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Kyoto's many questions all lead to the same answer: Referendum

By Walter Robinson
web posted October 21, 2002

The Kyoto Protocol is supposed to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. But Ottawa's bungling of this file is creating more heat than light and plunging the country into a public policy pollution pit.

Meanwhile the provinces, industry, environmental stakeholders and taxpayers continue to wait for the federal government's implementation plan. But given the flawed economic projections put out by the feds last week (still with no plan), taxpayers would have better luck securing an MRI scan in the remotest northern community before the federal climate change folk get their act together.

Canada's adoption of and adherence to the Kyoto Protocol will undoubtedly imperil hundreds of thousands of jobs (244,000 according to one government estimate), impact Canadian family disposable incomes ($1,700 and likely more), and drive prices and taxes higher.

Kyoto is as compelling a national question and of equal magnitude to the Free Trade Agreement or the Charlottetown Accord. Both these issues were respectively put before the Canadian electorate in the 1988 general election and the 1992 constitutional referendum.

The same standard should be applied to the question of Canada's ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. Modifications could be easily made to the Referendum Act (1992) to facilitate this exercise allowing Canadians to vote on one or more legislative proposals with respect to ratification or rejection of the Kyoto Protocol as early as next spring.

Kyoto's unanswered questions necessitate a vigorous and informed debate. Which taxes (and by how much) will increase and when? How will our competitiveness be affected when the United States – our major NAFTA trading partner – refuses to sign on? How much will it cost taxpayers over the coming decades to buy unused greenhouse gas emissions trading credits – assuming as the government has that this market will exist – from countries such as China, India and Russia? What will happen to Canada if we, as a country, fail to meet our Kyoto commitments by 2012? Will international fines be imposed? How will we pay for them?"

To date, the federal government has failed to sufficiently answer these questions. If this were a test to move between grades, the federal government would remain in Kyoto kindergarten for eternity.

Opponents of a Kyoto referendum argue it would be costly, divisive, and result in mass media obfuscation of crucial issues and facts. Such arguments are worse than a smog alert on hot summer day in Toronto.

Democracy comes with a price. Engaging citizens in real debate and as former MP Patrick Boyer notes, arriving at crucial public decisions by popular will is paramount. As for the emotions, passions and divisions that are inherent in the referendum process, if we're afraid conflict why don't we just ban elections and shelve this little experiment called democracy altogether? On the issue of media obfuscation of issues, puhlleasse!

Unlike the ruling Liberals, we don't believe voters are stupid or gullible nor have we lost sight of the fact that Canadian taxpayers are the ultimate owners of public policy.

Walter Robinson is the federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Other related stories: (open in a new window)

  • We can do better than Kyoto by Jason Hayes (September 2, 2002)
    Jason Hayes argues that it would be foolish for the Canadian government to ratify the Kyoto Accord despite what the Pembina Institute says
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