The Green Paradox

On the topic of greenhouse gases (GHGs), I think that the Conservatives will have more success cutting Canada’s output of them than the Liberals ever did. This is because swing voters are skeptical that the government will accomplish GHG reduction and therefore the Tories have something significant to prove. In a similar sense, we can look at the Liberals and their elimination of the deficit. As in that case, the ruling party is receiving pressure from the other side of the spectrum and the swing voter is skeptical of their abilities on the particular issue. This provides incentive as these voters and the pendulum swing between parties causing government turnover.

For some reason, people are more likely to believe that parties on the left will be more proficient at GHG reductions. Certainly, the record doesn’t indicate this. I’d like to show that this reasoning and the result are paradoxical.

On the environment, left-wing parties can take this sort of thinking for granted and say green things and do much of nothing. Conversely, voters don’t see the Conservative Party as the natural choice to progress on the issue and working uphill, the Conservatives are framed as a party with a lot to prove on their ability to reduce GHGs. This provides incentive to act instead of taking voter prejudices for granted as Liberals do on this particular issue. If the environment is framed as the number one issue, the Conservatives don’t have the convenience of solely paying lip service.

Conservatives have already secured the voters that favour a tax-cutting government. What they will act upon lies where they have to extend themselves to get non-traditional votes. Similarly, Liberals have more of a secure hold on environmental voters as Canadians believe the party to more of a regulating party than their Conservative opponents.

Dion’s strategy of making the environment an issue right from the start of his leadership campaign is challenging Harper to be more flexible and as a result, he is able to grab a few extra votes. Dion is handing the incumbent an opportunity to show agility over an extended period of time. Of course, it will be difficult for Mr. Harper to show real progress on GHG reductions as the current economy has quite a lot of inertia against the trend of overall GHG reduction. However, if the PM can show sincere policy that he’s put in place to get the job done over a realistic period of time, he should be able to neutralize Dion and show the voter than he’s acting in good faith on the issue.

Strategically, Dion could have made the environment a smaller issue (and one of many others) to prompt little action from the government to act on GHGs. Subsequently, he could have fired on all hybrid cylinders during an election to contrast how Canada could be different under his carbon-cutting direction (even if it is all talk).

Some say that it was the Reform party that prompted Paul Martin to balance the budget. Perhaps now it’ll be Dion that prompts Harper to succeed on the environment. And remember, on the budget, only Martin got credit.

Does the same logic apply with the Conservative party and tax-cutting? Specifically that voters expect Conservatives to be the party of tax relief and reduced spending? I believe that this reasoning does apply to the Tories, but only to a certain extent. People expect the Conservatives to cut taxes and to a degree, empty talk and promises will go far to satiate the voters. However, over an extended period of time, as we’ve seen, the conservative movement is likely to tear apart the Conservative Party if it doesn’t see its ideological agenda fulfilled. While the Liberals faced pressure from Reform to put the government’s books in order, Conservatives face not only opposition pressure but pressure from within to keep it’s course. It will be interesting to see how Conservative party addresses the environmental issues while balancing the prospect of electoral defeat with that of devolution from within. Or can it find a common path that spares it from both?