‘Flip flop policy’ in Canada risks scaring away business
Andrew Scheer has more in common with Andrew Weaver than a shared first name.
Ideologically, the new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada could hardly contrast more with the leader of the British Columbia Green Party.
According to Martha Hall Findlay, however, both men share a desire to turn back the clock on long-term government policy in ways that could ultimately harm more than just the Canadian economy, but the very notion of Canada as a nation.
“Andrew Weaver and Andrew Scheer are actually proposing very similar things,” the former Liberal parliamentarian and current CEO of the Canada West Foundation told BNN via telephone earlier this week. “They are just very different issues.”
For Weaver, the issue is Trans Mountain. The $7.4-billion plan to nearly triple the capacity of Kinder Morgan’s pipeline – which has been transporting Alberta oil sands bitumen from outside Edmonton to a terminal outside of Vancouver since the 1950s – has long been a key target for opposition by the B.C. Green Party. For Scheer, the issue is putting a price on carbon emissions. The problem posed by both positions, Hall Findlay argues, is they appear based on a preference for what is politically convenient rather than a focus on the best long-term interests of Canadians.
The controversial Trans Mountain expansion project received final provincial approval from B.C. Premier Christy Clark in January, but only after the company agreed to pay B.C. as much as $50 million per year, or $1 billion over the 20-year lifespan of the project, in a deal Clark lauded as “unprecedented” at the time. In announcing their intention to replace Clark’s Liberal government with an alliance of the B.C. Greens and NDP, the two parties committed to “immediately employ every tool available” to stop the Trans Mountain expansion from moving ahead.
While the government of B.C. technically does have every right to scrap the deal with Kinder Morgan (whether they actually possess any tools capable of stopping the pipeline at this stage is another matter entirely), Hall Findlay argues that is missing a more important point.
“Investment is critical to our economic prosperity, but it depends on certainty and the new powers that be need to remember that it was the B.C. government, not the B.C. Liberal Party, that approved the [Trans Mountain] expansion,” she said. “Every time a government turns around and changes their mind we lose some of that certainty.”
That is not to suggest governments are not sometimes justified in reversing course when former policies fail to meet expectations or become overwhelmingly unpopular, Hall Findlay noted, but “this kind of pendulum policy-making is disastrous.”
Scheer’s ardent opposition to Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s plan to price carbon emissions in provinces that fail to do so on their own represents another example of this problem. Not only is the new Tory leader inaccurately criticizing the plan as a “cash grab” (Trudeau has repeatedly stressed the federal government would raise no additional revenue through his plan), but Hall Findlay argues his opposition to a policy not even yet in place is already creating problems for business leaders who themselves were also initially opposed to the idea.
“You get guys like [Suncor CEO] Steve Williams and [former Shell Canada President] Lorraine Mitchelmore -- not people who would naturally be inclined to support a price on carbon,” she said. “But they were very strong in saying, ‘We prefer certainty, we know this is coming, so let’s just decide on what this will look like now so we will know.”
Trudeau made pricing carbon a central voting issue during the 2015 federal election, even going as far as announcing his plan at a campaign stop in Calgary. After the resulting election handed Trudeau a majority government, Hall Findlay argues that gave him a mandate to make new climate change policy.
“But [the Trudeau government] did not go backwards and say all those contracts [the former Conservative Harper government] signed and the commitments they made that we are going to reverse them and rip them up and throw them out,” she said. “They are at least forward looking.”
“As we celebrate our country’s 150th birthday we seem to be doing everything we can to shoot ourselves in the foot… investors are going to go elsewhere and this is not just about B.C. or one policy or one pipeline, it is about Canada and whether we really are a nation,” she said.
Gaétan Caron, who retired as chairman and CEO of the National Energy Board in 2014 after leading Canada’s pipeline regulator for seven years, agrees the stakes are indeed that high when it comes to the consequences of failing to maintain a minimum level of consistent policy direction.
“Canada could come to be seen as a place where we have difficulty governing and that would make people want to make investments elsewhere,” he told BNN via telephone. “This makes me worried about the potential decay of our advanced democracy… and I remain concerned about that. It is a dangerous path forward.”
Caron equates the type of opposition mounted by both Scheer and Weaver to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement. All of those positions, he argues, are based more on short-term political strategy and less on supporting the long-term views of the constituents they claim to serve.
“For those companies that reside in a country where governments say [carbon taxes or the Paris Climate Agreement are] not for us, we aren’t going to take part in this, I think they are compromising their own competitiveness,” he said. “This sort of flip flop policy creates uncertainty, and to be misaligned as a nation with the expectations of consumers across the world is like shooting yourself in the foot.”
Martha Hall Findlay believes “at some point, people need to shake their heads and realize you don’t run a country like this,” she said. “We elect politicians to show the direction forward, not take us back.”