Given the impact of Wuhan virus, John Ivison writes in the National Post, Canada’s next federal budget “may bear little resemblance to the spending plan Morneau thought he was going to deliver.” But while we’re painfully familiar with the way the spending plans of finance ministers gang aft agley, Ivison says that with Morneau’s back approaching the wall of a $26.6 billion projected deficit, his parliamentary colleagues want him to… go big on green. Well sure. Since every budget needs a frightful hobgoblin to save us from, and insolvency is boring, and climate catastrophe is popular, what else would he do?
Ivison says “It was telling that the first piece of advice the [House of Commons Finance] committee gave to the finance minister was that he adopt the recommendations of the expert panel on sustainable finance”. And if you react with an immediate “huh?”, Ivison says that particular group of experts “delivered a report that landed on cat’s paws last summer and has scarcely been mentioned since.” But apparently it’s been dusted off and “will form the narrative backbone for a budget that talks about the co-operation between government and financial institutions to fight climate change.”
Guess what? Free beer tomorrow. “The thrust of the report is that the climate change debate should be presented as an opportunity, rather than a burden.” Oh that’s original. Ivison adds “The government should provide more clarity about the capital investments that are needed to meet Canada’s 2030 emissions targets and the role it sees for the private sector, the authors said.” Which wouldn’t be hard. But then “The report cited the U.K.’s offshore wind market as an example of a government articulating a long-term policy framework and working with industry to achieve its goals.” Um yeah, about that market…
According to the report, the UK now has about 40% of globally installed wind capacity. Perhaps because it’s an enormous boondoggle few others rush in to build. But don’t worry. There’s less. Like “Another report recommendation urged government to create financial incentives to encourage Canadians to invest in climate conscious financial products through registered savings plans and defined contribution pension plans.” If that doesn’t turn down the global thermostat by 3 degrees in 3 decades, we don’t know what will. And neither of course does the government or these “experts” with whom media and government rolodexes are stuffed. But back to that “narrative backbone”.
As Ivison notes, “Many of the recommendations were perfect for Morneau — green initiatives that sound modern and transitional but don’t have major spending implications.” Grand, right? No. He goes on “the report was less inspiring when it came to suggestions to transform the oil and gas sector into a low-emissions industry.” Although maybe they don’t need any; as the report observes, capital spending in the oilsands dropped by two-thirds from 2014-18. As with death being a good way to cut down on your expenses, killing the industry through a combination of miscalculation and insouciance might just do the trick albeit at rather dramatic cost in foregone tax revenues, jobs, energy to heat our homes and that sort of old-fashioned rubbish.
Ivison concludes in that old-fashioned way: “For the government of a country that may be on the brink of recession to shrug its shoulders at the demise of its largest export industry — more than twice the value of auto shipments and three times that of base metals — does not suggest stellar leadership, particularly when the integrity of the country itself may be at stake.” But think of the positive headlines the day after the budget comes down.