Three Solutions to Mark Canadian Environment Week

EarthIn honour of Canadian Environment Week — currently underway amidst accelerating tar sands development, hot on the heels of withdrawals from the Kyoto Protocol and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification — let us reflect upon what the federal government, if it were so inclined, could be doing differently. In other words, broadly speaking, how might Canada move beyond the symbolic in pursuit of true environmental sustainability?

1. Get serious about climate change.

By and large, there are three basic policy tools available to the government here: standards, carbon taxes, and cap-and-trade. To the extent that they have acted at all, the Harper Conservatives, in line with the Americans, have primarily gone the route of standards (such as fuel efficiency requirements and sector-by-sector regulations). This is a somewhat surprising move since standards are known for being “command and control,” while carbon taxes and cap-and-trade, regularly decried by the Conservatives (although they did briefly favour the latter), are considered more market-oriented.

Unfortunately, the standards that have been implemented so far by the Canadian government do not go far enough. The three major types of policy tools may have different implications with respect to simplicity, predictability, cost-effectiveness, and comprehensiveness, but in the end, the most important question is how stringent they are. We are getting rather late in the game of dealing with climate change, and it is high time we exploit every mechanism we have at our disposal.

2. Take advantage of our federal system of government.

In a federation like Canada, where responsibility for protecting nature is shared between the federal and provincial governments, environmental policy can get messy. But if this overlapping jurisdiction is accepted and handled wisely, then sometimes environmental progress can emerge out of competition between the two levels. Political scientist Kathryn Harrison dubs this kind of arrangement “unilateralism,” in which the feds and the provinces pursue their environmental goals independently. That way, they effectively check one another’s work. If one level of government abandons its responsibilities, there is still the second to fall back upon.

Sadly, this approach is not one that is embraced by the current federal government. The Harper Conservatives have pursued equivalency agreements with their provincial counterparts, in which provinces forfeit their rights to implement independent environmental assessments on certain key projects, allowing the feds alone to call the shots. This may avoid duplication of efforts, but the savings come at the expense of the natural world. The environment would be far better off if we embraced all the advantages Canadian federalism has to offer.

3. Enshrine environmental rights in the Constitution.

Environmental lawyer David R. Boyd came out with two books on environmental rights last year. He finds that 147 countries from virtually every region of the world have explicitly inserted environmental rights or responsibilities into their national constitutions. His work shows that the impact of these measures extends far beyond mere symbolism, with countries that boast green-tinged constitutions demonstrating stronger environmental performance. In many cases, governments rewrite legislation to comply with the environmental provisions of their constitutions and courts even force their governments to change course.

Anyone who recalls the last few decades of Canadian history knows that amending the Constitution is no easy task, but the fact that we are part of a dwindling minority of nation states that do not prioritize environmental protection in this manner should serve as a wake-up call. The natural environment is not some trivial matter to be tossed back and forth by the government of the day. It is the life support system we all depend upon, and it deserves at least as much pride of place in the supreme law of the land as freedom of speech and the right to vote.

This post appears on rabble.ca.

Party Positions on BC’s Carbon Tax

Carbon taxWith the release today of the NDP’s fiscal plan in advance of the May 14 election here in British Columbia, we are now finally able to assess where the major parties — Liberals, New Democrats, Greens, and Conservatives — stand on the province’s carbon tax. In my opinion, there are four primary questions by which their respective carbon tax proposals are to be judged:

  1. Will the tax be raised?
  2. Will the tax base be expanded?
  3. Will the tax remain revenue neutral?
  4. How will equity concerns be addressed?

This is not to say that these four criteria are the only relevant ones in carbon tax policy. But I believe they are the most important.

First off, the only thing that needs to be said about the Conservative position is that the party opposes the carbon tax and plans to eliminate it in the unlikely event that a Conservative government is formed. A similar policy was adopted by the New Democrats four years ago, which did not end well for them. I can’t see it going any better for the Conservatives. ‘Nuff said.

Raising the Tax

As for the other three parties, let’s start with where they stand on raising the carbon tax. The Liberals — who introduced it back in 2008 at $10 per tonne, raising it incrementally until it reached $30 in 2012 — have now promised to keep the tax frozen at its present rate for five years to allow other jurisdictions a chance to “catch up” to BC’s “leadership.” The NDP’s fiscal plan indicates that the likely next government will be taking roughly the same position. Only the Greens (full disclosure: I’m a party member) are pledging to increase BC’s carbon tax to $50 per tonne and to continue nudging it up from there until it gets the job done.

Expanding the Base

On the subject of the tax base, let’s note that the carbon tax, as currently constituted, applies to only about two-thirds to three-quarters of emissions in the province. Exempt are certain mostly industrial emissions coming from oil, gas, cement, aluminum, and other sectors. The Liberals have announced no plans to change this, while the NDP says it will expand the tax to some areas (such as oil and gas) but not others (such as cement and aluminum), and the Greens promise to tax all greenhouse gas emitting industries.

Revenue Neutrality

The issue of revenue neutrality is one which I think is not nearly as important as it is commonly assumed to be. So, counterintuitively, here is a lengthy digression on the subject:

Currently, the carbon tax is required by legislation to be revenue neutral (it’s actually revenue negative, but who’s counting?), with every dollar coming in going back out in the form of tax credits and cuts to personal and corporate income taxes. The rationale is something along the lines that if people are aware that their tax burden will be no greater (on average) with a carbon tax than without, then they will be more likely to support it because, after all, everybody hates taxes. What the Liberal government did not count on, however, was that many would not be convinced of the carbon tax’s effectiveness unless they saw its revenue being put to productive use. There is a certain poetic justice in the idea of a tax on greenhouse gas emissions being used to pay for public transit and other eco-friendly projects.

Political optics aside, the best argument for revenue neutrality is that the base for a carbon tax (i.e. greenhouse gas emissions) should be declining over time, assuming that the tax is doing what it was designed to do. Such an unstable revenue source will not provide reliable funding for important government services — green or otherwise — so it is better not to depend on carbon taxes for revenue at all.

On the other side, opponents of revenue neutrality might acknowledge that perhaps carbon taxes are not ideal sources of government funding, but we are not exactly spoiled for choice. Not nearly enough is being invested in green initiatives at present, so why not exploit whatever revenue we happen to have at our disposal, regardless of how imperfect it might be?

Personally, I consider both these arguments to be about equally convincing (or unconvincing) and find myself in the rare position of being pretty much neutral on revenue neutrality. I support carbon taxation and I support green government spending, but what do I care whether or not funding for the latter comes strictly from the former? I could simply go either way on the issue.

BC’s political parties don’t quite see things the same way. The Liberals seem to be holding the line in favour of revenue neutrality (even if their latest budget has altered the tax cuts which were originally part of the revenue neutral deal, but never mind), whereas the New Democrats have long supported investing carbon tax revenue in public transit and other such projects. The Greens, officially, are on the side of revenue neutrality, but they have indicated that they might be open to compromise.

Equity

Finally, there is the question of equity. Carbon taxes on their own, like all consumption taxes, are well known for being regressive, meaning that on average the poor have to pay a larger percentage of their incomes (although lower absolute amounts) than the rich. For this reason, most fair carbon tax proposals include some kind of mechanism to compensate for this regressive element. BC’s carbon tax includes a low-income tax credit meant to do just that, but unfortunately, a study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows that the current program does not go nearly far enough and that our carbon tax is still, on balance, regressive.

I have not heard the Liberals or the NDP say anything about changing this. The Greens meanwhile have promised to “exempt” (whatever that means) people below the low-income cut-off from the carbon tax. The lack of detail on offer from parties across the spectrum suggests to me that the issue of equity is not being treated as seriously by opinion makers as it deserves to be.

Final Assessment

  • Green Party: B+
  • New Democratic Party: C+
  • Liberal Party: C-
  • Conservative Party: F (or I for Incomplete)

Note, these grades reflect the parties’ carbon tax proposals only. Carbon taxation is not the sole dimension of a comprehensive climate policy, but it is an incredibly important piece of the puzzle. I find it encouraging to see three of the four major provincial parties openly embracing an idea which is still considered taboo on the federal level. That being said, it would be even more encouraging if they would step up their game. Climate change is the key challenge of our generation, and a well-designed, progressive carbon tax ought to be considered part of any reasonable set of solutions.

So hop to it, BC parties! The stakes are high and time is short.

Bring Your Boomers: How BC Candidates Fare on Climate Change

Enbridge pipelineAlthough the writ for the upcoming BC election won’t be dropped for another two weeks (yes, this campaign has been going on forever), I had the pleasure yesterday of attending an all-candidates meeting on climate change organized by Gen Why Media.

The forum seemed geared primarily towards the young ’uns, despite being billed by organizers as part of their ongoing “Bring Your Boomers” intergenerational dialogue series. A few older voices in the audience could be heard complaining about the darkness of the venue and the frenetic Twittercentrism of the onstage decorations. And though I am ostensibly still part of the youth demographic (I think) for whose benefit all this was being done, even I felt that the ambient electro-rock band Au4 which opened and closed the evening, while very talented and entertaining, was a bit loud for a political event.

Window dressing aside, however, it was a lot of fun. Five candidates running in the upcoming election from across the province shared the stage with three young people (Sam Harrison, Caleb Behn, and Andrea Curtis) who drilled them on their environmental commitments. Former Quebec City Bureau Chief for CTV Kai Nagata served as moderator.

The consummate star of the evening was independent MLA and former New Democrat Bob Simpson from Cariboo North. He drew by far the most applause by coming out strongly against both the Enbridge and the Kinder Morgan pipelines, and declaring the phrase “green LNG” (liquefied natural gas) to be “nonsensical.”

Green Party leader Jane Sterk seemed like somewhat of a kindred spirit, and it is no wonder she is not running a candidate against Simpson in his riding. She unsurprisingly took the strongest environmental stances of the four party representatives onstage, echoing Simpson on pipelines and natural gas, and adding that a Green Party government would raise BC’s carbon tax from thirty to fifty dollars per tonne.

NDP environment critic Rob Fleming got his fair share of love from the audience too, but he had to put up with some minor heckling whenever the room noticed him waffle on an issue. While the Enbridge pipeline got a firm “no,” Kinder Morgan was a “maybe,” pending a new review process. He spoke favourably of liquefying natural gas for export using renewable energy, so as to avoid the in-province emissions that would result from the current government plan, and stressed the potential role of BC gas in weaning China off of coal, a common claim by both major parties which critics find questionable.

More than a few eyebrows were raised by punk rocker and Conservative candidate Duane Nickull. Running against the Premier in her riding, he touted the importance of geothermal energy and repeatedly emphasized that the BC Conservatives are not the Harper Conservatives.

Finally, drawing a large majority of the evening’s heckles was youthful first-time provincial candidate Gabby Kalaw of the governing Liberals. He definitely came across as the phoniest of the bunch, the way he earnestly greeted everybody onstage by name and kept transparently trying to “relate” to people. He also had the toughest job of anyone at the forum, considering the palpable hostility that virtually the entire audience felt towards his party. But I was unable to shed a tear for him once he started spouting nonsense about using a “Prosperity Fund” of natural gas revenue to help us finance the fight against climate change in some unspecified way.

The high point of the evening came at the very end. Since the main event ran long, there was not as much time for questions from the audience as expected. So when Kai Nagata began wrapping up, a revolt almost broke out. One sweet little old lady in the back had her hand up for a very long time, and members of the audience began insisting that she be given the chance to speak. Nagata apologized, informing us that there just wasn’t time, and the audience’s displeasure grew more and more feverish. Finally, Nagata gave in and allowed the sweet little old lady in the back to have the last word, whereupon she stood up and, in her sweet-little-old-lady voice, launched into a rambling, incoherent proclamation about chemtrails.

Best. Ending. Ever.

Of Petrostates and Patriotism

Alison RedfordIf Alison Redford gets to define Canadian patriotism, then I don’t want to be patriotic.

The Alberta premier yesterday accused federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair of “a fundamental betrayal of Canada’s long-term economic interests” after the latter took a trip to DC in what is being widely interpreted as an effort to convince the Americans not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta.

Other Conservatives at the federal level have adopted the same rhetoric. Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver — of “foreign-funded radicals” fame — implied that the Opposition leader was unfit to govern, stating, “Governing means standing up for Canada’s interests and Canada’s jobs.” Heritage Minister James Moore taunted, “It’d be nice for once if the NDP leader could put the country ahead of his own ambition.” Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, meanwhile, went for the trifecta, accusing Mulcair of “bad mouthing Canada,” “trash talking Canada,” and “running down Canada.”

The message is clear: because he is not quite as keen on expanding the tar sands and exporting bitumen as the red-and-white Tories of Edmonton and Ottawa, Thomas Mulcair is nothing but a Canada-hating socialist antichrist.

Patriotism is usually defined as love of country, but fossil fuel enthusiasts prefer to conflate the notion with love of whatever the government happens to be doing on the international stage. This redefinition, historically, is a common one, eagerly leapt upon by all who agree with the government line and seek an easy way to demonize their opponents.

Others take a different approach, conceiving patriotism as something more akin to identification rather than unquestioning acceptance. A true patriot, in other words, identifies with her country to such a degree that she feels proud of its accomplishments and, equally, remorseful for its wrongdoings. A patriot believes he shares responsibility for all that his country does in his name. A patriot refuses to stay quiet when her government puts climate stability and the well-being of future generations at risk. By this definition, protest is patriotic. Critical thinking is patriotic. Dissent is patriotic. Under some circumstances, even civil disobedience is patriotic.

In the words of Ralph Nader, “A patriotism manipulated by the government asks only for a servile nod from its subjects. A new patriotism requires a thinking assent from its citizens.”

It is clear which kind of patriotism Alison Redford et al. stand for. How about you?

A Taxing Debate

Tax

The gloves came off yesterday on Parliament’s first day back after its summer break, with Stephen Harper dealing the NDP what he evidently considers a fatal insult. According to the synchronized taunts of the Prime Minister and his Conservative minions, Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition wants nothing more than to impose upon our struggling economy — brace yourselves, gentle Canadians — a carbon tax!

Boo?

Thomas Mulcair and his New Democrats played their part flawlessly in Harper’s script by denying the government’s charge, pointing out they actually prefer another form of carbon pricing known as cap-and-trade. But, according to the impeccable logic of a Conservative Party “fact check,” “A ‘price on carbon’ is a tax on carbon. That makes it a carbon tax.” Never mind the commonly reported inconvenience that as recently as 2008, the Conservatives too favoured a cap-and-trade system.

So what exactly is the difference, if any, between these two carbon pricing mechanisms? They both seek to limit carbon dioxide emissions, and they both require emitters to pay for the privilege of emitting. The difference is in the order. With a carbon tax, government starts by setting a price, and in response to this economic incentive, polluters reduce their emissions. By contrast, under cap-and-trade, government starts by setting a cap, a maximum level of aggregate emissions, but polluters are free to buy and sell their emission permits amongst themselves for whatever price the market demands.

Both systems have their advantages. Cap-and-trade has the benefit of certainty. After all, the goal of all climate policy is to reduce carbon emissions — something which cap-and-trade does directly by dictating what the overall level of emissions must be, thereby eliminating the guesswork involved in setting a carbon tax. However, carbon taxes have the strength of being generally more broad-based than cap-and-trade. For logistical reasons, it is difficult to set up a cap-and-trade system among any but the largest of large polluters, meaning that most emissions will probably not be covered. By contrast, there is nothing easier than levying a tax. Carbon taxes therefore have at least the potential of applying to 100 percent of emissions.

In my opinion, the advantages of carbon taxation are stronger than those of cap-and-trade, but the devil is in the details. I would take a well-designed cap-and-trade system any day over a poorly designed carbon tax. The effectiveness of each policy depends on how high the tax is set, or how low the cap.

Falling right into Harper’s trap yesterday, Mulcair claimed he preferred cap-and-trade because carbon taxes are “regressive.” This is a common myth. The truth is that all measures to combat climate change — whether they take the form of a tax, emissions trading, or traditional command-and-control regulation — result in higher energy prices at the retail level. No matter who pays directly, businesses will always pass on as much of the cost to consumers as they can possibly get away with. The solution does not lie in making false promises that only “big polluters” will have to pay and no one else. Rather, it lies in offering tax credits or other forms of compensation to people with low and moderate incomes. I have written in the past about progressive carbon tax proposals which use the revenue generated to ensure that the poor are better off than they would be in the absence of such a tax. It is no less incumbent upon cap-and-trade advocates to design their plans in such a way that the burdens are distributed justly.

In conclusion, despite the similarities, cap-and-trade is not a carbon tax, and the Conservatives are wrong in their boastful chorus of accusations. Nevertheless, New Democrats are advised to grow a pair and not let Harper define the debate. We all need to recognize that a well-designed, progressive carbon tax could do the planet a hell of a lot of good.

Stockwell Day for Premier?

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a0/Shorty_wetsuit.jpg

Thank you Georgia Straight editor Charlie Smith. I needed that. In the midst of unrelenting bad news broken up only by worse news — pipeline debates, carnage in Syria, the federal government’s ongoing dismantlement of Canada’s worthiest accomplishments — a good laugh was just what the doctor ordered.

On the Straight’s website yesterday, Smith wrote a fanciful piece speculating that former Canadian Alliance leader and Jet Ski aficionado Stockwell Day might run for Premier of BC. Smith admits that this does not come from anything Day himself has actually said, and bases his thought experiment solely on reports of Stockwell sightings at dinners attended by pro-Liberal Party Fraser Institute directors. (Sometimes I wonder if journalists create drama just for drama’s sake. Yes, I know I’m naive.) According to Smith’s line of reasoning, the governing party is debating whether or not to debate a name change at its convention this fall, and there is a chance that this in turn could prompt a leadership review which Premier Christy Clark might not survive.

And who better to take her place and unite BC’s newly divided right than Flintstones-era prophet Stockwell Day?

After momentarily jumping atop my desk in celebration whilst giddily chanting “Hell yeah!” at the top of my lungs, I begin to worry that a “fully-Stocked” (har-har) BC Liberal Party might indeed reclaim political territory ceded to the upstart Conservatives. But then I remember who we’re talking about. This war-mongering, homophobic pro-lifer used to routinely create embarrassment for himself — whether by showing up at a press conference on the shores of Okanagan Lake in a wetsuit or reportedly expressing a belief that the Earth is 6000 years old and humans once coexisted with dinosaurs. Any Liberals silly enough to consider electing him as their leader would be demonstrating an uncommon eagerness to put the final nail in their party’s coffin. Which, as far as I’m concerned, is reason enough to support his re-entry into politics.

Of course, Day will never do it. Any suggestion to the contrary is nothing but a left-wing journalist’s wishful fantasy.

But is it a crime to dream?

A Multi-Partisan Approach to Environmental Protection

I am a strong believer in the Green Party. It plays an essential role. Environmentalists cannot afford to patiently wait around for traditional parties to see the light and pass the necessary laws to avert catastrophe.

That being said, Canadians have been slow to embrace the Green Party, and that slowness has been magnified by an unfair and unrepresentative electoral system. The Greens’ single-member delegation in the House of Commons — a triumph in its own right — is too small a basket for environmentalists to consolidate all our eggs. And in the face of the slowly unfolding plans of Stephen Harper’s majority government to eviscerate environmental regulations in Canada (the “streamlining” of the assessment process that I’ve written about before was just a start), we need to try something new.

Green leader Elizabeth May, with the help of any other MPs concerned about the environment, needs to create a multi-partisan Environmental Caucus in the House of Commons — somewhat akin to the (misleadingly named) Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism, or the various congressional caucuses in the US and all-party parliamentary groups in the UK. It would be considerably less “official” and more “activist” than the House’s Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. Open to MPs from all parties, this informal caucus could potentially present the most formidable and unified challenge to Harper’s radically anti-environmental agenda. If joined by a handful of green-leaning Conservatives, it could even sow the seeds of division within the governing party. (Please allow my indulgence in fantasy. It’s all I’ve got!)

Might this strategy result in the appropriation of my beloved Green Party’s values and the stealing of its political thunder? It’s possible — especially if the strategy is successful. But environmentalists’ allegiance is to the planet, not to any party, and at the moment this represents our best path forward. We cannot wait another three years to boot the bastards out. The environment needs parliamentary protection against a short-sighted and power-hungry executive right now.

Oliver’s Twist: So Long Federal Environmental Oversight

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver — yes, the one who labelled environmentalists foreign-backed radicals — announced a major overhaul today in how environmental assessments will be conducted in Canada. Not surprisingly, the government is limiting the ability of environmental groups to take part in public hearings, shortening the length of reviews, and generally streamlining the process. Put another way, public and regulatory oversight of resource development is being slashed.

What I find most interesting, however, is that Oliver seems to be trying to take the federal government out of the environmental assessment game. With the exception of “major economic projects” and other matters judged to be of national importance, the feds will now be leaving assessments to the provinces in hopes of avoiding any costly duplication of efforts. And so we find ourselves in the midst of the classic debate: which level of government — federal or provincial — is better at protecting the environment? Some argue that the provinces are the appropriate venue, because they are closer to the people most intimately affected by environmental problems, while others counter that provinces are also closer to those who stand to profit from resource exploitation.

In my opinion, both sides miss the point. Whether the feds or the provinces have more power on the environment is not nearly as important as how they interact with each other. In the introduction to an environmental policy anthology she co-edited, UBC political scientist Kathryn Harrison distinguishes three different approaches: unilateralism, rationalization, and collaboration.

Under unilateralism, both levels of government put environmental protections in place on their own and without regard for the other, resulting in inevitable duplications. A more cooperative approach is rationalization, under which the two levels divvy up responsibilities, so that some environmental questions are treated as federal jurisdiction and others as provincial. Most cooperative of all, collaboration involves the feds and the provinces getting together to agree upon and draw up the rules jointly.

What we see with Minister Oliver’s announcement today is not a decentralization of environmental policy — or at least not just that — but a shift in Canada’s environmental assessments from unilateralism to rationalization. Of course, everyone loves a little cooperation, but we might as well ask what we are losing in the process.

The greatest strength of unilateralism is frankly that it tends to produce the best results. If either a federal or a provincial government happens to be a bit weak on the environment at any given time (something that all jurisdictions can be, depending on who is in office), the planet will at least have the regulations of the other to fall back on. Unilateralism offers up some friendly jurisdictional competition to ensure that the best policies rise to the top (a conservative principle if ever I’ve heard one!). It provides a guarantee that whichever level of government is most committed to the environment is the one that will carry the day.

But what about those costly duplications? Everything in government has a cost. The question is whether we are getting good value for our money. Politics, as is often observed, is about choice. So what do we prioritize? Sustainable resource development, healthy ecosystems, and the best possible environmental assessments? Or corporate tax cuts, prisons, and F-35s? The Conservative government has made its position clear.

I wonder where most Canadians stand.

How to Win

This is a seating plan of the Canadian House o...

Amidst the cacophony of Harper government threats — seemingly a new one each week — to dismantle what remains of Canada’s proudest progressive achievements, there can be heard a faint buzz of debate in centre-left circles on what to do about it. Some of these voices even dare to suggest that perennial political non-starter — cross-party cooperation. (Don’t they know this is Canada? Leave coalitions to those unholy socialists in Europe!)

The latest timid foray into this territory comes courtesy of youth-flavoured democracy group Leadnow.ca. It has begun polling its members on whether or not it should call on New Democrats, Liberals, and Greens to work together in the next election to defeat select Conservative incumbents and, assuming they succeed, reform the country’s electoral system. This idea of an ad hoc pre-election alliance is far more attractive than the common proposal for a merger of the parties. The NDP, Liberal Party, and Green Party, despite their occasional common ground (and commoner enemy), each have distinguished histories and represent different ideologies and concerns. To permanently paper over these distinctions and create an American-style two-party system would diminish the political choice and diversity on offer to Canadian voters.

But wouldn’t a limited electoral alliance do the same thing — albeit on a smaller scale? Wouldn’t there be some ridings in which voters are denied the full range of progressive options? The short answer is yes, but only as a temporary measure. If the three parties manage to form a coalition government and put in place a new electoral system that eliminates vote-splitting, then they can go back to fully competing against each other in all subsequent elections without handing victory after victory to a Conservative Party voted against by a consistent 60 to 70 percent of Canadians. And let us not underestimate the lack of voter choice represented by our first-past-the-post electoral system and the incentives it provides to “strategically” ignore parties we may agree with the most in deference to those we hate the least.

The major hurdle on the way to cooperation will be convincing those involved. The Greens will probably be the easiest, considering Elizabeth May’s history of openness to such ideas, as in her 2007 non-competition agreement with then-Liberal leader Stephane Dion. In the current NDP leadership race, however, only second-tier candidate Nathan Cullen supports joint nominations with the Liberals and Greens in some ridings, a crime for which his fellow contenders, normally loathe to criticize each other publicly, have attacked him (although not too harshly — they are still brothers and sisters after all).

I can understand NDP hesitancy towards any rapprochement with the Liberals. As is often noted, the latter have a long history of campaigning like New Democrats and governing like Conservatives. But just as commonly observed is the uncharacteristic good behaviour of Liberal governments held to account by constructive partnerships with the NDP. Canada’s health care and pension systems are testaments to the positive influence that progressive parties can have on the Liberals, just as the Harper government’s current moves to turn the clock back on these very accomplishments are testaments to the effects of division in the centre-left ranks.

The Liberals will likely be hardest of all to sway. To convince the people only recently considered Canada’s “natural governing party” to cooperate with those most responsible for their downfall is like asking Americans not to resent the growing economic might of soon-to-be-superpower China.

Moreover, at their recent convention, Liberals endorsed the alternative vote electoral system, whereas Greens and New Democrats have a long-established preference for proportional representation. How do they find common ground on this front? Ideally, in the event that they form government, the three parties could hold a national referendum asking voters to make the choice between electoral systems for them. And even if the Liberals succeed in convincing Canadians to choose the far inferior reform of the alternative vote, it would at least be just as effective as proportional representation at eliminating vote splitting, and would thus vindicate the NDP-Liberal-Green alliance.

So what are we waiting for, progressives? Why are we so afraid of cooperation? Just one pre-election deal to work together, form a coalition government, and ditch first-past-the-post; and Harper’s Conservatives are history. We have nothing to lose but our chains. We have a world to win.

(New Democrats, please explain that line to the Liberals.)

Update 09/02/2012: Leadnow.ca has now moved beyond internal polling, and has set up an online petition open to the public. Please sign it!