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Thinking outside the green box

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation looks at green initiatives that governments could explore that don't involve creating taxes, regulations or new bureaucracies.

Colin Craig - August 7, 2008

A few years ago, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, called upon his suit loving nation to wear short sleeve shirts more often in the summer. His rationale was quite simple. Despite Japan's scorching hot summers, cultural protocol kept business men and women in suits on the hottest days of the year. This of course meant many workplaces, including government offices, had to crank up their air conditioners to levels higher than required. As you can imagine, this resulted in inflated electricity bills that cost Japanese taxpayers and ratepayers millions of dollars each year.

Not only was this a drain on the nation's pocket books, the increased demand for electricity meant coal power plants were utilized even more than needed. Needless to say, that didn't help Tokyo's smog problem.

Prime Minister Koizumi led by example and began a trend of wearing casual attire more often. Although it's difficult to measure the success of his initiative, according to one government survey, 43% of employees surveyed did turn down their office air conditioners.

Today in Canada, we see a different approach taking place. Instead of looking at unobtrusive options, politicians across the political spectrum are busy crafting new "green" taxes and building bigger environmental bureaucracies. However, what they should consider is the Koizumi approach.

Perhaps his short sleeve strategy would help provinces like Ontario that have a number of smog warnings each year and depend on coal power. In Manitoba, where smog isn't an issue, a relaxed fashion culture could allow more people to bike to work and avoid the high cost of gas. It could also reduce government and business expenditures on air conditioning costs. The possibilities are endless, as are the benefits that come from that way of thinking.

Let's take a look at another green idea that comes from our nation's capital. "Give Away Weekend" is an initiative that has been happening in Ottawa since 2007. Each year, the City of Ottawa proclaims two weekends as "Give Away Weekends". During those weekends, Ottawa citizens place unwanted items on their curbs with signs that say "free". Instead of filling their city's dumps with thousands of articles that still have life in them, Give Away Weekend is a government led initiative that reduces landfill content, while helping citizens of all income levels save a few dollars by obtaining and disposing of items for free. Imagine how much this could help refugees or immigrants with few belongings. Perhaps best of all, Ottawa's initiative doesn't cost taxpayers a cent.

Another initiative for our elected officials to consider would be reducing the restrictions on importing vehicles into Canada. European and Asian countries have some great fuel efficient vehicles that aren't sold here, yet the Canadian government forces individuals to wait until the vehicles are 15 years old before they can import them on their own.

Why the government blockade? It's essentially done in the name of protecting our auto industry. Yes, the same industry that has received literally hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in handouts, but routinely lays off Canadian workers. Isn't it time to lift the ban and allow consumers even more choice?

Clearly there are many green initiatives that governments could explore that don't involve creating taxes, regulations or new bureaucracies. We just need to start thinking outside the green box.

Colin Craig is the Manitoba director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Discuss this column on the Shotgun blog.

More articles by Colin Craig