Jim Flaherty, the Finance Minister for the Canadian federal government, came to visit Osgoode Hall yesterday (it turns out my law school is his alma mater, which I did not previously know). I went, because if you have the chance to ask questions of who is (not officially, but for all intents and purposes) the second-most important person in your government, it’s well worth the time, especially if you care about public policy.
Quick impressions: he is funny, quick-witted, and with a genuinely folksy air to his demeanour. It is quite easy to understand how he got elected to public office; despite my personal distaste for his politics, he’s very simply likable, and like most Canadian politicians carries with him the wholehearted belief that even if you happen to believe completely the opposite of what he does that meaningful dialogue is still possible. (Stephen Harper, who has a very jerkish public persona, is one of the few notable exceptions to this rule.) After his introductory speech, the first question he got was a rambling tirade from a crim law student who was very angry about Canada’s recent refusal to attempt to extradite criminals being held elsewhere in anticipation of the death penalty (a reversal of longtime standing policy), and although Flaherty, as the Finance Minister, has no actual duties as regards international criminal law, diplomatic sanctioning or justice matters, he still answered the question as respectfully as possible.
However, he’s still a politician. My question to him was this:
Mr. Flaherty, in the 2008 budget, you introduced new federal budget measures to get more E85 fuel stations in Canada – however, given the recent study from the University of Minnesota showing that most form of ethanol manufactured from standard commercial crops contribute more carbon emissions to the atmosphere via their harvest than they remove when used as a replacement for gasoline, would you favour government investment in advanced cellulosic ethanol research, considering that cellulosic ethanol is the only form of ethanol that actually might reduce overall C02 emissions, and cancellation of agricultural subsidies for other production of ethanol?
Flaherty answered the question by saying he was firmly in favour of greater funding for cellulosic ethanol research, but that doesn’t answer the real question embedded in it – and I know full well he knew what the question was, and it’s this:
Mr. Flaherty, we spend three-quarters of a billion dollars annually on subsidies for corn and grain ethanol production – industries that are not profitable without both government subsidy and government mandated use. Now that we know fairly conclusively that corn and grain ethanol don’t work in the way that we need them to work, as they are both energy-inefficient and actively harmful to the environment, how about we spend that money on absolutely anything else that might actually be useful in some way? I understand that just about all of that money goes to Alberta and rural Saskatchewan, which is your party’s electoral base, but come on.
But I didn’t ask that. Mostly because his visit was organized by the Conservative students’ society here at Osgoode, and a few of the members (including the current executive) are friends of mine, and despite the fact that I obviously have political disagreements with them in many areas, they’re principled individuals, and the sort of person I want on the other side of the aisle, and I didn’t want to make them look bad.
But it was tempting to follow up.
Oh, and I didn’t ask him about Bill C-10 (the tax bill throwing on potential removal of tax credits for films containing “offensive” content), because that bill is so offensive to me and many people that I know working in the industry that I would have ended up shouting.