Here in Canada, not to mention everywhere else, the government is sloshing around billions of dollars in a bid to make everything a contribution to the fight against climate change. For instance they are improving the often dismal housing on First Nations reserves with a few million from “the expanded Low Carbon Economy Fund” which is a $2.2-billion fund to reduce emissions and stuff. And there’s a great pile of money to be hurled into “expansion of zero-emission vehicle charging infrastructure and hydrogen refuelling stations” all as part of a lavish separate $1.7 billion dollar program to incentivize EV purchases because consumers haven’t yet realized what a great opportunity they are. Even a federal-provincial initiative “revitalizing the Glenbow Museum” is meant to stop climate change. So it would take a real churl to observe that, simultaneously, the House of Commons recommended that the highly-touted $35-billion Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) launched in 2017 should be shut down because it did so little it barely even wasted money. Just possibly not every governmental good intention translates smoothly into real-world benefits.
The new EV request for proposals contains the usual grandiose language: “Transportation accounts for a quarter of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), of which almost half comes from passenger cars and light trucks. Reducing pollution from the transportation sector is critical to Canada achieving its climate targets. The Government of Canada is making it easier for Canadians to purchase, charge and drive electric vehicles (EV) across the country while addressing climate change and affirming Canada’s role as a global leader in clean transportation.” And hence its RFP for the ZEVIP (request for proposals for the Zero-Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Program, in case you don’t live in SAL, or “Subsidized Acronym Land”) “will result in an expansion of zero-emission vehicle charging infrastructure and hydrogen refuelling stations in public places, on-street, multi-unit residential buildings, workplaces and vehicle fleets.”
Not might result in. Not is intended to result in. Will result in. After all, that press release boasts on, “Since 2015, Canada has invested a historic $1 billion to make EVs more affordable and chargers more accessible for Canadians.” Wow. That’s a lot of money. So how’s it going? Well, “These investments are supporting the establishment of a coast-to-coast network of chargers in where Canadians live, work and play, while federal rebates of up to $5,000 are helping more Canadians make the switch to an EV.”
They would say that, wouldn’t they? Just as they are continuing to improve housing conditions on reserves and have been for decades even though the actual buildings never seem to get any better. Thus in a Feb. 25, 2021 parliamentary committee hearing, then-Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna brushed off criticisms of the CIB by saying “Projects don’t get built in a day.” When Tory MP Andrew Scheer responded “There’s no argument that it takes more than just a few days or a couple of weeks to get a large infrastructure project built but surely to goodness you can agree that in four years the Bank should have something to show for it” McKenna replied blithely “I am also looking to see projects going ahead. My measure for success is that we get more and better infrastructure built for Canadians”.
Fair enough as far as it goes. But when Scheer persisted that by this measure the Bank wasn’t doing well at all, she further chirped “The Bank is advancing on a whole range of projects. It’s not just about bringing in the private sector. It’s actually getting good projects built in the public interest. That’s why we’ve got the Bank, because we can actually get more infrastructure built.” Except zero isn’t more than anything, as Scheer observed, and they couldn’t get more than nothing built.
It’s one thing to quarrel about the desirability of projects like the EVs or the Low Carbon Economy Fund. And we’re happy to. But it’s quite another to be unable to grasp the difference between intent and impact when designing policies, or even evaluating ones already in place. A sobering thought, we might add, on the policy goal described at the outset that nobody disputes, that of improving housing on First Nations reserves.
At some point they’re going to have to admit that practical methods, far from being some dirty denier trick, are a vital component of public policy. And that, as Thomas Sowell famously observed, “reality is tricky”.