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  • Published: Jun 13th, 2009
  • Category: Canada
  • Comments: 1

Don Braid: Carbon offsets disaster in making

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Federal regulation doesn’t inspire confidence.

The new world of carbon offsets trading looks a lot like the old world of the gun registry and another federal horror farther back, wage and price controls.

The goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I support it, so please hold the environmental tirades.

The larger question is whether this system will truly help the environment, or simply provide employment and status for another generation of bureaucrats.

Past experience does not inspire confidence that the feds can pull off such a massive regulatory adventure. In fact, experience is downright terrifying.

A lot of Canadians, including me, supported the gun registry. But it became a wildly expensive fiasco that did not succeed in its goal: keeping guns out of the hands of criminals.

Compared to the climate project, however, controlling guns was simplicity itself. Canadians only had to produce and register solid objects that could be seen and most definitely heard.

With carbon offsets, we’re dealing with something invisible and often unmeasurable– a bad sign right off the top.

The federal government will decide who has a good project for reducing greenhouses gases, how much the production is actually cut, what value should be assigned for doing it, and who may buy the invented, arbitrary value with hard cash.

Companies will then be able to buy credits to compensate for their own sins of emission.

The province worries that a lot of money could leave Alberta for parts east without doing any environmental good at home.

That’s why the Stelmach government insists that its own carbon trading system, in some ways a model for the national one, should be recognized as equivalent.

But there still must be major incentives for new technology, says Environment Minister Rob Renner. The money won’t be available if too much leaks out of the province through trading.

Alberta’s concerns are only part of the national problem. Once Ottawa moves, every province will be tempted to grab part of the regulatory action for itself. Like Alberta, they can all take steps (tax measures, for instance) to ensure that their own companies are favoured.

Undaunted, the feds propose to ride over the inevitable chaos as “the gold standard” for carbon offsets trading in Canada.

Well, miracles do happen, although in this case they’ll have to occur in the office of the new Crown prince of bureaucracy, Dean Stinson O’Gorman, manager of Canada’s Offset System for Greenhouse Gases, Environment Canada, who works in Gatineau, Que.

We should hope for the best–in fact, we should pray for the best.

In all the history of grand federal regulatory projects, there has never been one more open to political fiddling, favouritism, regional bias and outright corruption. It could make the building of the national railroad look like a charitable event.

The news about this program instantly reminded me of the night in 1975 when Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal government announced wage and price controls. Companies with more than 500 employees were forced to keep wage increases below 10 per cent. Prices were monitored, but farmers, fishermen and many others were exempt.

Parts of that uneven, unfair jumble were remarkably like what’s being proposed now.

Three years of chaos followed before the controls were phased out in 1978. And in 1980, interest rates were still above 20 per cent.

Ottawa had tried to control the value of money. This time it will attempt to invent money. Look out, Canada.

By Don Braid, Calgary Herald

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One Response to “Don Braid: Carbon offsets disaster in making”

  1. Don Pratt
    on Jun 14th, 2009
    @ 6:52 am

    To me the answer is simple. Government taxes CO2 emittors and give tax breaks to people who reduce their emissions. No carbon credits, no brokers Elected government in control doing the job they are paid for. Is this just too simple or is it me?

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