Hill Dispatches: Elizabeth May wields green scissors

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Green Party Leader Elizabeth May chose the first day back to unveil her "Green Scissors" approach to trimming the federal budget.

She told reporters that her party had submitted fiscal proposals to Finance Minister Flaherty that they believed fit in with Conservative philosophy.

"We didn't bother suggesting a carbon tax," May said, "because we know the Conservatives won't be interested in that. But we think the ideas we put on the table should be acceptable to fiscal conservatives -- and they are also green ideas."

Stop putting tax dollars into tar sands

The Green Party's advice to Jim Flaherty is that, first, he should cut government subsidies to fossil fuels.

It may come as a surprise to many Canadians that a profitable resource industry should receive taxpayers' dollars.

But these subsidies go back to the 1990s, when the government of the day believed it needed to pour in some cash to encourage the then fledgling tar sands development.

If such government largesse was ever necessary, it is hardly needed now. Even the current Conservative government has pledged to the G20 that it would end these subsidies.

If they do so, the savings, the Green Party calculates, would amount to $1.2 billion per year.

Taking on government advertising and a bloated PMO

May proposes other cuts that are not all typically "green."

One of those is for a radical reduction in government spending on advertising.

To the Greens it seems quite wasteful for the government to squander millions on self-promotion when our fiscal situation is so tight.

Another cut the Greens would institute would be to reduce the budget for the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) by 50 per cent. After all, May says, the PMO is "not even part of our constitution."

"In the 1960s," she points out, "Lester Pearson's office consisted of a few secretaries and stenographers!"

One cost-cutting measure the Greens want that might not be too popular around Ottawa is to slash civil service travel by 50 per cent.

May suggests that there are technologies more advanced than Skype that would allow civil servants across the country to meet in video conference, in a cost-effective way. She has used some of those technologies herself, she reports.

Interestingly, the Greens would also cut government funding for carbon capture and storage projects. Instead, they suggest, the government should "set environmental and greenhouse goals for industry to meet."

The sum total of the cuts the Greens propose would result, they say, in savings of over $6 billion.

Taxing inheritances; increasing EI

On the tax side, the Greens think it would be reasonable to raise the corporate tax rate to the 2009 level, 19 per cent. This, they say, would still be "competitive with OECD rates."

They also want to go after off-shore tax havens and implement a new tax on estates over $5 million.

Offsetting those tax increases, they propose some modest tax relief for small business as well as increased access to Employment Insurance and elimination of EI payment increases.

Finally, on the program side, the Greens -- not surprisingly -- want to fund the "ecoENERGy Retrofit" program, as well as invest in renewable energy and mass transit, First Nations education, housing, water and health care, and establish a "National Affordable Housing Program."

The net result of all the measures proposed in the "Green Scissors" document, the Party says, would be deficit reduction of over $7 billion, annually.

There were once a Conservatives who respected environmental science

Elizabeth May is a dedicated parliamentarian, who is in the House almost every day, and takes part actively in many debates, even if she almost never gets questions in question period.

She is also a person with much experience in advocating for and actually creating environmental policy.

Before her career as an activist, May worked for Brian Mulroney's Environment Minister, Tom McMillan.

When you look at the 2012 Conservatives, it is hard to imagine that there once was a Progressive Conservative government that put great stock in the environment. But that was the case for the Progressive Conservative government of 1984 to 1993.

Acid rain and the "hole" in the ozone layer were only two of the issues that confronted Mulroney's environment ministers, who included Lucien Bouchard and Jean Charest, in addition to McMillan.

Elizabeth May had experience working in and with a Conservative government that was actually prepared to consider scientific evidence. That government did not do everything environmentalists wanted. But it was capable of listening.

It is unlikely May has any illusions about the kind of reception her ideas will get from the current crop of Conservatives.

Finance Minister Flaherty will reveal his budget on Thursday.

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