06/28/2011 08:10 EDT | Updated 08/28/2011 05:12 EDT

Vision vs. Populism in Ontario Election: Using Dirty Energy Incentives to Get Ahead

It's election season in the largest province of our country and the parties are busy rolling out their usual promises. In stark contrast with some of the higher-engagement democracies in the world, where the dialogue between voters and candidates involves plenty of long-term strategy and vision, our campaigns tend to be dominated by tactical promises that can be packaged into easily digestible sound-bites, focused on immediate gratification.

Look the latest campaign pledges by the two opposition parties in Ontario: They're both promising to ease their voters' "pain" at the pump and at the hydro meter by reducing provincial taxes on gasoline and electricity, as well as eliminating our time-of-day electricity usage incentives.

Now think about this: We're in the second decade of the 21st century; humanity is starting to respond and adapt to climate change; carbon is being rapidly vilified across the globe; and forward-thinking nations are racing to capture a leadership spot in this emerging low-carbon global economy.

Arguably the most critical competitive differentiator for any of us -- individuals, corporations or nations -- will be our ability to out-innovate others and quickly adapt to these completely changed rules of the game. And while the world marches forward and other nations are designing smart incentives to reduce their citizens' addiction to dirty energy, our politicians are offering to take us a few more steps backwards and prolong our addiction to cheap gas. Instead of recognizing our serious long term competitive vulnerability, as one of the world's most carbon-intensive, automobile-dependent economies, they're simply encouraging Ontarians to keep up the old habits and risk turning this province into tomorrow's rust belt.

Is this any different than offering more affordable cocaine to a population of unemployed and hungry addicts in order to "ease their pain"?

Leadership is about a lot more than cheap, regressive promises designed to buy today's votes at the expense of tomorrow's prosperity. We should stop setting the bar so low on our politicians and start expecting them to show us the future instead of showing us how to stick our head in the sand.