Saturday, March 27, 2010

The afternoon "buzz"

I think you can prepare yourself for some reporting in the national media about the afternoon sessions here, two of which had an environmental and energy theme. (And here's one of the first reports. Sitting in the room here, looks like the media are all off writing/filing their stories.) Needless to say, if you've been following the twitter streams at #can150 or watching the proceedings, then you know that a subject that came up repeatedly was the idea of once again, at some point, Liberals supporting a carbon tax as policy. Yes, a carbon tax. And so, needless to say, you can imagine the reaction.

It's an idea that a few of the speakers were strongly in favour of, including Satya Brata Das, Steven Guilbeault and Nicholas Parker. And it can't be totally dismissed in future environmental discussions, nothing new in saying that.

One commenter in particular at the mike was very incredulous at the idea. Pressing the panel on its idealism, the difficulties that there are in selling the idea and of course, one of the big externalities that will totally enjoy a re-attachment to a carbon tax by Liberals, the Conservatives. He injected a dose of realism into the room, in terms of the vocal participants anyway. There's enough realism in the room in terms of the Green Shift hangover.

The discussion evoked once again a recurring theme of the weekend as we discuss a number of issues, the sheer difficulty that is presented in discussing legitimate ideas substantively in this Harper era. It's the era of attack ads, oily the splotch anyone? It's the era of dumbing down tax policy debates in particular into simplistic knee-jerk positioning. It's a recipe for the status quo or Canada falling behind, if we can't engage ideas and have our democratic institutions execute them. It's a dynamic that's throttling some very credible ideas. Busting out of that dynamic still the question.

On another note, which may have some bearing on the above, at the end of the two prior environmental sessions, Michael Ignatieff was taking some questions from the online crowd. He commented on the success of the technology aspect of this weekend, with the online streaming and the satellite sessions across the country. It may be something to pick up on, this notion of "networked governance" in a democratic, participatory context. It's a term that's coming up repeatedly this weekend, yesterday cited in terms of cities sharing the benefit of what they're doing locally that works but on national level. Ignatieff also said something to the effect that "command and control" from Ottawa, in terms of governance, is not on anymore. There may be a connection between the two, greater participatory inputs and increasing the appetite for the tougher sells.

Whether the carbon tax discussion was a "buzz kill" as some would put it or a helpful wake-up call for the national debate, and kind of fun to listen to in the room, will leave that to others to decide.