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Bill Clinton praises Gordon Campbell's carbon tax as 'economic generator'

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton praised Premier Gordon Campbell’s pioneering carbon tax on Friday, and cited it as an example of how British Columbia has become “a perfect breeding ground” for governmental innovation and social enterprise.

“I know he’s taken some heat for his aggressive position against climate change,” Clinton told a luncheon of business leaders at the Vancouver Convention and Exhibition Centre. “I believe it will prove to be the greatest economic generator you could possibly embrace.”

Clinton spoke alongside Vancouver mining investor Frank Giustra, with home he co-founded the non-profit Clinton Giustra Sustainable Growth Initiative.

“Non-governmental organizations will be more important in the next decade,” Clinton said, not only in less-developed nations but also in wealthy nations such as Canada and the United States.

“Even here, we know there is only so much tax money you can raise. You’ve got to keep taxes at a level where the private sector works well. And so there will always be a gap between where your society is and where you think it ought to be,” Clinton said, adding that NGOs were in the best position to innovate solutions to new types of social and environmental problems.

“It is easier, generally, for the non-governmental sector to turn on a dime, to experiment, to not be afraid of failure,” Clinton said. “We need that kind of innovation. If you have these kinds of partnerships, even in wealthy countries like Canada or the United States, you will get more innovation and you will create a culture in which the taxpayers will empower their governments to take chances to solve problems. I think that’s really, really important.”

Giustra named Vancouver’s Street to Home foundation as an example, and challenged B.C. business leaders to band together and help address local problems.

“If you think about some of the social issues we have right here in Vancouver – homelessness and affordable housing – there is no reason why certain business sectors couldn’t come together as a part of the overall effort to address these issues,” Giustra said. “It’s not rocket science.”

The Giustra-Clinton presentation was the highlight of a day-long series of otherwise tepid panels billed by the Business Council of British Columbia as a “summit” about corporate responsibility.

“We have to redefine citizenship in the 21st Century, and that includes corporate citizenship,” Clinton said. “It used to be, in my country, you were if a good citizen if you got up and went to work every day, took care of your family, paid your taxes and voted at election time.”

Clinton suggested that the definition needs to be expanded: “Citizenship should include doing something to advance the public interest as a private citizen.”

Monte Paulsen is editor of The Hook.

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