The ongoing debate over my post

It just occurred to me that there’s a huge debate going on over at (available here) about my post comparing Dion and Layton (available here) which nobody on this blog has any access to unless they also check Progressive Bloggers.

Here’s the rundown of the debate so far.  You can feel free to comment either here or over at, but if you want in on the debate, it may be better to comment over there.

Yes, Jack is as pure as the snow, and everyone else is an opportunistic charlatan. Silliness.

I never suggested that Layton was pure. In fact, if you had taken the time to read the entire post, you would have discovered that, at the end of my post I wrote:

“Now this isn’t to be taken as an indorsement of Layton. Layton has allowed his party to tact to the right and I will forever be sceptical of him for that exact reason.”

Next time, before you criticize, it’s always a good idea to acually read what you intend to criticize.

Not quite Paul. You’re taking one piece out of a wider policy and using it to distort the policy. I wouldn’t want to ascribe motive as you did, but I can guess.

Anyway, yes, Dion did talk about tax breaks for companies that voluntarily comply on reducing emissions. AND he also talked about PENALTIES for those companies that don’t reduce emissions. He also proposed removing royalty incentives for companies that don’t meet government emission reduction targets. A carrot, and a stick, if you will.

I did read the whole thing, did you actually read all of Dion’s proposals in Alberta??? I doubt you did, hence the superficial analysis. Cheers.

a BCer in Toronto – I don’t disagree with you that Dion is talking about using ‘suasive’ measures for tar sand oil companies. My point is merely that the end to which he is using these measures [which is ultimately enabling a process which is necessarily environmentally destructive] is in disjunction with his carefully crafted ‘green’ image.


If I’m reading you correctly, you would want to shut down the tar sands because they are “necessarily environmentally destructive.” Well then, let’s go a little further shall we? Why not shut down all the environmentally destructive practices in Canada? I’m talking forestry, fisheries, oil and natural gas exploration and recovery, shipping, transportation, mining, energy production etc.

Are we having fun yet?

For exactly how long do you think these kinds of policies would be tolerated by the Canadian public?

My point is that there are many shades of green, Paul, and that completely shutting down “necessarily environmentally destructive” practices (as in tomorrow) is, in my mind, both stupid and unpragmatic.

Dion wants to develop policies that will reduce the GHG’s from the tar sands, significantly, while at the same time reaping the economic benefits. This will develop technologies that Canadians can later export to the rest of the world for cleaner extraction of oil. Say Venezuela, Bolivia or any other part of the world.

It would, of course, be better to develop the infrastructure for renewable energy across Canada (and Dion has talked about putting $10 billion into renewable energy in Canada). But let’s be realistic – we aren’t going to shut down the tar sands tomorrow. The province of Alberta right now depends on the oil sands, and it would cause a riot if the government were to try to shut them down tomorrow.

Jeremy – my primary contention here is merely that there is a disjunction between enabling and expediting the extraction of the tar sands and Dion’s self-proclaimed “green” image.

I never said that we should cease harvesting in the forestry or fisheries industries. That’s just plain stupid and if you can find anywhere in any of my writings where I’ve posited such an idea, then please show it to me. Firstly, there is a fundamental difference between the tar sands and forestry (or fisheries for that matter). One can be done sustainably, the other cannot. One can be done with little to no environmental harm, the other is so much more environmentally destructive than even regular oil extraction (which itself is pretty destructive) that it bears little if no resemblance to a well-managed lumber harvest or a well-regulated fishery.

What I was objecting to was not any R&D which may come from a Dion government but rather was the notion that Dion would give tax breaks to the companies harvesting the tar sands and thus enable their activities all the while still calling himself an environmentalist. In my view, any tax breaks for minor, voluntary measures may be fine from an industry perspective but not necessarily from an environmental perspective.

Lastly, you write that “Dion wants to develop policies that will reduce the GHG’s from the tar sands, significantly [emphasis mine].” It is academically disingenuous to state that Dion’s proposed measures will have a significant impact as I can cite plenty of peer-reviewed academic sources which demonstrate that voluntary corporate measures along these lines are seldom if ever “significant”. I would be stupid of me to oppose these measures if they really would “reduce the GHG’s from the tar sands, significantly” as you suggest. However, you seem to have glossed over the part of my argument which holds that voluntary measures are not sufficient. Moreover, while I wholeheartedly support heavy sanctions against environmentally negligent corporations, I do not feel that economic incentives are appropriate in this situation.

Layton told the Tyee last week that there was no way for the federal government to impose a moratorium on oilsands growth. He has ‘called for’ one though. Quietly. I assume I haven’t heard much more substantive from him on that score because he doesn’t want to douse his (notional) chances of being Prime Minister.

Stéphane Dion has a crack at getting Harper out, and not a lot stopping him from making progress as PM on this issue apart from the ‘inherently evil’ character of all Liberal politicians. Layton, on the other hand, presumably rests his hope on the Tories undergoing a miraculous enviro-conversion and falling on their electoral sword in Alberta. If Layton and Dion can collectively pass some legislation in this parliament that does good for the environment, then I’ll give them both credit, but the notion that the CPC will make meaningful concessions is laughable.

“Firstly, there is a fundamental difference between the tar sands and forestry (or fisheries for that matter). One can be done sustainably, the other cannot. One can be done with little to no environmental harm, the other is so much more environmentally destructive than even regular oil extraction (which itself is pretty destructive) that it bears little if no resemblance to a well-managed lumber harvest or a well-regulated fishery [emphasis mine].”

Well yes, these practices very well can be a lot more sustainable, but there’s a huge gap between the potential and the reality. So I think my equation of these practices with the oil sands is fitting because the reality is that they are far from sustainable, talk of potential aside.

Ultimately, the tar sands is a really big conundrum. One that I don’t think can be settled to my complete satisfaction. I do think though that Dion is highly committed to the environment and that he will do what is possible with regard to lowering emissions and water use and developing environmental technologies.

Outside this paticular issue, there are many ways for Canada to meet its Kyoto targets, lets not forget.

Jeremy – First of all, I complete agree that there are a number of ways for Canada to meet (and exceed) its Kyoto targets. The main problem, in my view, is merely the lack of political will (and the influence of corporations).

Secondly, I’m glad we’re in agreement that there is at least the possibility of managed, sustainable and environmentally friendly fisheries. It isn’t really a difficult thing for us to agree on since sustainable fisheries have existed for millennia before the advent of capitalism (keep in mind that over-production didn’t really exist before the advent of capitalism). The fact that you recognize though that it can be done (regardless of whether it is being done or not) is important.

Fisheries, forestry et cetera can be managed in a way which has minimal environmental impact and NO long-term environmental impact. The same cannot be said of the tar sands. There does not exist any technology or technique of harvesting the tar sands which does not absolutely rape the environment.

Therefore, I’m glad you and I now agree that there IS a fundamental difference between the tar sands and other industries such as forestry or the fisheries and I hope that we can now agree that your original comparison of the two is specious.

Moreover, there is no technology anywhere in our near future which promises to change the bleak environmental reality of the tar sands. Now if we’re talking about a moratorium on developing the tar sands until such technology exists (with possibly massive government R&D expenditures in order to expedite this process), then I have no problem with developing the tar sands at that future date.

Keep in mind that my original post was about the disjunction of Dion enabling tar sand development through tax incentives all the while maintaining his “green” image. I believe that any dime from the public treasury sent to corporations developing the tar sands using our current technology and our current techniques is profoundly un-green and it will remain environmentally unsound regardless of whether voluntary measures such as using 1 L of water less per barrel are adopted or not.

Most people don’t expect the any federal government will shut down the tar sands. For all that he has precious little to lose, Layton’s official position on the sands pales besides yours.

If the extraction is going to continue – and it very likely will – then improvements are better than the status quo. Softening the political impact of the meat and potatoes of that process – regulations – by offering nominal douceurs for nominal improvements is the kind of pragmatic politics that people who want to get elected and save the country do. And that is the difference between Dion and Layton.

Alternatively, righteous tirades are probably… very cathartic.

[Edited on 2007/01/17 19:19:19 EST]

You actually think Dion is just such a noble soul of superlative virtue that he wants to save the country merely out of his sheer greatness? I don’t know whether to laugh at that or to cry.

Over 2000 years ago Plato wrote the Republic wherein he discussed that the REAL problems with the city stemmed precisely from people who want to get elected as you so aptly put it. Plato wrote:

“Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside, cities will never have rest from their evils — no, nor the human race, as I believe — and then only will this our State have a possibility of life and behold the light of day.”
The Republic, bk. V, 473 – C

Plato went on in this same work to articulate that those who would voluntarily desire to seek public office ought to be prevented from doing so and I think he makes a fair point.

Pragmatism has some virtue, I won’t deny it. But maybe you might consider the possibility that standing on principle regardless of electability and regardless of popularity but merely because it’s the right thing to do has more virtue.

A key example, unrelated to the discussion at hand, but still useful in illustrating the point I’m trying to make here can be drawn from the debates over slavery in 19th Century America. At this time, the most pragmatic and electable thing any politician could do was to attempt to ensure the continuation of the American government and the prevention of the Southern states breaking away. Indeed appeasing the slave-holding states by instituting slave-return laws in places such as Massachusetts was precisely what politicians did in order to “save the country” as you worded it. The problem is though that in a situation like this where everybody is only doing what is electable and pragmatic in order to “save the country“, the result was that, yes, the country continued to exist however the institution of slavery also continued in America for nearly a century after it was banned in Canada and the UK. In a situation like this, what is needed is somebody to stand on principle merely because it’s the right thing to do.

Is all this to suggest that the tar sands dilemma is at all similar to American slavery? No, absolutely not. But I think it illustrates my point on the importance of standing on principle and the virtue of such acts regardless of their popularity or conventional ‘success’. What is more, I think your valuation of pragmatism and electability above the virtues I’m drawing attention to is short-sighted and I think that my example illustrates that fact.
[Edited on 2007/01/18 13:10:44 EST]

I suppose that’d depend on how quietly you cry.

Political intransigence was a more valid policy in reponse to slavery on two levels; most importantly, because slavery was a much greater moral evil than inefficient oil extraction; but also because it was also increasingly part of a sound pragmatic policy on the part of Northern Whig/American/Freesoil/Republican parties because the overt discord over slavery continued to relentlessly destroy the existing party system in the United States.

I think Ralph Nader stood for many excellent ideals lacking from American politics in 2000. He also illustrated how much harm someone can cause in so doing. Real political contenders with a real chance to do good should not tilt at windmills if the result is Canadian environmental policy being set by Stephen Harper for the next decade.

Pragmatic means can dilute idealistic aims – or they can accomplish them. Idealistic and uncompromising stands can inspire and enlighten – or they can outpace and disconnect from contemporary politics and result in absolutely dreadful outcomes.
[Edited on 2007/01/18 15:16:33 EST]

I agree with you that the American issue of slavery was vastly different on a number of fronts than tar sands. In fact, I agree with you so much that I wrote “Is all this to suggest that the tar sands dilemma is at all similar to American slavery? No, absolutely not.” in my above comment.

On another note: when you write, “He also illustrated how much harm someone can cause in so doing.” that is such a bold and highly contested statement that you can’t just posit it as a truism. In fact, I would strongly contest the notion that Nader caused any harm during the latest presidential election. What is more, I wouldn’t change my opinion on this even if Nader DID cost the Democrats the White House (which he did in 2000, but didn’t in 2004). I consider the Democrats as worthless and corrupt and capitalistic as the Republicans and there isn’t a Democrat alive from Clinton (either one) to Obama to Gore to Kerry to Kennedy who would ever receive my vote if I were an American.

Which brings me to the truly sick thing about your comment that Nader has caused harm because he may have “cost” a Democrat the White House. The votes Nader got did’t belong the Democrats by default. If I were an American, I would vote for Nader even if it meant a Republican winning the White House – and even if it meant the most right-wing asshole winning the White House. It’s an indisputable fact that the pragmatism which you idolize is the same pragmatism which keeps Americans from voting for true progressives (since they’ll never win). This is precisely the reason (and their electoral system) why, to this day, America is the ONLY industrialized country on the face of the planet without a serious left-wing party. Therefore, since I would argue that the absence of such a party does vastly more harm to America than merely having a Republican in the White House for 4 years, you cannot make a statement like the one you made without at least presenting some manner of proof. If anything, I’ve just demonstrated how the example you gave of Nader could actually be an argument in favour of idealism due to the benefits which would be reaped if he or some other progressive became a serious contender (which, let’s be honest, because of people like you and because of most Americans, just isn’t going to happen).

Now that we’ve veered completely off topic, I should conclude by stating that I don’t think it’s tenable for you to continue to demean my small attempts to infuse at least some of the values which virtually nobody is speaking about, into the all-too-cynical debates which I care about. To tell you the truth, I don’t even care if I convince you of the virtue of this position (which is probably for the best since it’s probably a lost cause). However, the best explanation for why I take the positions I take was articulated by Bonaro Overstreet when she beautifully wrote:

“You say the little efforts that I make
will do no good; they never will prevail
to tip the hovering scale
where Justice hangs in the balance.
I don’t think
I ever thought they would.
But I am prejudiced beyond debate
in favour of my right to choose which side
shall feel the stubborn ounces of my weight.”


1 Response to “The ongoing debate over my post”

  1. 1 Diegv 11 April, 2007 at 5:28 pm

    Keep up the great work!

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