The tale of the Canadian government’s vast subsidy to Volkswagen to seize the glittering opportunity to build a battery plant it didn’t want to without our thirteen billion bucks just keeps getting worse. Stellantis promptly demanded a similar pile of money for its EV plant in Windsor and with his usual nasty insouciance Prime Minister Trudeau promptly tried to throw Ontario Premier Doug Ford under the electric bus, having his deputy Chrystia Freeland say to solve the problem Ontario had to pay its “fair share”. Ford fired back “what is our fair share?” as if everybody involved were doing math. But they’re not. They’re doing politics, in which as Brennus famously said, “Vae victis”.
OK, in case you didn’t attend the school they tore down to build the old school as we did, the story goes that Brennus and his Gauls defeated Rome’s armies in 390 B.C. and agreed to lift his siege of their city only when promised 1,000 pounds of gold. (Which Wikipedia prissily renders as “329 kg”.) But, says Plutarch, when the Gauls set up the scale to weigh the tribute the Romans complained that it was rigged, only to have Brennus theatrically throw his sword onto the balance and cry “Woe to the vanquished.” Aka Vae victis in the highly efficient Latin language.
To which Premier Ford may have retorted that up to now he has taken every opportunity to ingratiate himself with Trudeau and treat him as an ally, so what’s with the “victis” bit? If you’re on team Trudeau, or think you are, you quickly discover that one of their slogans is vae amicis or “Woe to our friends”. In the usual slick and fatuous style of modern politicians, Freeland tried to shift the burden to Ford by claiming:
“I’m going to be sure that we are careful with how we spend our money, that we are getting fair value for the federal dollars that are invested and the other partners, in this case Stellantis and the province of Ontario, are making a fair contribution”.
Which is a bit much given the Volkswagen subsidy and accompanying blather, to say nothing of their reckless deficits and debt accumulation generally. But in any case Stellantis already got, who knows, maybe a billion bucks? In Ottawa they just print the things so they don’t count carefully, or account carefully.
Freeland’s colleague Innovation, Science and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne, who studied law so obviously he’s just the guy to cause mere engineers to innovate, piled on with “The message to our colleagues in Ontario is, pay your fair share and we will bring this stalemate, if you want, to a conclusion”.
So presumably “fair share” scores well in focus groups. Awkwardly, however, Stellantis and its battery-plant partner LG are waving around “five separate written documents confirming your [the feds’] commitment to match the production incentives under the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act” that Trudeau and Freeland seem prudently to have sent before prudently saying it was all somebody else’s fault. The companies are also pointing to a “mutually satisfactory special contribution agreement” the federal government has not yet signed and the Ontario government can’t.
As Brian Lilley pointed out, the Trudeau administration was negotiating with the Ford administration in typical unconstructive and irresponsible style via snarky press comments not practical private discussions. As he put it:
“That’s right, they didn’t even talk to their partner in EV crime about this before going to the media, even negotiating on Twitter as Trudeau’s industry minister Francois Phillipe Champagne did Tuesday night.”
So when pressed on why they were suddenly squeezing their provincial partner, Freeland did the dance of the seven vagues:
“What we always do is have the contribution of the federal government and the provinces and one of the reasons for that is regional fairness. That’s what I’ve heard from MPs at finance committee, MPs from other provinces. That is what I am hearing from premiers of other provinces and that is entirely reasonable.”
So even their evasiveness is somebody else’s fault, these MPs at finance committee, from other provinces, and those premiers that nobody but her heard say it. But none of this weaseling amounts to much once you’ve surrendered and Brennus is leering at you over the scales. As Ford admitted, trying to make it sound like a boast, “Our goal is to protect the people and the jobs in Windsor will do [sic, at least in the newspaper account] whatever it takes to protect those jobs.”
So in short, he’s committed to giving in because the alternative would be to admit error and he’s a politician spending someone else’s money. And the subsidy raiders know it. Stellantis is even currently strong-arming the British government as well, again threatening jobs jobs jobs if they don’t bend bend bend. Vae victis indeed. And as Brian Lilley noted in a follow-up, it seems the federal government strong-armed the province into giving Stellantis more money while the province strong-armed the feds into… giving Stellantis more money. The company just stood there watching the politicians rifling one another’s pockets for more tax dollars to throw onto the balance. (Industry Minister Champagne even pursued the president of LG Energy Solutions to South Korea to ply him with Ford’s cash.)
It’s funny how everybody except the politicians actually implementing such policies can see so clearly what happened and why. Journalist Alex Pierson promptly tweeted “When you open the vaults and buy business don’t be surprised when the rest come calling.”
Or as Rudyard Kipling put it more than a century ago, “if once you have paid him the Dane-geld/ You never get rid of the Dane.”
P.S. In the National Post Fr. Raymond de Souza reminds us that Volkswagen was caught less than eight years ago committing a massive, deliberate fraud on diesel particulate emissions readings and fined tens of billions of dollars worldwide, while no fewer than 60 charges were laid in Canada alone under our Environmental Protection Act. Who better to get a massive green subsidy?