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Gallant rekindles smouldering firewood issue 0

Douglas Gloin

First, Conservative candidate Cheryl Gallant claimed that, if elected, Stéphane Dion's Liberals would impose a tax on firewood.

We would not, the Liberals responded in the first days of the campaign. There is nothing in our Green Shift plan that would tax firewood, they said. We will not tax firewood. They demanded a correction; but none was forthcoming.

Now, Gallant has sailed into the fray once again, albeit on a different tack. In a letter sent to media outlets this week, she no longer mentions a firewood tax; instead she alleges the Liberal Green Shift would - not might, or possibly, but would - tax emissions from wood burning.

In a region where much of the population heats with wood, a planned tax on such emissions would be certain to be highly unpopular in the Oct. 14 election - if it was true.

But it is not true. The Green Shift plan does not provide for a tax on wood burning, and Gallant's letter uses a partial quotation from the Liberal document in which words that would appear to rule out such a tax have not been included.

The spark that first kindled this conflagration started with Gallant's last issue of "The Communicator," which was appearing in the mail to homes in Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke riding the same week that the federal election campaign began.

On page three of the issue, Gallant charged that the Liberal carbon tax, the cornerstone of the party's Green Shift plan, would involve "taxing or banning the use of firewood."

The allegation brought an immediate and hotly worded denial from the Liberals. Carole Devine, the Liberal candidate in this riding, accused the Gallant camp of printing falsehoods about the Liberal platform, and questioned their appearance in a flyer from Gallant mailed out at taxpayers' expense. Devine and others also took issue with the timing of the newsletter's mailing, because it is against election laws to send such taxpayer-funded material once the election writ is dropped.

The issue was picked up in the national news media. On its editorial page, the Toronto Star chided Gallant for "fear-mongering" and undermining "the quality of public discourse in this election." The Canadian Press also carried an item about the firewood flap that ran in several other newspapers.

But until two days ago, the whole conflagration had pretty much died down to a few smouldering embers. Then on Monday, Gallant sent a news release and letter to the editor at the Eganville Leader, copying it to this newspaper and many other Valley news outlets.

The letter, written in Gallant's name, is a response to a Sept. 24 letter to the editor from Mark Jones of Eganville. Jones' letter said that he couldn't find anything that mentioned a firewood tax in the Liberal Green Shift platform, and that when he asked a worker at Gallant's campaign office what information the Conservative candidate had to support her allegation, he hadn't been able to get a straight answer on the issue.

Then he went on to ask:

"My concern is that if a politician can make groundless claims about the simple matter of firewood, can we trust them on health provision, the safety of our troops, the gun registry, food security, trade agreements, atomic research, etc.? Please, Ms. Gallant could you explain your claim that the Liberals plan to further tax or ban firewood?"

The Conservative response, which appears on Gallant's letterhead and carries her imprimatur, opens by saying, "I am pleased to respond to the concern raised about the new 'tax on everything,' or carbon tax."

"The carbon tax that is the centrepiece of the campaign platform of Stéphane Dion, is a tax on carbon. The local Dion candidate is denying their new carbon tax will include wood. Even a fifth grader knows that wood is made of carbon. It is misleading to suggest that the burning of wood, with the resulting release of carbon into the atmosphere, would not be a target of the carbon tax."

Gallant then quotes from the 'Dion Carbon Tax Plan':

"A carbon tax will apply at the wholesale level, across the country, to the full range of . fuels . based on their level of carbon emissions. The price will begin immediately at $10 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions and steadily rise by an additional $10 per year, reaching $40 per tonne within four years. Further into the future, the price on carbon will continue its . rise..

"Do the math," Gallant says in the letter. "By year four of the carbon tax plan, the carbon tax on a chord (sic) of wood would be $72."

However, the Green Shift quotation carried in Gallant's letter is not the full sentence from the Liberal plan's text. The actual text, without the ellipsis, states, "A carbon tax will apply at the wholesale level, across the country, to the full range of fossil fuels including coal, propane, natural gas, oil and diesel (our italics) - based on their level of carbon emissions."

The Canadian Oxford Dictionary defines a fossil fuel as "a natural fuel such as oil or gas formed in the geological past from the remains of living organisms." Wood does not qualify.

Nowhere is firewood mentioned in the Green Shift document. Despite this, not only does Gallant conclude that the Liberals plan to tax wood burning, she also does the costing:

"Depending on the efficiency of the stove and the severity of the winter, for someone who only heats with wood, the average is three chords (sic) per season. That translates into a 4th year carbon tax on firewood of $216.00 (plus GST & PST), for the homeowner who heats with wood. Of greater concern, after year four, the rise is open-ended, (the 'social costs of pollution' according to the carbon tax plan).

"The burning of carbon/wood releases Co2 into the atmosphere. This is where a 'chimney tax' would be levied. The carbon tax is intended to 'shift' people away from greenhouse gas emissions like Co2. It is only consistent that an 'environmental' carbon tax would be levied on wood stoves at the wholesale level as the plan states."

Reached just before press time yesterday, Gallant campaign manager Larry Black defended the statement that the Liberals would tax wood emissions.

He said that the Green Shift plan is vague, but that it would tax greenhouse gas emissions, and that "when you start talking about greenhouse gas emissions, wood is one of them."

Liberal candidate Devine responded to Gallant's latest letter in an email to This Week early yesterday.

"I had hoped, at the very least, Ms Gallant would be willing and able (as an experienced parliamentarian) to debate an issue on its merits," she wrote. "But it appears that is not the case. So let me start by saying very simply that the carbon tax will not be placed on firewood. Period. Any suggestion to the contrary is a deliberate attempt to mislead voters and avoid the real issues.

"The Liberal Party's Green Shift is designed to put a price on the carbon we burn - excluding firewood - that pollutes the environment and heats our planet. We believe this strategy will help reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time we'll cut your taxes. If you pay taxes at the middle- or lower-income tax rates, that rate will come down by 10 per cent.

"Ms Gallant won't admit any of this. She also won't admit that the same type of strategy has been used in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the U.K. And it works.

"The Conservative Party has a plan of its own to reduce greenhouse gases - but not a very good one and I'm not the only one who feels this way. Every notable economist and environmentalist who has studied it says that it will not reach its goals.

"But unlike my opponent, I am willing to debate the relative merits of our two plans honestly. I don't need to distort the Conservative plan to explain my opposition to it.

"It simply comes down to respect. I respect the fact that the Conservatives have a fundamentally different view of the fight on climate change, and I am ready to debate the merits of that view. Ms Gallant, on the other hand, is resorting to fear mongering . in an attempt to hang on to her job. . That's the difference.

"I hope that on October 14th the residents of our community will consider this when casting their vote."