the environmental, moral and economic debt being accrued to our children and taxing that accordingly is a necessary part of the shift. Telling this to the above anonymous commentator is apparently about as useful as talking to the cat. And I'm real enough - we run a farm here and run two gasoline-powered vehicles and a diesel tractor, plus burn natural gas. We don't drive any more than we have to, and we don't fly to Mexico. Living in the real world while seeking to affect change is the whole point. And employing long-term cost/benefit analysis is the only way to do real business - everything else is just short-termism and scrabbling after hollow profit. Our success will be judged by our grandchildren whose world we are currently defiling.

  4. Anonymous15/1/17

    Better arguments in your response, Phil, than your original. Transition is key. The much-maligned industry has done more than its share to reduce environmental impact, some on its own initiatives and some by regulatory pressure. I point to Esso's Judy Creek Gas Plant as one of the earliest conservation examples. It processed and sold previously flared casinghead gas from several producers from Swan Hills and Beaverhill Lake. A more local example would secondary and tertiary recovery of gas and NGLs by Shell Watertown, previously flared in production of its primary product. Lets also be honest and note that the electricity from wind turbines is not economically viable and persist only because of subsidies you and I pay for through taxes. Solar requires similar support. This support and subsidy is the price of transition and should be what the carbon tax pays for.

    And, rather than casting aspersions at the industry, let's give it some credit as well. The single largest economic engine has generated wealth, innovation, infrastructure and careers for Albertans and Canadians. Taxes and Royalties have flowed to municipal and government coffers. And to our individual benefit as well in salaries, RRSP investment portfolios, mutual funds investments, even CPP. Its not only the maligned 1.0 percent who profit - we all do.

    But, we at the individual, municipal, provincial and federal level have wasted these riches, for short term gain and excess. And I fear the carbon tax monies will similarly be wasted.

    It will not be the fault of the product or the industry if we fail to address the requisite transition. So let's stop making them the bad guys.

    PS. I may not always agree, Phil, and I do sometimes play devil's advocate, but I immensely enjoy and appreciate your comments��.


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