Yellow Brick Road to Green Serfdom: You would expect CEOs to have a few good words to say on free markets

Commentary, Climate, Frontier Centre

Ayn Rand famously remarked that the only certain consequence of occupying the middle of the policy road is that you get run over. The Canadian Council of Chief Executives appears determined to stick to the dotted white line. This week the CCCE released “Clean Growth 2.0,” its second call for more policy co-ordination — and more policy — on energy and the environment.

What we have here is further evidence of the CEO2 crisis, the fact that the Canadian corporate community has folded en masse before the quite possibly bogus threat of catastrophic man-made climate change.

According to Linamar CEO Linda Hasenfratz, co-chair of the 35-member task force that produced the report, “It’s time that we as Canadians had a frank discussion about the role that energy and cleaner energy technologies can play in contributing to the country’s future economic prosperity.”

But what about a frank discussion about the role that government policies have played in retarding economic development and destroying freedom? What about a frank discussion about the disasters attached to clean energy subsidies in Europe?

According to the other co-chair, former TransCanada head Hal Kvisle, “Canadian companies need a clear and predictable public policy framework and efficient regulatory processes in order to invest the billions of dollars that will be needed to tap new energy sources and develop new energy technologies that will enable Canada to achieve its environmental goals.”

Not much argument there, except that those “environmental goals” are not analyzed to see if they make sense. The report contains not a single reference to climate science.

Significantly, given the CCCE’s penchant for marching down the crown of the highway, Mr. Kvisle called for a policy “road map.” The problem is that we are talking about the Road to Serfdom, Friedrich Hayek’s magnificent metaphor for state planning.

This new report follows the 1.0 version, released three years ago. The motivation then, as now, was to ward off hydra-headed climate legislation. Some things have changed. In particular, the wind has left the blades of draconian U.S. cap-and-trade laws. Carbon regulation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is the new threat. Any prospect of global climate agreement fell apart at Copenhagen in December. Nevertheless, according to the CCCE, the Copenhagen Accord was a “meaningful building block.” Or should that be a piece of paving material?

Strangely — or rather not so strangely, when you realize the CCCE’s supine stance toward climate activism and its fatalism about bad policy — not only does this new report fail to reflect the crumbling politics of climate change, it fails to record the bubbling controversy over the science. No mention of Climategate here.

According to the CCCE, Canada would be better off with one grand, co-ordinated bad policy rather than lots of disjointed ones. To this end it recommends five steps.

First, we need a new National Energy Strategy. Not Program. Admittedly, the NEP was about a grab of provincial resources, but it was also about the government’s ability to see down the road. That led to a pile-up, but the CCCE offers no explanation of how it might turn out better now, except that if all the provinces get a hand on the wheel, we should feel safer.

The second suggestion is mere common sense: Get on with the U.S. As noted, U.S. policy threats are fading, but it is certainly important to keep plugging away at Canada’s importance to U.S. energy security.

The third recommendation is for a single co-ordinated policy on climate and carbon pricing, that is, taxation. The revenue would be used to reduce other taxes and subsidize “new” technologies. And you thought Stéphane Dion’s Green Shift was dead.

Item four moves onto the Yellow Brick Road to Serfdom, and calls on all levels of government to get into bed with business in developing “new generations of energy and environmental technology.” After all, look how successful such partnerships have been in the past. I’m joking, of course. The last thing the CCCE apparently wants is that people should have any knowledge of history.

The private sector must invest more in energy R&D (but wasn’t this written by the private sector? Don’t these people know how to take their own advice?). There must also be more “strategic” public investments. At least we now know after Potash Corp. what “strategic” means: It’s a word you throw in when you have no real rationale for an action — or at least none that you can state publicly.

Finally we get to the Clean Tails and Whiter Wool section of this TripTik to Animal Farm. We all have to build an “ethic of energy conservation and to engage Canadians in a national dialogue on the costs and benefits of various energy choices.”

Except apparently the dialogue is only allowed to come to one conclusion: Market prices are all wrong and we need more government.

This whole document is a refutation of Prof. Hayek’s insight that the key to successful markets and prosperity is the dispersion of decision-making to those with the knowledge and ideas. Such people can’t be expected to turn up at endless wonkish town hall meetings to justify themselves and explain how their efforts fit into The Plan. But that’s the idea. Only activists ever turn up for “dialogues.” Meanwhile the whole “sustainable” thrust represents just the latest and most virulent political attack on freedom. You might expect that the CCCE would have something good to say about free markets. You’d be wrong. They’re too busy dodging the traffic.