The Woolwich Observer - - FRONT PAGE -

KATH­LEEN WYNNE HAS DRIVEN up elec­tric­ity prices to record lev­els, sold out the pub­lic in­ter­est on the hy­dro file, abet­ted ram­pant scan­dalous cor­rup­tion and topped it off with a use­less money grab in the form of cap-and-trade schemes. Ex­pect that to be down­played by the Lib­er­als as we head into a pro­vin­cial elec­tion.

The op­po­si­tion par­ties will want to run that up the flag­pole, the Tories tout­ing con­sumer-friendly fixes, the NDP pitch­ing a mix of the sta­tus quo and some union-friendly changes.

Wynne’s crit­ics, who are many, got yet an­other piece of am­mu­ni­tion this week when On­tario’s En­vi­ron­men­tal Com­mis­sioner re­leased a report not­ing the prov­ince will fall short of its green­house gas emis­sion tar­gets de­spite all the hype ... and the cash grab.

Dianne Saxe did ac­knowl­edge the en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits of phas­ing out coal-fired plants, but didn’t get into the fail­ures of the process, as out­lined by other gov­ern­men­tal watch­dogs, such as the au­di­tor gen­eral and fi­nan­cial ac­count­abil­ity of­fi­cer. Their re­views of Wynne’s han­dling of the hy­dro file and the en­tire pro­vin­cial bud­get have rou­tinely fallen some­where be­tween damn­ing and scathing.

The Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives plan to undo the ill-con­sid­ered cap-and-trade plan – a sim­i­lar de­bate is on­go­ing in Al­berta – may get some play, as On­tar­i­ans know lit­tle about it, see it as a money grab and stud­ies show it to be ba­si­cally use­less ex­cept to fill gov­ern­ment cof­fers.

Cap-and-trade is a weak way to curb emis­sions. It’s wide open to abuse. A di­rect car­bon tax, ap­plied to ev­ery­thing, makes more sense in this con­text. The big­ger prob­lem? On­tar­i­ans don’t trust Wynne to do what’s right given a record of cor­rup­tion and in­com­pe­tence.

A cou­ple of years in, that’s proven to be a pretty safe as­sump­tion.

Crit­ics have noted the com­plex cap-and-trade scheme sim­ply make it look like emis­sions are go­ing lower with­out ac­tu­ally do­ing much en­vi­ron­men­tal good. At the end of the day, the main ben­e­fi­ciary is the pro­vin­cial trea­sury.

A straight­for­ward car­bon tax helps en­sure the pol­luters (which is all of us, to vary­ing de­grees) pay for their im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment. Green­house gas emis­sions have always sim­ply been ex­ter­nal­i­ties – trans­fer­ring to so­ci­ety the costs of pro­duc­tion while the prof­its go to in­di­vid­u­als and com­pa­nies – but if we’re go­ing to change the sys­tem, we’re go­ing to have to take aim at that prac­tice. In this case, per­haps all the money from a car­bon tax should go into a con­tin­gency fund to cover the grow­ing ex­penses at­trib­uted to cli­mate change. That fund should be out of the di­rect control of the gov­ern­ment. Sim­ply de­posited into pro­vin­cial cof­fers, it will be mis­spent, stolen and wasted on ex­pen­di­tures of no pub­lic value.

The more broadly ap­plied, the more ef­fec­tive the tax. It serves lit­tle pur­pose to ex­empt the largest pol­luters if you want to re­duce emis­sions. If you sim­ply want win­dow dress­ing, how­ever ...

An ef­fec­tive pol­icy – i.e. real at­tempt at re­duc­ing emis­sions through tax mea­sures – would be re­moved from po­lit­i­cal tam­per­ing. In­stead, we’re to get just the op­po­site. So, along with the tam­per­ing, we’re sure to get the same kind of in­ef­fec­tive­ness and cor­rup­tion that have be­come the norm.

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