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Canadian Federal Election 2019 – My Vote

Warning, Canadian politics ahead. I generally try to avoid politics here but hopefully one or two posts per election isn’t too annoying.

I’ve voted Conservative as many times as Liberal and I try not to be partisan.

This time I will vote Liberal – perhaps with a bit less enthusiasm than last time. There are a bunch of reasons for and against but the main ones are: climate plan, taxes, deficit and that, in my view, the current Conservative party isn’t really a conservative party anymore.

Let’s start with the approaches to climate change. The Liberal plan has a carbon price. Putting a price on something and letting individuals and businesses optimize it away is fundamentally a conservative approach that is based on the key principles of our market based economy. It is widely accepted by economists as the most cost effective way to tackle climate change. Sadly, the current Conservative party has chosen to ignore their own principles and demonize this approach because it’s easy to talk about a ‘tax’ and scare people. They also take advantage of the fact that the rebate approach which leaves >80% households better off is counter intuitive to most people who don’t investigate how it works. Instead of this small government, market based approach, the Conservative party has settled on something with no targets and more government intervention. Bluntly, I don’t see principled conservatism here. I see opportunistic populism. One of my biggest fears of this election is that if the Liberals lose, no major party will touch carbon pricing for a long time.

On to taxes. I’m not someone who votes for tax cuts and certainly not tax cuts for people like me who don’t need them. I’m quite fine with the taxes I pay and what I get in return – things like schools which train my employees and the roads that get them to work and free healthcare (that doesn’t mean I’m OK with waste but that is another discussion). That said those who do care about tax cuts should know that in the last four years the small business tax rate has been cut and most people pay less federal tax than when the Conservatives formed the government. On the small business front, the Liberals reduced the small business tax rate but also made some changes which were designed to target professionals like doctors who used small businesses to avoid paying their fair share of income tax (like everyone else with a job does). In this campaign, the Conservatives have used these changes to try to paint the Liberals as anti-small business. As someone who in theory ‘lost out’ in those changes, I 100% disagree. Business owners get to keep all the profits of the business, that’s the point. We don’t need and shouldn’t get special benefits on the income tax front for ourselves or our family. Cutting the small business tax rate as a trade-off to close these loopholes seems more than fair to me. On a side note, the idea that there were (are?) enough loopholes that ‘tax planning’ exists is very sad. Simple is better. Also, the Conservative party’s love of non-refundable tax credits (only those wealthy enough to pay tax benefit) for stuff like sports is in-efficient and gimmicky.

Deficit. I’m not a fan of deficits and this is definitely a point against the Liberal plan – at least if you believe the Conservative plan. I especially don’t like the increased spending promises that happened during the election campaign. That said, the current government’s spending is actually *lower* as a percent of GDP (comparing total dollars over time makes no sense because of inflation) than when the Conservatives last formed government so when I hear them talk about the current level of deficit being the end of the world, it falls on (my) deaf ears.

At just 1 per cent of GDP, federal debt-service costs in 2018-19 were lower than at any time since at least the mid-1960s. Ottawa is currently spending less on debt servicing than during the Stephen Harper era.

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/editorials/article-the-debt-the-deficit-and-other-things-this-election-isnt-about/

The deficit has been growing more slowly than the economy so the debt burden is actually doing *down*. Finally, the ‘good financial stewards’ message that the Conservatives tout is marketing not truth.

Image result for debt by prime minister

More important to me than all the above is that current Conservative party is now more of a populist party than a true conservative party and at least some people at CPC HQ have some pretty questionable morals.

On the populist side, I’ve already mentioned one area, climate policy, where they are quite happy to ignore real small government and market principles and leap to populist messages and more direct government intervention. Promising to bring back the tax loopholes, under the populist guise of helping small businesses, is in the same category.

Regarding party morals, I could go on at some length about the things I’ve seen during this campaign that bother me but a couple highlights are:

When I mention these things the first retort is usually that all sides are doing this. Since these tactics bother me a lot and I don’t want to vote for anyone that goes down this path, I spent a couple hours comparing the CPC and LPC Facebook pages to get a sense of the tone and fact check the posts. The CPC page is so much worse in this regard that it is hard to talk about. Try this exercise for yourself and I’m confident you will reach the same conclusion. I don’t know if my local CPC candidate is as morally bankrupt as the central CPC team is but as leader, Scheer gets to wear the stink of this from my point of view.

In the end, what I really want is a fiscally conservative party without the crazy. Until that party exists (again?), I will live with (small) deficit spending to get a climate policy that has a chance of helping, tax cuts for lower income people and much less repugnant election tactics. In actuality, I’d like to see the current Conservative election campaign fail just to discourage others from trying these tactics again.

For anyone thinking about voting Green or NDP on environmental grounds, I understand that position but I think it’s dangerous to let idealism win out over practicality. The Liberal government would continue to move in the right direction on climate change and other environmental dimensions much more quickly than a Conservative government will. It may not be as fast as you would like but it’s in the right direction and from that point, it will be easier to push farther. I am also concerned that the Green party’s aggressive plan will be so disruptive that it will turn the tide of public opinion against climate change action. Society can only absorb so much change at once and people who are scared for their jobs will choose their economic security over environmentalism every time.

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Climate Wars

[Previous post on Climate Wars]

For most people it is hard to get a sense of what climate change may mean to society and the world. So the world gets 2C hotter. The daily temperature fluctuates far more than this amount. What difference will 2C make? The warnings of sea level rise may have a bit more weight with the general population but how many people really have a good sense of the elevation of a particular point on the map?

In his latest book, Climate Wars [Chapters, Amazon], Gwynne Dyer walks through what climate change means to societies throughout the world. This is accomplished through an interesting mix of fact, extrapolation and fiction.

A large portion of Climate Wars is dedicated to real world facts and ideas. This is the kind of information one might expect in a book on climate change. The current and past levels of carbon-dioxide, main sources and possible solutions are dispersed throughout. As are the best current climate change projections. While detailed and well researched, the discussion of the science behind climate change very accessible. One thing to note is that Dyer does not attempt to convince the reader that Climate Change is a real problem. He opens the book briefly explaining the scientific consensus and simply takes global warming as fact from there on. This in large part helps to keep the book interesting because it is not necessary to overwhelm the reader with facts to make the case.

From the scientific predictions, Dyer explains and extrapolates what they mean to various parts of the world in terms of agricultural productivity, water supply etc. For example, only a few degree rise in global temperature may cause the desert bands that exist above and below the equator to grow north and south. This could quickly destroy some of the most productive ecological and agricultural regions of the world. Specifically, much of the US’s productive agricultural area could turn to desert. On the plus side the growing season and hence agricultural productivity in Canada, northern Europe and Siberia may increase. This is likely of small consequence and dangerous envy to the rest of the world.

What really makes Climate Wars interesting is that Dyer takes the scientific predictions and creates fictional scenarios which outline and explore what effects climate change will have on world society. One such scenario discussed is what will happen at the US/Mexico border when agricultural failure becomes the norm in Mexico and South America. How many displaced people can the US accommodate before it is forced to close the border with lethal force? What will this huge influx of people mean to US society? What parts of the US may be inhabitable in the future? Similar scenarios investigate the fates of most of the major countries and regions of the world. Most of these scenarios are not pretty. This is especially true when you realize how climate change will affect countries who are relatively close to each other. For instance northern Europe, like a lot of the north, will weather climate change better than most other areas. Unfortunately, some of the advanced, industrial countries farther south will not fare so well. Will these countries sit back and watch their people starve or will they fight for resources?

Climate Wars is incredibly sobering and a bit scary. For me at least, it explains why climate change is a problem in a way that the typical, less complete discussions do not. The average person cannot see how a 2C temperature change can be a problem but they can understand how millions of starving people and many thousands of desperate people attempting to cross the border is. A slightly warmer world doesn’t seem like a problem until you realize that it will cause major population, resource and productivity shifts throughout the world.