Division of Power #9 I hope you’re reading this one, Vic

As a new session of Parliament is set to begin, the mudslinging between federal political parties has started again with veracity. This time, the culprits are the Conservatives, who are repeating what Thomas Mulcair has characterized as a “bald-faced lie” about NDP party policy.

The Conservatives are insisting the NDP (if elected to power) would institute a “job killing carbon tax.”

Presumably, Canadians are supposed to come away with a sharp distinction between the two parties—-the NDP seek to “kill jobs” through “dangerous economic experiments,” while the Conservatives will promote “jobs, growth and long-term prosperity” by streamlining environmental regulations and signing more bilateral trade agreements (with Panama, India, etc, etc) than you can shake a stick at.

And now, public safety minister Vic Toews is using selections of interviews I conducted for The Uniter with the various NDP leadership candidates last year as proof of this position.

On Twitter this week, Toews posted the transcript of my interview with Nathan Cullen (at that time running for the federal NDP leadership, now NDP House leader), writing “let’s be clear – the NDP will impose a job killing carbon tax.”

Toews referenced the article because Cullen utters this travesty: “the point is putting a price on carbon.” However, if Toews had read the interview fully he would clearly know that Cullen was saying this in reference to cap-and-trade, which has been formal NDP policy for several years.

It is also the policy of the Conservative Party of Canada.

Here’s the quote if taken in context, which was in answer to a question I posed about carbon taxation:

“I’m more of a cap-and-trade kind of guy. I think it’s a much more accurate assessment of full cost but, again, the point of the exercise is putting a price on carbon and doing some real accounting of the full cost of using this carbon and putting it in the atmosphere….In terms of the technique, Canada is one of the few country’s in the world that has for so long obsessed over the actual mechanism. Most country’s that care about this issue have gotten on with the job and used a variety of tools to get there.”

Now, the last part of that quote certainly suggests Cullen doesn’t care very much about the actual mechanism used to reduce carbon emissions. But this is only to say that, while he supports cap-and-trade, he wants immediate action on a pressing global issue regardless of the mechanism.

We can argue about this position all day (I disagree with it), but nothing in my interview with Cullen suggests a ringing endorsement of a national carbon tax.

It’s obvious to everyone the Conservatives are repeating a lie over and over again until it sticks. But there’s something more sinister—and more threatening to real democratic debate—going on here.

Even if Cullen had supported a carbon tax while running for the leadership, it is irrelevant so long as his position is now aligned with formal NDP policy under Thomas Mulcair’s leadership today. In the context of a leadership race, Cullen and all the other candidates had every right to present their own policy vision for the party.

This year, the Liberal Party of Canada will get its own leadership race underway and already prospective candidates are reticent about proposing bold policy ideas. They are afraid candidate statements will be recorded, taken out of context and used against the party when they finally do choose their leader in Spring, 2013.

No party should have to worry about this.

During leadership contests, political parties are naturally experiencing a great deal of disunity as they group themselves into different leadership camps. This is how it should be.

Members are trying to determine who would best lead the party and whose policy vision they support for the country. They are nominating a prime ministerial candidate to present to the Canadian public. Such a task should be taken with the utmost sincerity and should be debated closely.

Now, it’s certainly valid to criticize individual party members for their views. But it’s another thing entirely to equate those individual views with party policy generally. For example, Nycole Turmel once held a membership with a Quebec separatist party and holds nationalist views. But the NDP, which she serves as a party whip in the House, is federalist. Her membership in the party doesn’t change that.

In short, leadership candidates should not be hindered by the intellectually barren tactics of Harper’s Conservatives. And in the spirit of the #TellVicEverything movement of last year, I’ll say this:

I hope you’re reading this one, Vic.