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Why Justin Trudeau runs the risk of policy by association

Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau greets an audience in Hamilton on Oct. 10, 2012.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

It's been two weeks since Justin Trudeau announced his intention to contend for the leadership of the federal Liberal party. To date, his campaign has been light on policy. If his appearance Monday in Nova Scotia offers any guidance, I'm worried.

At a fund raiser where Mr. Trudeau and Romeo Dallaire were special guests, Nova Scotia Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil vowed to remove an "efficiency tax" from the bills of Nova Scotia Power consumers. Cost of living issues are a theme for the Liberal leader, who has also been critical of the "skyrocketing" price of gasoline under Darrell Dexter's NDP government.

The "efficiency tax" Mr. McNeil describes is a program where a small unit surcharge is placed on electricity users. This revenue is then given to the Efficiency Nova Scotia Corporation (ENSC), which uses the money to fund a variety of energy conservation initiatives. Mr. McNeil's criticism of the program is not without merit. The system suffers from a variety of issues; power bills for consumers are unnecessarily complicated and the ENSC is an unnecessary add-on. This imperfect system ultimately does work, however, because it creates a higher price for energy. Electricity is the same as any other good: All else being equal, when prices rise people consume less of it. Despite his criticisms, Mr. McNeil has no credible alternative policy to curb electricity consumption and instead has decided to put the consumer ahead of the environment.

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Mr. Trudeau said he was not there for his own campaign, but "to support Stephen McNeil and the Nova Scotia Liberals."

This raises a number of questions. Does Mr. Trudeau support McNeil's reduction of electricity bills? Does he further support McNeil's proposed reduction of the province's gasoline tax? The four cent reduction in the price of gasoline, as proposed by Mr. McNeil, is the equivalent of reducing carbon taxes by roughly $15/tonne. Does Mr. Trudeau believe that carbon taxes in this country are already too high?

Mr. Trudeau is a blank slate when it comes to environmental policy. He has indicated protection of the environment is a priority, yet he is allying with a politician that has consistently promoted pocketbook issues over environmental protection. If he wants to be taken a serious politician with serious ideas on the environment he has gotten off to a poor start.

Mike Moffatt is an Assistant Professor in the Business, Economics and Public Policy (BEPP) group at the Richard Ivey School of Business – Western University

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About the Author

Mike Moffatt is an Assistant Professor in the Business, Economics and Public Policy (BEPP) group at the Richard Ivey School of Business – Western University. Mike also does private sector consulting for the chemical industry. More

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