Friday, September 12, 2008

Environmental Crisis Meets Quebec Identity Politics

Linguistic and sociological tensions frequently mask the real challenges facing Quebec as I argued on this blog during the last provincial election. Competitivity, health care and now the environment have been reflected through the fun house mirror of Quebec identity politics to the detriment of actual debate on how to deal with these issues.

"I am more Quebecker than you..."
"Referemdum!" "No referendum"

These old slogans are a bit tired, as well as dangerous because of their obscurantism.

There is a certain interpretation of the unexpected rise of the ADQ in the last election which holds that the ADQ symbolized in the minds of many a turn away from the identity politics of the past. (Whether the policies of the ADQ truly involved such a turn is a separate subject that I will leave to subtler minds than myself). I too felt that appeal because, as I said, I think that most issues suffer from distortions of french/english tension.

Until recently, the Bloc were advancing a general line of reasoning that Quebecker's greater concern for the environmental crisis was another example of a distinct culture, and thus reason to separate. It is a weak argument that convinced only a few.

Now, Harper claims quite falsely that the Liberal Green shift plan will cause a recession, and thus will give Quebecker's a reason to separate. This is as weak an argument as the Bloc argument.

Unfortunately, both arguments mask the problem of what is the appropriate action to take on the environment. Conservative and Bloc politicians have been using linguistic tension to mask the fact that most economists and environmentalists agree that to deal effectively with the carbon emissions that cause global warming a price must be put on carbon. The fastest way to put a price on carbon is to tax it because, unlike a new bureaucratic investment in an unknown cap-and-trade system, we already have the infrastructure to tax carbon.

The Liberal Green Shift plan would use the money raised by the tax to decrease income tax and help Canadians become more energy efficient. Since, regardless of your beliefs about global warming, energy prices will continue to rise steeply, a more energy efficient economy will be a more competitive one.

You may or may not agree with my argument in favour of the Green Shift Plan, but Quebeckers on the whole ARE concerned about the environment. Responsible politicians and responsible members of the media would present voters with the facts about the options (and note how these facts may be distorted with identity politics by unworthy politicians).

Perhaps some would rather indulge in the old slogans: "I am more Nationalist than you." These latter individuals will be doing the greatest disservice to the nation.

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