If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, Canadian governments at all levels should check themselves in for some psychotherapy.
Canada has a long and rich history of disastrous economic interventionism: Pierre Trudeau's failed National Energy Program of the 1970’s (a mistake that still keeps the Liberals from a foothold in the prairies to this day), to Bombardier repeatedly taking controversial bailouts and cutting jobs anyways. If there is one thing that unites politicians across this wide and diverse land, it is their willingness to shake down taxpayers to fund market interference in the name of some vague and dubious social good that is rarely achieved.
As Donald Trump rolls back environmental regulations in the United States and pulls out of the Paris Climate Accord, energy companies are bailing out of Canada and opting for cheaper, greener pastures south of the border, crippling the job prospects of many workers in the western provinces and sending billions of dollars out of the country (1). At a time when both federal and provincial governments should be contemplating how to ease up on taxation and regulatory frameworks to attract investment, they are doubling down on onerous carbon taxes and even threatening to start trade wars inside our borders, pitting provinces against one another in order to shore up the advantage of one special interest group or another.
Enter stage left: Green Party leader Andrew Weaver and the NDP's John Horgan.
After a divisive election in B.C. that has left no party with a clear majority, Weaver and Horgan have announced their intention to form a coalition. One of their objectives is to take the federal government to court over the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline that is approved to stretch from Alberta to the west coast. The pipeline has been a wedge issue for Canadians across the country and within BC, where many in the interior depend on resource and infrastructure projects for their livelihoods. In the wake of BC’s election results, Trudeau has restated that the pipeline construction is a foregone conclusion because it has already met the criteria for the Canadian government’s approval (2).
At the center of this debate seems to be a conflict: an old vision of Canada as a social democratic nanny-state versus a new vision of the country as a hotbed of high-tech investment and resource booms. The fact is that British Columbia is not just a woodsy hideaway for hippies, retirees, and lumberjacks anymore. Under the leadership of the Liberals, first Gordon Campbell and then Christy Clark, the province has also become a high-growth region and an attractive market for young entrepreneurs and global investors. In fact, BC is the only province in the country with a Triple-A credit rating 12 years in a row and the highest year-on-year growth in the country for 2016–2017 (3).
Horgan and Weaver’s plans to obstruct the pipeline will not only be unpopular with investors in the resource sector and the residents of the BC interior, but also put the province at odds with both the feds and Notley’s Alberta NDP (for an added twist of irony). If Horgan wants to bring the cost of living down in the province, starting a trade war with Alberta is not the way to do it.
Government intervention into the marketplace is almost always ill advised --this has been borne out in our history time and again.
Like gravity, supply and demand will apply no matter how hard politicians attempt to resist it. The carbon tax and Notley's nebulous "social license" are already showing themselves to be job and investment killers. Regardless, headstrong MPs and MLAs seem to be pining for one more kick at the can to show constituents that this time interventionism will get the intended results (4). The only likely outcome for BC will be an expensive (and probably futile) legal battle with the federal government, followed by more protests and costly police responses. This is what happened, on a smaller scale, when Kinder Morgan began their survey on Burnaby Mountain in 2014 (5).
Rather than focusing on policy areas that actually have widespread “social license” such as drug law reforms or housing affordability, Horgan's NDP seem to have gone out of their way to exacerbate a highly charged political atmosphere that sees Canadians polarized over how to manage our vast natural resources.
Horgan has come out of the gate racing against losing odds. He seems perfectly willing to stoke the fires of division in order to tick a box off of his extensive list of promises. If he loses the fight against the federal government he can say “at least I tried!”...it is a safe bet that someone will follow behind him and try the same thing again, expecting different results.