Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Preston Manning, Paul Martin among Advisers of New Group on Economy, Environment

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Preston Manning, Paul Martin among Advisers of New Group on Economy, Environment

Article excerpt

Private commission seeks price on pollution


OTTAWA - Preston Manning, Paul Martin and Jean Charest walk into a bar with 10 economists.

No, it's not a joke, but the punchline is a new, fully private commission that hopes to engineer a fundamental change in Canada's fiscal policies to help the environment -- and the economy.

Canada's Ecofiscal Commission launches today advocating a single, overriding principle: To start putting a price on pollution and stop taxing income, employment, profits and other things we actually want more of in our economy.

"We should not be indifferent about how we raise revenues," says Chris Ragan, a McGill University economist who is chairman of the $1 million-a-year commission. "They're not all the same."

He believes the notion is no less ambitious and controversial than public health care, or the Canada Pension Plan, or continental free trade, policies that have become national orthodoxy.

"We're here to say, 'Hey, not only is this doable, it's smart,'" Ragan, who has served as an adviser to the governor of the Bank of Canada at Finance Canada, said in an interview.

"I actually think this is the next great policy opportunity."

While the message may not be new, the messengers are.

The commission, funded by five family foundations and two corporate sponsors, is comprised of 10 nationally recognized economists and backed by a cross-partisan advisory board that includes everyone from Manning, Martin, Charest and former B.C. premier Mike Harcourt to tax specialist Jack Mintz, former Alberta finance minister Jim Dinning, Suncor CEO Steve Williams and Dominic Barton, the global managing director of McKinsey and Co.

In some respects it replicates the National Round Table on the Environment and Economy, a research shop begun in 1988 by the Mulroney government but axed in the 2012 budget by the Harper government.

While the official line was that the roundtable's research was duplicated elsewhere, senior cabinet minister John Baird acknowledged the government pulled the plug because the research kept pointing to politically unwelcome carbon taxes.

"We think the independence is crucial," Ragan said of the new, privately funded group. …

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