05/28/2012 01:42 EDT | Updated 07/28/2012 05:12 EDT

John Baird Should be Raked Over the (Carbon Tax) Coals

It's rare that a government accused of undervaluing science and making policy decisions based on predetermined outcomes, rather than rational analysis, comes straight out and admits that's how they function. But recently, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird did exactly that.

"Why should taxpayers have to pay for more than 10 reports promoting a carbon tax, something that the people of Canada have repeatedly rejected?" he asked, and the continued, "It should agree with Canadians. It should agree with the government. No discussion of a carbon tax that would kill and hurt Canadian families."

First, I'll assume that the minister misspoke, or was quoted wrong, and that he is not implying that a carbon tax would kill Canadian families. Second, when exactly have Canadians rejected carbon taxes? I don't remember a referendum on that. Third, worrying about public opinion is not the job of an arms-length commission that is supposed to give the government independent expert advice.

In this case, it was the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE) which has for several years put forward arguments for how a national carbon tax would help Canada meet its international commitments to reduce carbon emissions without damaging the economy.

It is exactly such a group's job to give this advice whether it is popular or not. It is the government's job along with parliament to decide whether or not to follow that advice. The politicians are the ones who should balance the advice, what it is worth, how much citizens would support it and whether it should be enacted.

If public opinion is against something that all the experts agree is good for Canada, then it is the government's duty to try to convince the public it is a good thing. Then the opposition parties could argue against it if they don't agree. Then if it's not clear which side is right, an election between parties explicitly supporting one policy or another may help settle the question. 

That is, any party could actually win a majority of the votes in Canada, which at the moment none of them, including the Conservatives, can even come close to. I shouldn't have to to explain to Baird how democracy works but there it is.

No one who is attempting to make rational decisions in the interest of the country should be throwing away honest advice from experts which agree with wide scientific economic opinion such as the value of carbon taxes for managing emissions. Cutting funding from NRTEE is just further proof that the Conservatives seem to have no interest in opinions which conflict with the decisions they have already made. This is folly, not decisiveness.