The first candidate in the federal NDP leadership race says he opposes the proposed Keystone XL pipeline and wants rich people to pay more taxes. In an interview at the Georgia Straight office, Brian Topp claimed that the $7-billion project, which includes a 2,673-kilometre pipeline, is economic “madness”. The pipeline will transport raw bitumen from Alberta to Texas, where it will be refined into petroleum products that will be shipped back to Canada.
“I think it is a fundamentally wrong economic choice and a wrong environmental choice with enormous consequences on the streets of Vancouver and all across the country,” Topp said.
Calgary-based TransCanada Corporation has faced intense opposition from environmental activists on both sides of the border, who point out that oil from the tar sands results in significantly more greenhouse-gas emissions because it requires energy to separate it from the rock. Topp acknowledged that the environmental consequences are “shocking” and said that Canada should “produce a great deal less hydrocarbon energy”. But his main criticisms were on the economic front, suggesting that Canada is “throwing a raw resource to somebody else’s industrial economy for them to get the value and the benefit from”.
“We’re robbing our children of the value of this resource,” he said.
Topp, who was elected NDP president in June, insisted that the federal and Alberta governments are “blighting the rest of our economy” by not following the approach of the Norwegians in dealing with the bounty of oil wealth. He explained that Norway has put its revenues into a separate investment fund rather than relying on this money as the primary method of funding government operations. As a result, Norway has prepared itself for when the economy must make adjustments as oil production diminishes.
In addition, Norway can reduce the impact of oil wealth on its currency by investing this bounty abroad. He contrasted that with the Canadian dollar becoming a “petrocurrency” as a result of the rising oil revenues, which hollows out other parts of the economy because other exports become less competitive.
He said that some Canadian premiers talked in the 1970s about setting aside resource royalties in separate funds, which would preserve this wealth for future generations. “But they were succeeded by recklessly irresponsible right-wing governments that wanted to pretend that they were low-tax jurisdictions, while becoming addicted to resource revenues,” Topp maintained.
Topp said that as a result, corporate and personal-income taxes were sharply reduced, but spending on public services continued to be funded by money from natural resources. (The B.C. government, for instance, collects hundreds of millions of dollars per year in natural-gas royalties.) Topp said the effect was governments “taxing their grandchildren through a resource rip-off”.
He emphasized that provincial governments have authority over natural resources, so it will take a great deal of public education to convince Albertans of the wisdom of not proceeding with the Keystone XL pipeline. “Before we talk about the mechanics of how we should stop this—and let’s be clear, I think it should be stopped—I think we first need to win the battle of ideas in Alberta,” he said.
Topp called for a “more progressive personal-income tax system, including higher rates on higher-income earners”. He added that, in principle, he favours additional tax brackets for higher-income earners.
Topp coauthored the 2011 party platform and was a close adviser for many years to the recently deceased leader, Jack Layton. “New Democrats have never been in a position to form a national government before,” he said. “Now we are. This is the gift Jack Layton gave us.”
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.