Part of the annual migration to Nova Scotia is the mid-summer get-together at my cousin Bev's house, featuring parts of the family who are still living in the Maritimes and others from across the country who are in the habit of returning to the homeland for lobster, sand, fog, rain, liquor and kin. Don't get me wrong, we are a small group easily nestled into a modest barbecue deck or basement, but we feature all of the joys and trials of larger tribes from Newfoundland and Quebec who are quicker to resort to the fiddle than a barb.
These are the kinds of events where you pick up the conversation with someone that ended exactly a year ago without missing a beat. No one usually has much new to say, just more passion. Sometimes you have exactly the same conversation, the only variable being whether you are drinking "wine" or "dark and dirties".
This year, a shock. My left wing artist/professor cousin who hates Stephen Harper and is part of the Maritime Diaspora in Saskatoon began to rail against Stéphane Dion before I sat down and got a drink, much less say hello to others who survived another year. My cousin is worked up about Stéphane Dion's carbon tax initiative.
"An assault on Saskatchewan and Alberta," he says.
"A return to the hated national energy program of Pierre Trudeau."
"A theft of money and resources from Western Canada."
"The last straw for the real separatists in this country - Westerners."
" You should hear the talk shows; all negative."
I thought I was talking to Rush Limbaugh, not my bearded ex-hippie art professor bon vivant cousin.
Someone brought me the evil rum and I began my counter attack.
"So if I have this right, you are selling more paintings to oil companies are you ?
"Someone has to show leadership. If not Canada who?"
"What happened to your talk about weasel word politicians who make easy promises, lie about their intentions and get elected to do whatever they like. Here is one making a stand before the election which might ensure his demise. What happened to supporting honest politicians?"
As the rum hit its mark I realized I had been tricked into appearing as a strong federal Liberal, but it was worth it to see him crumble. He offered lukewarm support for a CAP and TRADE system and then segued into a stereotypical rant about the many injustices to the Maritimes (say, high freight rates) speaking of regions, and I knew he was finished.
Just as he was flailing about like a landed mackerel, I lost my resolve. It is the most peculiar feeling. I hear the words coming out of my mouth, but I no longer believe them. I realized I'd spent most of my working life fighting for Northern Ontario to get its fair share of resource revenue and I have just been arguing Western Canada is not entitled to theirs.
What am I saying? Have I lost my mind? Do I think I am David Suzuki? Can a couple of rums do this? Apparently yes.
Look, a carbon tax is a good idea.
The devil is in the details, however. Western Canada deserves its resource revenue for the same reason we deserve it in Northern Ontario. It will be gone one day. The country must get real about carbon.
We are choking in it.
Quebec has had the good luck to harness its rivers. Should they not contribute to a national energy solution? If we can share money with the have-not provinces, can we share the pain of weaning ourselves off of carbon together? If we are prepared to pay some companies not to pollute, should we not be prepared to pay some provinces not to generate carbon?
These are complex issues. They require national policy making. The federal government is missing in action and the result will be warring provinces that rip the seams of our national consensus.
Stéphane Dion has done us a favour. He had the courage to put the issue on the table even as we suffer high energy prices. As an energy power we can't duck our responsibilities. The world still needs oil to get from here to there but carbon, and therefore, the oil sands are a national and international issue.
As we got up I shared none of this second thought with my cousin. We'll get to that next year when I'll surprise him.