The Real Elites

Don’t buy their “regular Canadians” crap: Conservative “resistance” is all about cutting taxes for the rich and cutting programs to pay for it

News | by Gregory Beatty

Maybe I’ve seen too many movies, but when I think of “the resistance”, I think of oppressed people banding together to reject tyranny — like the Rebel Alliance in Star Wars, or The Maquis in Star Trek.

Yet when Macleans did a cover shoot last November with federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer and premiers Doug Ford (Ontario), Jason Kenney (elected in April in Alberta), Brian Pallister (Manitoba) and Scott Moe (Saskatchewan), that’s precisely how the magazine described them.

The Darth Vader/Cardassian emperor the plucky group of wealthy politicians was resisting, Macleans said, was Justin Trudeau — specifically, his federal Liberal government’s efforts to tackle climate change [see sidebar].

Along with Alberta, Saskatchewan is ground zero in the fossil fuel fight. And since Scott Moe took over as premier in January 2018, he’s rarely missed an opportunity to pick a fight with the Liberals.

“One of the first things Scott Moe did was refer to Pierre Trudeau’s famous quote ‘Just watch me’ when expressing his opposition to the carbon tax,” says Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative’s Saskatchewan director Simon Enoch. “So it seems he and his advisors have decided that’s what he’s going to run on — opposition to the federal government, the carbon tax, environmental regulations, any delay in constructing pipelines, things like that.

“That dovetails nicely, obviously, with trying to get a Conservative leader into the prime minister’s office,” says Enoch. “So there’s been a lot of animosity and going out of their way to criticize Justin Trudeau.”

One recent example came in early September when the federal government committed $300,000 to study the potential for green-generated electricity to replace fossil fuels in home-heating, transportation and other areas. That would help Canada reach its goal to have zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, but it drew the ire of the Moe government.

That came on the heels of Moe’s fight with Regina Liberal MP Ralph Goodale. In August, the province rejected $20 million in federal money to help Regina rebuild two inner-city pools. Moe turned up his nose at the dough, dismissing it as Liberal vote-buying.

“That struck me as a poorly calculated argument,” says Enoch. “If anything, it just highlighted the urban/rural split in Saskatchewan and that the Moe government didn’t have time for the concerns and needs of Regina. Certainly, it looks like the party will lose some urban seats in the next provincial election, but why not fight for them instead of just promoting further division?”

Partisanship in politics is nothing new, but at what point does a province’s “resistance” to Canada’s federal government impair its ability to function? When is the line crossed?

Since being elected in 2007, the Saskatchewan Party has endured a string of scandals and screw-ups that have cost the province a lot of money and resources. And when the government does engage with Ottawa, it often comes off as whiny and petulant — like the rules other provinces obey shouldn’t apply to them.

Most recently, the Moe government orchestrated the resignation of two MLAs who are running for the federal Conservatives in Saskatoon and Regina to narrowly miss the deadline to call by-elections before the next provincial election. That will leave constituents unrepresented for 13 months.

“I don’t know what their rationale for all this is,” says Enoch. “Maybe they think the public is just too tuned out or cynical to care. But they evidently think they can get away with it without facing any real electoral consequences.”

Object Lessons

Now that the federal campaign is in full swing, promises are flying hot and heavy. Andrew Scheer is no exception.

But anyone can make promises. The true test comes when a party wins an election and takes office.

And if the performance of Scheer’s fellow “resisters” in Ontario and Alberta is any indication, cost-cutting would be a top priority for a Conservative government.

Scheer is doing his best to distance himself from that concern — literally in the case of Doug Ford, who has been shelved when the Conservatives campaign in Ontario because of his unpopularity.

Since taking power in April 2018 Ford’s government has cut funding in 13 ministries including Education, Health, Environment, Justice and Social Services. In many instances, programs, legislative officers and government agencies were outright eliminated. The Ford government has also reneged on hundreds of contracts (most to do with green energy), dealing a severe blow to Ontario’s commitment to fight climate change and generating all sorts of legal backlash.

Then there’s Jason Kenney. When his UCP government took office in April, it announced a $4.5 billion corporate tax break. And just the other day, a six-person “blue ribbon” panel reported on the state of Alberta’s finances. Its recommendation: AUSTERITY.

“The government announced a massive corporate tax decrease, now they have to find a way to pay for it,” says Enoch. “And they’re not looking at any other sources of revenue. Instead the commission myopically focused on where they could cut.”

During the Sept. 12 leaders’ debate, Scheer expressed a similar preoccupation with the federal deficit, says Enoch. “When you look at it as a percentage of GDP, it’s nowhere near where it was in the ’90s. So his fearmongering is a red flag, I think.”

Generally, politicians are reluctant to talk about cutting government spending in a campaign, says Enoch. “Then when they get in office, as Ford has demonstrated, they do stuff they said they wouldn’t do. So they tend not to be very candid about the cuts they intend to make.

“I would expect a Scheer government to make maybe not the same cuts,” says Enoch. “But their concern over the deficit and wanting to give tax breaks leaves you in a situation where the only thing you can do is cut spending.”

skeletons stirring?

When Stephen Harper was Conservative leader, he kept a firm lid on the party’s more hardcore wing that wants to push divisive social issues, such as restricting women’s access to reproductive services, curtailing LGBTQ+ rights and promoting a strong Christian presence in government.

Scheer has championed those causes in his personal life and as an MP, and in the marathon battle against Maxine Bernier at the May 2017 Conservative leadership convention, he relied heavily on social conservatives to win.

When pressed on the campaign trail, Scheer has waffled, but ultimately insisted a Conservative government wouldn’t move on hot-button social issues.

That drew rebukes from anti-abortion groups who called his position “deeply troubling”.

South of the border, the Christian Right has seen some gains under Trump and the Republican Party, and it may be that social conservatives here feel they’re being pandered to, says Enoch. “They’ve been promised a lot in the run-up to elections, but when their preferred party gains power they don’t deliver.”

On Sept. 22, Scheer did commit to follow Trump’s lead and move Canada’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. That would qualify as a win for the Christian Right, who are big fans of the apocalyptic doctrine of Christian Zionism; and at the provincial level, both the Kenney and Ford governments have delivered on some social conservative agenda items.

“I guess it ultimately comes down to how much power that constituency has in the Conservative party,” says Enoch. “And then electorally, what kind of pressure can it bring to bear.

“There might be some pressure,” says Enoch. “But I think Stephen Harper really showed that the way to win nationally is try to keep all those skeletons in the closet. So I think Scheer’s advisors would probably advise him to do the same.”


Sidebar

The Roadblocks

Conservative governments are a drag on Canadian climate action

Climate change has been the biggest battleground for “The Resistance”. Officially, federal and provincial conservatives accept the science. But their track record of actually doing anything to address climate change has been abysmal.

In fact, by reneging on green-friendly contracts, aggressively promoting fossil fuels, actively persecuting individuals and organizations involved in climate change research and education, and just being all round anti-environmental hard-asses, conservatives come perilously close to denial territory.

That’s put the federal Liberal government in a difficult position, says Peter Prebble of the Saskatchewan Environmental Society.

“The U.N. is asking Canada to be more ambitious in reducing our GHG emissions, and at the same time conservative provincial governments are putting up a lot of obstacles. But without provincial cooperation, it’s very difficult for the federal government to achieve Canada’s targets.”

Examples of cooperation do exist, says Prebble.

“In Saskatchewan, the province has agreed to the federal government’s target of reducing methane emissions in the oil and gas sector by 45 per cent by 2025. That’s one very positive commitment that will help Canada.”

At the same time, Saskatchewan’s GHG emissions, far from dropping in accordance with targets set by both the Brad Wall and Moe governments, have actually continue to rise.

“In 2016, our emissions were 76 million tons,” says Prebble. “In April, we got the data for 2017, which put emissions at 77.9 million tons.”

By any objective measure, the federal Conservative plan to address climate change falls far short of what the Liberals, NDP and Greens are proposing. And it’s probably a pretty safe bet that were the Conservatives to win the election, climate change would be put on the back burner (so to speak).

Is that want Canadian voters want? I guess we’ll see.