July 02, 2008

Moonlighting for gas money

As published in The Erin Advocate

With the price of gas these days, it’s costing me $320 a month at the gas pumps just to get to work and back, a 100-kilometre round trip five days a week to the middle of Mississauga.

So I started thinking of ways to make my money go further, or make a bit more of it. I’ve got a decent job, but we haven’t had a raise in years.

A small job on the side would ease the pain of filling my gas tank. It would have to be something flexible, not too hard, close to home and preferably interesting. But where would I find a job like that?

Then I picked up the Erin Advocate and saw that Harry Smith had written his farewell column. I’ve been out of the newspaper business for 17 years, but I’ve always thought I might return somehow, so I called Joan Murray to see if she was looking for a new columnist.

She liked the idea, but said she wouldn’t be able to pay me much. I said that was perfect. Now all I have to do is figure out what to say.

What’s on my mind is energy prices, and in particular the carbon tax plan just announced by the federal Liberals. They call it the “Green Shift”.

If elected, they would increase taxes on energy producers, who would pass the cost on to the public, who would theoretically then use less energy. We’d be doing our bit to save the planet from greenhouse gases, and be rewarded with lower income taxes and other rebates. It’s a watered-down version of Green Party policy.

People in Erin, especially those who commute to work, have good reason to be wary of this plan, which is partly designed to get people to use public transit.

How many Erin residents would move to a city or change jobs, just to avoid using their cars? Some may buy more fuel-efficient cars, but many would simply absorb the cost.

We’ll still need to heat our homes with more expensive fuel, and buy products that have been transported with more expensive fuel. A 1-2 per cent reduction in our income taxes may not feel like adequate compensation.

For the government books, the plan will be “revenue neutral”, supposedly guaranteed by law. That doesn’t means neutral for everyone – some will gain and some will be worse off. The GST was supposed to be “revenue neutral” too, but it wasn’t.

The plan includes a Green Rural Credit of $150 for “rural” Canadians. Per year. It’s not clear whether this includes people in small towns, but in any case it’s a small amount compared to the massive surge of price pressure that a carbon tax would produce throughout the economy.

It would be much more than a tax – really a massive reform of the tax system, loaded with credits, hoping to offset the impact on businesses and lower-income Canadians.

It would be an attempt to change people’s behaviour – how they travel, where they live, what they consume and how they think about the world, by deliberately inflicting economic pain.

Global climate change is a serious problem, and maybe drastic measures are needed. But who is going to vote in favour of extra pain?

Do you have confidence in Stéphane Dion to actually make it work? Do you think the Conservatives’ less drastic plan will actually do any good? It’s not a pretty picture.

Here’s my advice to Dion (though it may be too late). Get yourself elected with other more pleasant promises. Once in power, nail us with the “Green Shift”.

If that doesn’t work out, you’ll have to leave. And maybe, if a future government is forced to bring in a carbon tax, history will remember that you tried it first.

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