And the survey says… or does it?
Comments on "what Manitobans want" about a carbon tax sound like an episode of Family Feud. The answers depend on the questions asked and who happened to be in the crowd that was surveyed on the day.
Moreover, expecting Todd MacKay of the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation (CTF) to say something good about a carbon tax ("Manitobans should resist carbon tax," July 5) would be like expecting the Dairy Farmers Association to say nice things about margarine.
The lesson to be learned here is never to use opinion surveys to direct government policy one way or the other. Surveys tend to yield the results desired by the people who commission them. From the questions themselves (where a loaded question gets you a loaded answer) to the selection of contributors, surveys have become tools of propaganda more than social analysis.
To use the poorly designed, badly administered, self-selected survey on carbon tax offered by the Manitoba government as anything more than an illustration of how to do things wrong is, therefore, simply absurd.
Further, it’s not just about what you ask, but what instrument you use for the survey. I have queried classes of university students for several years now and found that most of them only have cellphones. Want to know what Manitobans under 30 think about anything? Don’t expect to find out by calling their grandparents on the family landline at 2 p.m.
Nor will even that survey necessarily yield the wisdom we expect from our elders. As Britons found out to their chagrin in the Brexit vote, older people do not always have the interests of the younger ones in mind. Overwhelmingly, the younger voters (at least those who got out of bed to vote) wanted to stay in the European Union — by the same margins older people voted to leave it. Those who had no future of their own apparently did not care much about anyone else’s, either. That’s a disturbing prospect for any society, including our own.
I would thus rather listen to what the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce has to say about implementing a carbon tax than have supposedly random surveys or public referenda guide the development of government policy on ecological issues. Nor would I easily accept the conclusions of think-tanks like the CTF, which boasts such former leaders as Jason Kenney in its "non-partisan" work.
Frankly, the term "think-tank" tends to be an oxymoron. Too often think-tanks merely parrot the ideology of their founders/funders, cloaking their bias in little more than a dollar-store disguise — something (ironically) that actually tanks critical thinking and undermines the credibility of any conclusions they reach.
On the subject of a carbon tax for Manitoba, we need more of what happened last fall, when the provincial government sponsored consultations with a wide range of civil society, business and industry representatives, along with local governments, that yielded some of the conclusions reflected in the Winnipeg CoC policy statement.
This is the best approach. Otherwise, there is too much polarization on issues that require people instead to work together. Good social policy decisions need the correct combination of left brain/right brain thinking, just as our own brain needs both sides to function properly.
Lately, however, Premier Brian Pallister has been reduced to firing occasional broadsides, conducting negotiations with the federal government through the media as effectively as U.S. President Donald Trump has conducted American policy through Twitter. These outbursts are guaranteed to generate more heat than light — public posturing to curry favour with Progressive Conservative supporters who will not likely be fooled by such rhetoric.
Elsewhere, climate leaders are telling us we have three years to make radical changes to how we live together, or else watch global warming make life increasingly more difficult for everyone. These decisions must be made on the current government’s watch.
Whether you like members of the provincial Tory government or not, it is their responsibility to act, to propose solutions that address the real issues instead of pandering (for example) to what they think their agricultural constituencies want.
If anything, farmers should be leading the charge to do something about global warming. Unlike the folks in air-conditioned offices, they are out on the land, dealing with climate change first-hand.
They also see what is happening elsewhere to smallholder farmers as water disappears, soil depletes because of overuse and extreme weather ruins crops.
We can punt the carbon tax football around all we like, to no useful purpose. What we need instead are wise collective decisions about making changes toward a carbon-negative economy, not more surveys that tell us nothing about very little.
Peter Denton is a contributor to UN Environment’s Global Environmental Outlook 6 (GEO-6) and chairs the policy committee of the Green Action Centre.