With Canada’s economy reeling from the pandemic lockdown and the government’s long war of attrition on the energy sector, new finance minister Chrystia Freeland burbles that “I think all Canadians understand that the restart of our economy needs to be green.” It is frightening to think how many things are wrong with that statement, from the narcissism of thinking all Canadians agree with the thoughts that emanate from her head, on to the economy not being a machine that stopped but a hugely complex organic entity that slowed down, to the phrase “needs to be green” whose meaning is unclear not just to “all Canadians” but to those who uttered it and those who must attempt to implement whatever it is.
The Canadian government actually seems to think everyone agrees with a statement they themselves cannot explain. Which continued “It also needs to be equitable. It needs to be inclusive. And we need to focus very much on jobs and growth.” And after lunch, world peace?
Of course it’s not just the Canadian government. As David Wojick of CFACT warns, Democratic VP nominee Kamala Harris and the unavoidable-for-comment AOC “jointly dropped the Climate Equity Act into the Senate and House hoppers. …The proposed law is so incoherent that it is hard to tell what it is for or what it does. That it would cause an enormous amount of confusion is certain. The problem is that the central concept in the law is extremely unclear. … Here is how the Kamala Harris press release puts it: ‘COVID-19 has laid bare the realities of systemic racial, health, economic, and environmental injustices that persist in our country,’ said Sen. Harris. ‘The environment we live in cannot be disentangled from the rest of our lives, and it is more important than ever that we work toward a more just and equitable future. That is why, as we combat the climate crisis and build a clean economy; we must put justice and equity first. I’m proud to partner with Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez on this comprehensive proposal to empower communities that have been neglected by policymakers for far too long….’”
Again, the sweeping nature of the ambitions seems to be connected to a conviction that good intentions have such marvelous power that asking about details is somewhere between petty and actively malicious. But in fact the Canadian government has been staggering through the pandemic shoveling out money in enormous quantities in programs whose design has been slapdash at best, from CERB with its incentives not to work to the WE paid-volunteer debacle (and a variety of other smaller but troubling instances of untendered contracts).
Nobody’s perfect, of course, and programs designed in a hurry are especially vulnerable to the problems that bedevil the public sector. But at some point those in the public sector have to start talking about genuine problems including whether a relentless war on the Canadian energy sector is not somewhat at cross-purposes with the “focus on jobs and growth” or indeed equity, as the public sector continues to flourish and raise salaries and benefits while the private sector contracts painfully.
So back to this “green” thing. Instead of throwing all good things together into a sickly sweet word salad, the government needs to explain what exactly it means. And then maybe some Canadians will agree with it, while others will be in a position to offer useful pointers on program design and pitfalls. Until then, words rush in where ideas fear to tread.