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"When Canadians were offered a choice between a climate change policy that offered the possibility of personal inconvenience and the siren call of the Axis of Climate Change Dimwits, a clear majority of voters chose parties who promised a climate change policy that would cost them nothing."

Or, perhaps voters did not consider the environment to be the number one issue (or an issue at all) and voted based on other criteria. If that's the case, it's not really a surprise that Dion lost the election.

A post on Café Hayek that's very relevant to what's above:


Stephane Dion is an idiot. THAT is why he wasn't voted for. His constant changing of agendas and lack of confidence cost him the party.

Sara Graham

If consumers (voters) had actually voted with full information, I might agree that we got what we deserve and/or wanted. I think, however, you have to account as well for the forceful, consistent campaign of deliberate misinformation waged by the Conservatives, and to a lesser extent by the NDP.

Dion was not up to the task, but given the weight of the Conservative efforts, and the total incapacity of the media to help us understand things, I'm not sure anyone was up to the task.

The obvious thing to do is carry out a revenue-neutral tax reform, swapping a carbon tax for a reduction in something else, probably the GST. But we learned from the skewering the Conservatives took when they brought in the GST that this will not work. The GST replaced the Manufacterers' Sales Tax, one of the stupidest taxes imaginable because it taxes exports, but had the 'virtue' of being invisible. That invisibility meant that the Canadian public couldn't grasp that the concept, and we all learned that you simply cannot level with the Canadian public.

Bob is bang-on with his comment. I usually agree with Stephen and Nick, but I think Stephen is taking a narrow view of revealed preferences.

A precondition for a good being chosen is that it has to be available. In this case, a party with an actual action plan for climate change, a half-reasonable fiscal policy and a leader largely viewed as competent wasn't within the choice set. Had it been, it might have been preferred.

All revealed preferences tell us is that people prefer parties with no climate action plan, a half-reasonable fiscal policy and a leader largely viewed as competent (i.e. Conservatives) over parties with an actual action plan for climate change, a half-reasonable fiscal policy and a leader largely viewed as incompetent (i.e. Liberals) and parties with an actual plan for climate change, a leader largely viewed as competent, and a questionable fiscal policy (i.e. NDP).

Revealed preferences tell us nothing about Canadians' preferences for climate change action, holding everything else constant.

Wow! Two Carleton grads (Jim Sentance and Bob Tetlow) making consecutive comments! Hi Bob! Haven't seen you on here before.

And if my memory of the last election is correct, I agree with Stephen.

Sure, we only get to choose between bundles, and we might like one part of the bundle, but vote against it because we don't like other parts. But, didn't the Conservatives and NDP spend a lot of advertising money highlighting and attacking the Liberal's Green Shift? Presumably they did so because they figured the carbon tax was not a political vote-getter. So either the Conservatives and NDP strategists were totally wrong (and were lucky to do well in the election despite this strategic mistake), or the voters really didn't want to vote for the carbon tax.

My view is that most people pay lip-service to believing we have to reduce CO2 emissions, at least in polite society, but either don't really believe what they say, or aren't prepared to pay personally to do anything about it in private (like in the privacy of the voting booth). Revealed preference trumps cheap talk.

I think Canadians just don't feel that threatened by climate change. Until there's a widespread sense that "we're all Tuvalu now", Canadians just aren't going to be willing to sacrifice.

The fact that Green Party support was up significantly over the previous election suggests there may have been more going on than just a vote on carbon taxes. The net change in Liberal/Green vote was only a 1.7% decline. Plus, Conservative+NDP vote was only 56%. The 'fossil of the day' behaviour' from our government reflects the polarizing nature of the electoral system as well as the actual votes cast.

Plus, how many people voted for the same party they've been voting for for decades since before climate change was even an issue. It's a severe stretch to characterize votes as revealed preference on a particular issue.

Personally, I believe the results primarily reflected the extent to which swing voters can easily be convinced someone is notaleader by an advertising campaign with enough financial support and a complicit media (see many of the comments above mine for evidence - a vague litany of unsubstantiated complaints about Dion that reflect the Conservative/media narrative more than any actual facts).

Consider B.C. where the federal liberals had the biggest drop in support in 2008 from the 2006 election out of any province, yet we subsequently had a provincial election where the results were pretty much unchanged from the one before, despite the election being fought on the carbon tax issue. Is the revealed preference that people in B.C. are virulently opposed to a federal carbon tax (that we would be net beneficiaries of) but completely indifferent to a roughly equivalent provincial one that wouldn't do as any good (at anyone else's expense) at all?

If you want to point out that people had a chance to vote for action on climate change at the federal level and they (a critical volume of swing voters making up roughly 5% percent of the voting population) spurned it, then I certainly agree, but I wouldn't read too much into that, beyond what we already knew and Bob points out above, people have an irrational aversion to anything involving the word tax, whether it's preceded by the word 'carbon' or not.

While I agree that the Carbon tax was the decisive swing factor in the vote, I still disagree that it reveals voters preferences wrt a carbon tax as suggested by the Liberals vs a non-policy as promoted by the Conservatives.

What I think it does reveal is that voters preferred the Conservatives approach to a wildly distorted misrepresentation of the Liberal policy, which is a somewhat different thing.

I fully agree with Bob on the fact that the GST should have been the tax which was cut to keep the proposal revenue neutral. Aside from all the practical arguments in favour, it would have also made it much, much simpler to run an ad campaign in favour of the switch.

Imagine if you would a very simple ad featuring Stephane Dion (or some prominent Liberal politician) holding up a can of Coke or some other product the average voter buys every day and saying something like (substituting real prices/taxes for x, y, z): “This costs x at the local super market, currently you pay y cents, under the new tax you’d pay z.” Then repeat the exercise showing that the price for most things would remain roughly similar, then perhaps throw in some extreme cases and make the argument that we want to discourage/encourage spending on those things. Instead, you get a very confusing proposal where there’s no efficient way to tell the average voter how it will affect him personally. This paves the way for the Conservatives to use whatever scare tactic they want to convince voters that it’s a bad idea.

Revealed preference.

The concept has me often thinking that many British Columbians actually enjoy some of the highest property and violent crime rates in the country. Has me thinking on occasion that colonial-era right of first possession (first come, first serve) is of deep cultural and spiritual significance.

Maybe there is a connection with climate change as proposed solutions to climate change appear to get in the way of privatizing social wealth and getting rich quick?

Of course there is a limit to how far one can go with public policy revealed preference. I mean seriously, do you think that Newfoundlanders despise and loathe fish? Is this a manifestation of revealed preference for self-loathing?


Do you really think Stephane Dion is an idiot? That's a pretty silly thing to say.


Well, Harper's mandate is pretty weak considering Canadians have repeatedly elected a minority parliament. But I wonder if things would really be different with one of the other parties in power, where instead of criticising from the bleachers, they would actually have to make some tough decisions - talk is cheap, and as you said yourself in a pervious post, Canadians are bargain hunters.

Nick, Stephen:

How about a post on the household debt situation? Carney seems to be reading us the riot act.

Matthew: I just had a read of the stress tests on household debt in the Bank of Canada Financial Review. It's an important topic. I would like to say something useful about it, but not sure I can. I wish the Bank would provide some more details.

Actually Matthew has an interesting point. Though the Conservatives formed the government, they got votes from a decided minority of voters. Given that most voters supported parties with at least superficially more environmentally friendly policies, maybe we aren't being inconsistent in criticizing the government.

I dunno about that. The NDP promised to ensure that the costs of a climate change policy wouldn't be passed on to consumers. Prime Minister Jack Layton would have had pretty much the same mandate as Stephen Harper.

And I'm pretty sure the Bloc's position was that the ROC should pay the costs, not Quebecers.

First off, misguided as they were I do think NDP supporters were nonetheless generally thinking they were voting for a party that supported action on global warming.

As to the Bloc, last month they introduced the following motion:

November 18, 2009 - Mr. Bigras (Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie) - That, in the opinion of the House, Canada should commit to propose at the Copenhagen conference on climate change:

1. reducing absolute greenhouse gas emission targets in the industrialized countries to 25% lower than 1990 levels, by 2020;

2. the necessity of limiting the rise in global temperatures to less than two degrees Celcius higher than in the preindustrial era; and

3. supporting the developing countries in their efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and adapt to climate change.

Which again to me sounds fairly activist.

Now I can see the argument that in either of these cases they may not have been voting for parties that made it clear that they would actually suffer personally in the effort, but I think the point stands that a clear majority of Canadians voted for parties that clearly advocated getting the job done even if someone had to suffer, be it voters or the corporations or the ROC. They may have been confused by the price tags, but they all wanted the same goods. Which is not what the Conservatives have delivered.

This article on climate change might interest/irritate some worthwhile folks:

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