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Green Shift drives Liberal prospect to NDP

UBC professor alleges Dion offered Sea to Sky riding unopposed

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A UBC professor who was slated to run as a star Liberal candidate in the Sea to Sky corridor has jumped ship to run for the NDP in Vancouver.

Michael Byers, an oft-quoted expert on Arctic sovereignty and international law, was initially courted by the federal Liberals to run in the riding of West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, which includes Whistler and Squamish, but has fallen out with the party over its environmental policies. He is now seeking the NDP nomination in Vancouver Centre.

“Mr. Dion’s climate change plan is not the right plan for this point in time,” Byers said. “In fact it’s very much the wrong time, and then so I’ve chosen to put my career with a party that actually has got a strong climate change plan.”

Since deciding to run for the NDP, Byers has become the target of attacks by Bruce Young, the Liberals’ B.C. campaign co-chair, who said the academic wanted the riding handed to him “on a silver platter” without any competition. However Byers tells it differently.

He told Pique in an interview that the Liberals had been courting him as early as February, when he hosted a conference in Ottawa on the Northwest Passage. Richard Maksymetz, a Liberal organizer who deals with the Prairies and the Northern Territories, approached him at the conference and raised the issue of the riding.

Blair Wilson, the riding’s MP who was elected as a Liberal but now sits as an independent, was the focus of controversy after a story in the Province newspaper reported a mountain of allegations against him, among them undeclared campaign expenses and debts to in-laws.

Byers said he later had a meeting with Young and Mark Marissen, the national campaign co-chair for the Liberals in the next election. Byers said there was a “great deal of enthusiasm” about the prospect of him being a candidate.

The way Young tells it, Byers was persistent in expressing his interest to run with the Liberals.

“The Liberal Party is a coalition of economically prudent, socially progressive folk, that go through a pretty wide spectrum,” he said. “Mr. Byers fell within that broad range and was indicating an interest in being a Liberal candidate aggressively.”

Byers met with Stéphane Dion in Ottawa on May 14. There, he said, the two spoke about a prospective candidacy in West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country.

“He made his pitch again, and was very enthusiastic about the prospect of me,” Byers said. “I heard him out, I thought very carefully about the suggestion, we spoke specifically about climate change, an issue on which he and I agree in terms of the seriousness of the issue.”

This, however, came before Dion’s announcement of the “Green Shift,” a multi-fold plan that includes a federal tax on fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. The Green Shift handbook says the tax will start at $10 per tonne of carbon dioxide and peak at $40 per tonne in four years.

Since the plan’s announcement, Byers decided that the NDP’s “cap and trade” policy is a more effective way to combat greenhouse gases.

A cap and trade policy involves placing limits on major emitters, which account for 50 per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the NDP. Those emitters would then have to buy so-called “carbon credits” that would be set at approximately $35 a tonne, credits that could be put towards green technologies and other initiatives.

Byers feels that policy is more effective than Dion’s, which he said is “dangerous to our economy.”

“I think that there are other policies, most notably cap and trade, which is Jack Layton’s policy,” he said. “It also happens to be Barack Obama’s policy and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s policy.”

Young has now gone on the offensive against Byers, claiming he was reluctant to go through a nomination process in the riding.

“He told me, point blank, that he didn’t believe that he could mount a successful nomination and that he wanted all the opponents removed from the process,” he said. “He wanted us to work it and organize it so he would run unopposed, and we weren’t prepared to do that.”

Byers, however, said he received indications from the Liberal Party that he could run for the candidacy unopposed.

“It was not explicitly put on the table,” he said. “But there were very strong indications that that was what Mr. Dion wanted to do.”

He said that, shortly after meeting with Dion, the Liberal leader wanted to announce his candidacy at a policy convention the following weekend.

“I take it as a pretty clear indication that they were considering that option,” he said. “I didn’t jump at that suggestion, but (Dion) phoned me sometime later and said that he would fly to Vancouver to announce my candidacy.”

Sarah Bain, a spokeswoman for Dion’s office, said in a written statement that no indication was ever given to Byers that he could bypass the nomination process in West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, but she did not deny that there were indications he could run for the nomination unopposed.

Kenneth Halliday, president of the Liberal riding association in West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, said that two prospective candidates have filled out papers for the nomination process, and two more are considering doing so.

To date, outgoing Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland is the only person to confirm that the party has approached him to be a candidate.

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