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The Progressive Economics Forum

Reading the entrails of BC’s election

Three-peat. Hat trick. The media is full of jubilation for the re-election of the Campbell Liberals.

But looking at the numbers, it was actually quite close: the BC Liberals got 45.7% of the popular vote, compared to 42.2% for the NDP. This slim margin validates the Angus Reid polling camp, which came closest on estimating the popular vote, compared to a handful of others that put the Liberals ahead by 9-10% (I was leaning towards the Angus Reid polls mostly because they had much larger sample sizes of over 1,000 compared to just over 600 for the others, even though according to theory the gap should not change that much).

The Greens had 8.2% of the vote, enough for them to split the vote in enough ridings to make the difference (although it is not obvious that the second choice of Green voters is the NDP). Unlike the federal election, there was no talk of strategic voting in BC, perhaps because the NDP made the carbon tax its wedge issue. That backfired on them badly, with big swaths of the BC Interior and suburbs of Vancouver (those most opposed to the carbon tax) sticking Liberal. Just as Campbell did not know that after announcing the carbon tax, gas prices would shoot up by 40 cents a litre, James and the NDP did not know that those prices would fall so much when they chose to vigorously oppose the carbon tax last summer.

The election, like all Canadian elections that produce majority governments, is a winner-take-all for the Liberals, even though more than half of British Columbians voted against his party. Within the Liberals it is a winner-take-all for Campbell, due to the overly centralized power in the Premier’s office Many of the smiling faces we saw elected will not be seen again except as a backbench backdrop for cameras in the Legislature.

All of which underlines the irony that another opportunity to change the electoral system (to the Single Transferable Vote) went down in flames. Unlike the 2005 referendum, which came close to the 60% approval required to pass, this time it was not even close with 60% supporting the existing system. As several commentators have pointed out, the new Legislature looks a whole lot like the old Legislature, BC basically went for the status quo.

Attention will now turn back to the economy, with the Liberal narrative that they were the best managers through hard economic times. It is surprising that the NDP did not pick up on the string of economic bad news that flowed out of Statscan during the lead up and the campaign. They might have felt that doing so would only reinforce the Liberals’ economic manager frame.

Instead, the NDP ran an opposition campaign that offered no vision for the province other than ridding ourselves of Campbell. They hit the Liberals effectively by playing on a “crony capitalism” theme, manifested in the scandal over BC Rail privatization, and other privatization of new run-of-the-river electricity generation and certain public services. But ultimately their anti-Campbell yang lacked a yin that offered up some concrete changes that would improve the lives of British Columbians. Hopefully, this will provoke some soul searching within the party that leads to renewal.

Both parties were guilty of not being forthcoming about the impact of economic developments on the state of the BC budget. A small deficit tabled in February is surely much much larger, and it was not clear what either party would do if elected. So we will have to wait and see if the Liberals will let the deficit grow, or if they will attempt to cut spending to keep the lid on an ostensible half-billion dollar deficit. They seemed to leaning toward the latter during the election campaign but that was, well, the election campaign. If they wait until September before tabling a budget update, much of this will be easier to spin.

Another big question is where the Liberals now go on climate policy. They have received much praise for the first steps on climate action, including the carbon tax, but there was nothing in the platform that spoke of making the next steps. I seem to have been the only one in the campaign to have pointed out that the Liberals do not have a plan to meet their legislated 33% reduction in GHG emissions by 2020. So getting that done would be a good start, but I’m doubtful that we will see much, although more oil and gas extraction is definitely in the works and that will be a huge hurdle to meeting the legislated target.

Most of the attention on climate policy is likely to turn to the international stage in the lead up to Copenhagen in December, which will attempt to carve out a new global deal on climate change (with a helpful US government, we can only hope). And BC will not want to move ahead too much with a North American cap-and-trade system in the works.

So looking foward to the next four years, it is not obvious at all what we are going to get from the third Campbell administration.

Enjoy and share:

Comments

Comment from Travis Fast
Time: May 13, 2009, 11:04 am

The NDP did very well indeed considering their leader. I am amazed they polled above forty.

As for electoral reform…STV is a hard sell. It is like trying to push sell Linux to mac or micro users. The other dynamic is that in the last election it was not at all clear the NDP would get back to its historic levels of support so proportional reform would have been seen as less dangerous. This time around the calculus had to be that electoral reform was effectively a vote in favour of increasing the power of the NDP. Makes me wonder why the Harcourt Clark NDP did not do electoral reform.

Comment from Paul Tulloch
Time: May 13, 2009, 11:53 am

What will it take to get a worker centric party elected in this country. It happens occasionally but not often. I thought the NDP had more of a shot given the economic meltdown. However, outside of forestry BC has done well and it has been just recently feeling the icy stab of recession leaking down the sweaty spine of its back.

I guess if I am looking for some kind of efficiency metric between hard times and political change towards a progressive democratic notion, one would require a bit more of the current system failing to deliver the goods. Then again, the right has done well in history when the system fails to deliver. I wonder just where the sweet spot is for progressive change.

Too far and I believe there is a tendency towards the right, somewhere between where we are and really bad, given a normalized campaign and the progressives just may land themselves some victories.

I wonder how does left populism come about to a level hat it can contend with the resources of the other side as ofr me it is merely somekind of resource equation and penetration of the cultural other that delivers the vote, given the system somewhat delivers the goods.

We are entering some new space and it could get interesting, unfortunately only a mild uprising in BC was witnessed last night.

pt

Comment from Stuart Murray
Time: May 13, 2009, 1:13 pm

The NDP has a superior mechanism for pulling the vote, so the popular vote should exceed the public opinion polls. The Liberals’ lead may have indeed been 9% amongst people sitting on their sopha, but that lead narrows when people have to walk across the street to the polling station.

I laughed when the NDP tried to convince greens to vote strategically; as if the environment would be better if we ignored climate change and simply nationalized the Independent Power Producers. If you ask people if they would rather be submerged in the ocean or pay more for hydro, they’ll pay more for hydro. This could only be the mark of a party that has no friends in the environmental movement. What goes around comes around.

I don’t know who decided that the second referendum on electoral reform would AGAIN be about STV. It could have only been someone who opposes electoral reform, or someone who is so smart that they’re stupid. It is almost impossible to explain how it works while also explaining that it would be more democratic. The Linux comparison is apt. You can have a better system if you just learn to write code! I refuse to think about electoral reform for another decade.

Comment from Marc Lee
Time: May 13, 2009, 2:15 pm

“feeling the icy stab of recession leaking down the sweaty spine of its back”

Paul, I’m not sure that is technically mixing your metaphors but …

Comment from Shaun
Time: May 13, 2009, 2:17 pm

“What will it take to get a worker centric party elected in this country.”

When the NDP drops their early 20th century rhetoric and realizes we’re in the 21st century. They don’t support a carbon tax and they don’t support proportional representation. They even recently voted to protest the EUs ban on the commercial seal hunt.

Why the NDP (and many writers of this blog) continue to think of themselves as progressive is beyond me.

Comment from Travis Fast
Time: May 13, 2009, 2:50 pm

Yah STV is a tough sell. Why not proportional representation with a 5-10% cut off. Keep the local candidate system as is and simply award the seats according to which candidate in each party received the highest level of support. Simple, clear, efficient and retains the role of local riding associations. I have a friend who is a specialist on electoral system and he assures me my idea is too simple.

“Why the NDP (and many writers of this blog) continue to think of themselves as progressive is beyond me.”

Um progressives have always been reformers. It was radicals who cached themselves under the progressives’ banner during the red scare. In fact, some reform minded progressives have had a Tory tinge in Canada such that we once had the venerable and oxymoronic Progressive Conservative Party of Canada

Someday I will tell you the key role many progressives played in the great red purge. But that it is a rather long and needlessly divisive story. So until then just know that progressive is an apt moniker insofar as it represents Big Tent politics.

Comment from Paul Tulloch
Time: May 13, 2009, 6:47 pm

I was quick on the pen when that came forth, something definitely wrong with that line, but I could make it a go with a bit more work.

carbon taxes the way the BC Liberals implemented them are a joke so any progressive getting upset over the NDP’s attack on it is something I never did understand. A carbon tax is regressive no matter how you slice it. Rebates are no substitute as such mechanisms are ineffective and suffer from great ineffciency.

I would be interested in your interpretation of what a progressive is these days Shaun. I am thinking you are feeling that it is no longer class based- unfortunately I am still stuck in my pre-21st century ideals. However they don’t stop in the 20th century, no I would say they go right back to the day that the very first surplus labourer was finally afforded to the tribe. And on that day my idea start that I define progressive.

So I do apologize if my interpretation of how a progressive is defined is a lot more inclusive.

So if class is rhetoric, I then throw you the ball and say, carry on Mr. Progressive, as you and the other couple thousand in your group carry the liberation forward.

Suddenly the revolution is now officially more than a t-shirt away.

Comment from Dave
Time: May 13, 2009, 8:42 pm

Paul wrote: “A carbon tax is regressive no matter how you slice it.”

Paul, quite simply, you are wrong.

Carbon taxes can be designed to be progressive. It’s simple, and many have described how to do it – I think right here on this blog.

And actually, if you look around, you will see that red progressives and green progressives are working together these days – organizing together and designing campaigns and policy instruments that serve both red and green camps.

This is where progressive politics is headed, and this is the only way progressives will win electorally.

The BC NDP needs to stop listening to the dinosaurs who think they can win by alienating key constituencies in order to attract right-wing votes, because (as I have written here before) it will NEVER WORK.

Times have changed. We need to move on.

Comment from Paul Tulloch
Time: May 13, 2009, 9:53 pm

Can be designed is key but once you start altering one’s behaviour based upon price, you are being regressive. Sure you can pay somebody for such behaviour changes, but the key point that greens seem to have a hell of a lack of insight into, a dollar is not a dollar to everyone. It is relative and a tax on one person will have an impact to a much greater degree towards another. Yes refunds occur, and rebates can be made, but the freedom to make choices is not given opportunity.

I suppose you support smart meters as well. Immediacy of the decision and the the transaction occur instantaneously, rebate and refunds are discriminatory and asymmetrically allocated.

I still have a hard time understanding why people insist that a carbon tax is not regressive. IT IS REGRESSIVE! Not all behavior has a price and the marginal utility of a dollar is unequal in our world!

Now I am not saying that a carbon tax is 100% evil, but let me say this, once you open the gate for taxing and punitive measures on peoples behaviors you automatically legitimize and encourage more regressive such measures.

Yes with a whole lot of delicacy a carbon tax can be made to work, but when in life does policy have any notion of delicacy, you are dreaming. The carbon tax socially the thin edge of the wedge for more wealth correlated environmental policy. You cannot solve the environmental problem on the backs of those without the means.

Hard cap (no trade) is the way to go and forget the tax approach. The only reason the BC liberals carbon tax was anywhere near acceptable for some of the population is due to the fall in fuel prices. The other point is, the carbon tax as implemented was so small that the whole debate about it is ridiculous. The market saw to the muteness of the carbon tax. However to be truly effective, the carbon tax would have to be larger and that is when you will get a whole bunch of pissed off voters.

Why on the backs of workers, why not enforce it on the supply side and make the corporations pay. Change the cars, change the power, change the assets and you won;t need a carbon tax.

If defending the freedom to choose for the majority is seen as being a dinosaur then string me up.

I do believe in red and green, but the greens are acting as if this one plank is the only one on the boat.

pt

Comment from Darwin O’Connor
Time: May 14, 2009, 6:48 am

“If defending the freedom to choose for the majority is seen as being a dinosaur then string me up.”

By “freedom to choose”, do you mean having the (democratically elected by STV) government impose what it thinks its the best way for each company and individual reduce their greenhouse gas emissions?

Comment from Paul Tulloch
Time: May 14, 2009, 8:39 am

I will be the first off the soapbox to admit that we are in some quite new space here with environmental policie.

But cannot I have one green admit ( I hate admitting to myself as I am a green, but maybe a red green or green red) to me that putting a price on something is basically stating to the population that it is okay for some to pollute and drive their big ass cars, but for the rest, public transport is the best society can do for you. It is in many ways already that way, that is what the price of fuel has done, allocated on the basis of wealth ones means of transportation.

I don;t care what way you call a rebate, or a tax refund, it still means that we are rationing on price and there is discrimination going on.

There are so many alternatives, reducing the price of public transport, which although similar is at least with a gentler hand.

Some argue hard caps will just be passed on to consumers and therefore use that idea to defend carbon taxes.

Well hold on, not all producers can pass on the costs of transition, some will have to eat the costs. But we do live in some state of monopoly capitalism so a whole bunch will be passed on. However at least these costs are sunk into a process that eventually can be minimized over the longrun. And also can be financed in such a way over the long run.

Hell with the money coming out of the public coffers these days, why not just fund the transition from the public and nationalize or globalize the whole damn industries that are the biggest emitters, transform the companies and then sell them back for those that insist on maintaining capitalism, and those that don;t form some kind of state owned democratized shop floor, public oversighted and regulated business entity that adheres to some notion of socially and environmentally sustainable efficiency principles.

The private sector has pretty much proven that the only thing it can transform in the past 30 years is the financial sector into some kind of fictitious value creating engine for the small minority of vested interests. It is time for a new direction, HARD caps no trade- and lets start now on the road to sustainability.

So getting back to the point, carbon tax is quite divisive and not something to be taken so lightly that the greens have been swiping away at.

The greens have got to understand, we are trying to run a society within the green economy, we can’t have revolutions at every corner within the circle of change.

The future is not just about the rich!

pt

Comment from Paul Tulloch
Time: May 14, 2009, 8:46 am

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20090514.wtorhydro0514/BNStory/National/home

I rest my case. Tell me with a straight face that this is not regressive!

Comment from Darwin O’Connor
Time: May 14, 2009, 12:03 pm

I think allowing the rich to pollute (and make the poor richer) is a small pay to give everyone the freedom to choose the best way for them to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

I’d like to see a socialist revolution too, but we don’t have time to wait for that to happen before addressing climate change.

Comment from Dave
Time: May 14, 2009, 1:14 pm

Paul, what about food? We sell that at a price. Should it be free? Isn’t it regressive that food is not free?

What about cars and SUVs? Should they be free?

What about golf clubs, polyester shirts, burgers and DVD rentals? What about dry cleaners, plumbers, and hairdressers? What about caviar and tourist space flights? Should they all be free?

Why focus on pollution, and insist it should be free, when so many other things are not? Whose interests are served by that double standard? I mean, apart from the interests of Big Oil.

You say “once you open the gate for taxing and punitive measures on peoples behaviors you automatically legitimize and encourage more regressive such measures.” Wait a sec. Don’t we already have taxes on behaviours, like smoking and earning incomes and buying stuff? Don’t we have punitive measures for some behaviours, like prison? Isn’t this gate already wide open?

Unless you beleive that everything – and I mean every single thing – should be provided for “free,” then you are tolerating “regressive” pricing, according to that logic.

But the reality is that regressive vs progressive is not defined that way by most people. For most, it’s about the income impact of a measure.

If a carbon tax design includes revenue redistribution – by transfers or by program spending – and the overall impact is progressive, then it’s… just not regressive.

Comment from Marc Lee
Time: May 14, 2009, 1:37 pm

Basically, ANY action taken to reduce GHGs will show up in higher prices for GHG-intensive goods and services, and that will be regressive because of the unequal distribution of income in our society.

But how the proceeds are spent are ultimately what determines whether the overall net impact is progressive or regressive. Toby Sanger and I lay this all out in our analysis of the BC carbon tax:
http://www.policyalternatives.ca/documents/BC_Office_Pubs/bc_2008/ccpa_bc_carbontaxfairness.pdf

The main advantage of a carbon tax is that it provides a revenue stream that can be used to offset progressivity. Ditto for auctioned permits in a cap-and-trade system. Not so for pure regulation.

Think about the Nordic countries as a model. They have much greater use of consumption taxes (though still have progressive income taxation) but they use the revenues in a way that greatly reduces poverty and inequality, and that provides much better public services than in Canada. That is the real-life model we should emulate, and not get hung up on the incidence of carbon taxes in isolation.

Comment from Paul Tulloch
Time: May 14, 2009, 5:25 pm

I don;t think the comparisons above are a fair assessment of the situation.

First off lets say that producing CO2 in a scarcity sense, which we should, is something that we need to ingrain into every nook and cranny of the machine.

Ultimately I am saying that having assess to this resource should not be going into somekind of biased allocation process such as taxes and pricing.

Should it be free. Yes especially for those at the low and middle part of the income scale who are already more frequently making use of public transport and do not own a multitude of gadgets and power sucking devices. I do believe it was shown recently I think by the CCPA that the size of our foot prints are correlated to the size of ones income and therefore specific focus on should be for citizens who consume and require such large access to this resource. So why not make it some kind of high end tax only.

Basically I am not a fan of this repressiveness, life is already multidimensionally regressive and here we go, progressives piling on with the exploiters onto the working class.

It makes me feel quite dirty again thinking about it.

Smart meters are next, okay lets see, a worker gets home from a 12 hour shift and instead of going to bed waits up until afeter midnight so one can afford to do the laundry, make dinner. Gee why not just take a night shift, imagine the heating bills and what kind of diabolical spinning rides on the thermostat will be unleashed on the populace. I can’t see this being workable. You can pay me a couple grand a year and I still am going to really hate doing my laundry in the middle of the night.

I find the humour and the laid back attitude the policy makers have with this. Let’s lay out tens of millions of the tax payer money on smart meters and then just throw down the gauntlet and bring on the life changing energy policies. You wait, once a governement tries to put a real carbon tax and a smart meter program in palce that is overly effective, you will have the population in the streets.

I will lay down some good money on a bet if I have any takers. It is going to be a wickedly nasty fight, tax based versus cap programs.

I agree with Marc it will end up being a mix of both, but it will be like pulling teeth.

pat

(this despite the sheer inability to introduce some form of global carbon tax that would be needed to properly address the problem.)

Comment from Stuart Murray
Time: May 14, 2009, 10:15 pm

Paul, let me be a little blunt about this. I am a good lefty and my priorities are something like this:

#1,265 – Reasonable price for gasoline
#124 – Can I get a peppermint shot in my mocha?
#30 – A vague subjective sense of egalitarianism
#22 – Smooth-functioning logistics system
#17 – Folk music for everyone
#15 – My friends get what the want on abortion rights
#9 – As little war as possible (killing Nazis OK)
#5 – Universal access to public education and health
#3 – Universal access to food/water/shelter
#1 – Survival of the planet

I count the regressive nature of the carbon tax at around #30, and the urgency of implementing either carbon tax or cap-and-trade at around #1. Do you get it yet?

Comment from Paul Tulloch
Time: May 15, 2009, 5:33 am

I like that list.

However I am not so sure it would line up well with a list from those in a Tim Hortin’s shop. Price of gas would be like 2 or 3.

For me personally the price of gas is moot, but I own an ebike and use it a good deal of the time, I use a manual push mower and so except when it is creates price increases across the board, it does not effect me.

It does bother me though to know that for some people who can’t get a full #3 on your list, price increases for the price of fuel or electricity starts taking more from their fridge.

Those are the ones that will be affected, so yes I can see why the price of gas is 1,265 on your list.

So yep I get it! What would you like in your coffee?

Comment from Darwin O’Connor
Time: May 15, 2009, 8:43 am

The real benefits of smart meters will come with smart appliances that turn themselves on at midnight or whenever it detects that power is cheapest. The next step is your smart electric cars that store electricity in it’s batteries at night when it is cheap and feed it back into the grid during the day when it is expensive.

“I agree with Marc it will end up being a mix of both, but it will be like pulling teeth.”

That’s probably true. It’s end up being more complex and loop-hole ridden then either carbon tax or cap and trade would have been by themselves.

Comment from Rick
Time: May 26, 2009, 9:49 pm

Didn’t see anywhere that over 50% of eligible voters didn’t vote. Not that it makes a difference. Campbell has his “mandate” and these “conscientious objectors” are unlikely to do anything more than abstain and, perhaps, grumble or whine.

Comment from Rod Smelser
Time: July 21, 2009, 2:08 pm

“Carbon taxes can be designed to be progressive. It’s simple, and many have described how to do it – I think right here on this blog.

And actually, if you look around, you will see that red progressives and green progressives are working together these days – … ”

I don’t see how a transactions based tax, such as the GST, PST or a carbon tax can be anything other than a regressive tax. Please explain. Now, if you’re saying that some over-arching policy framework that includes carbon taxes and some tax-expenditures or subsidies could be made less regressive or even progressive, in the manner of GST rebates, fine. But the tax itself is bound to be a regressive charge in relation to income.

I notice you use the phrase “red progressives”. I believe I have heard that before and am wondering just what it means.

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