If you were to ask me who won the debate on the levy or tax on carbon, I would say both the Conservatives and Liberals won. They achieved what they need to achieve on these issues.
First things first, one more time for the cheap seats – we’ve got some new data for you! This season you can sign up for our weekly digest of additional data, delivered right to your inbox.
You can sign up for and download this week’s dashboard below.
For this episode, we’re joined by Travis Kann. After his last impressive podcast performance, we brought him back on for his insights on this week’s top issues.
The top issue this week – for both the Ottawa and the Canadian conversation – is the Liberal government’s carbon pricing plan. Trudeau told the provinces that they either they choose to shape up, or they’ll be forced to shape up, in terms of the environment. Basically, provinces have to implement either a cap and trade or a carbon levy that meets the minimum requirements set by the federal government by 2018. That minimum is $10 a tonne for 2018 and the price will rise each year to reach $50 a tonne by 2022. Cue certain provinces being upset that the federal government is imposing on provincial regulation. Cue Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall posting to Facebook to express his disappointment in Trudeau. Cue certain people in provinces feeling like rural populations will be unfairly taxed in comparison to city dwellers. Of course all of this is, in part, due to Canada’s commitments laid out by the Paris climate agreement. We have to cut our emissions from our 2005 levels by 30% by 2030.
Issue number two for the week is BC LNG. The government conditionally approved a mega liquefied natural gas project. The $36-billion deal would ship 19 million tonnes of LNG. While Rona Ambrose was skeptical of the approval, noting that there will be many more consultations before construction is actually underway, the political reception was fairly positive. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley took the announcement as good news: if the federal government is willing to approve this project, there may be other pipeline projects to follow. As we note on the show, the timing of this announcement works to the Liberal government’s favour. By combining this with the carbon tax news, it covers its bases with both environmental concerns and economic growth.
Our last issue for this week is provincial health care transfers. Trudeau’s government has built its reputation on collaboration and cooperation. However, the ministers aren’t feeling the team love when it comes to health care transfers. The government is following the Harper government’s model, financing 3% of provincial health care, which many of the provinces feel is inadequate to provide quality care to their aging populations. They want to meet with the Prime Minister, but so far he’s playing hard to get. Again, the provinces feel like the federal government is imposing. Currently, health care transfers come with strings: the funding must go to certain initiatives. Initiatives like home services, rather than hospital services. Ministers want to talk this out and revaluate these strings and the dollar amounts associated, but it doesn’t look like anyone’s penciling anything into their calendars any time soon.
Transcript of this week’s episode:
Introduction: Political Traction is brought to you by Navigator, Canada’s leading public affairs firm.
Allie McHugh, Host (AM): Welcome to this week’s episode of Political Traction. So on our panel this week, instead of Colin MacDonald, we have traded him out for Travis, who has been on our show before. He gives us great commentary and great jokes.
Travis Kann, Guest Panelist (TK): You’ve all been waiting for me to return and here I am!
Allie McHugh: (laughs) So, Travis is, you know, second star making turn on the podcast. And David is joining us as always – hi David!
David Woolley, Panelist (DW): Hi, thank you for having me again.
AM: David can you speak into your mic more directly.
DW: My apologies – how’s this?
AM: That’s better, thank you. So, let’s get to our top three issues for the week. So the top issue was the carbon tax announcement from Justin Trudeau. So basically on Monday, Justin Trudeau announced that provinces have until 2018 to adopt carbon pricing. Whether this is cap-and-trade or pricing on carbon is up to them. But if they do not do this by 2018, then the federal government will step in and they will make the provinces adopt some sort of a model.
Justin Trudeau recording: Provinces and territories will have a choice in how they implement this pricing. They can put a direct price on carbon pollution, or they can adopt a cap-and-trade system, with the expectation that it be stringent enough to meet or exceed the federal benchmark.
AM: This generated a lot of criticism online, particularly from Premier Brad Wall, who took to both Facebook and Twitter to say that he felt betrayed by Justin Trudeau, because Trudeau had campaigned on a promise of not doing this. And he posted a clip of Justin Trudeau during the debate saying that he would not force provinces to adopt one measure or the other because that was nonsensical. So that was 29 per cent of the Ottawa conversation and 25 per cent of the Canadian conversation, and it was trending on Facebook for a little while.
The second issue is BC LNG.
Recording (Rona Ambrose): Well Mr. Speaker, the headlines seemed good, but beyond the headlines were a lot of fine print. A one hundred and ninety conditions for the LNG project to move forward, including – wait for it – more consultations after almost six years of consultations. Thousands of unemployed workers and their families are depending on this project to go ahead. Approving the project is one thing, getting it built is what matters. There are no jobs until there’s shovels in the ground. Will the Prime Minister commit to providing personal leadership to drive this project forward?
Crowd: Here here!
AM: So, there was approval of 36-billion dollar project to liquify natural gas for export by tankers. And this is seen as a positive by many, especially by Premier Rachel Notley, who hopes that this will lead to approval for pipeline projects down the line. Because why would they be approving this major LNG project if there wasn’t a plan in place to transport this. So that was 17 per cent of the Ottawa conversation, and two per cent of the Canadian conversation. So not nearly as much traction as the carbon tax issue.
And then lastly, our third issue coming out of Ottawa was provincial health care transfers.
Recording (Jane Philpott) Mr. Speaker, this government is demonstrating an approach to health care that has not been seen in this country in a decade. We are collaborating with the provinces and territories. I will be meeting with the Health Ministers from across the country two weeks from today. We will specifically be investing in areas where Canadians know we need change. Canadians need better access to home care, including palliative care. Canadians need better access to mental health care. We will talk to provinces and territories. We will deliver on those promises.
AM: Earlier in the week, I guess it was end of last week, Justin Trudeau sent a letter to Ministers
about health care transfers, saying that sustainability lies in transforming how health care services are delivered. And the Ministers have been wanting to have a meeting on health care transfers because provinces feel that the three per cent that the federal government is responsible for funding does not cover the rising cost of health care as the populations in various provinces age. So they would like more money coming out of this, and also, health care transfers have some string attached on what they can be spent on. And one of the main focuses is home services because its more cost efficient – or cheaper I guess – to take care of people with home services, than it is to have them in hospitals. So this was seven per cent of the Ottawa conversation, but really didn’t get a lot of traction online; it was less than one per cent of the Canadian conversation.
So, to start off with, the carbon tax issue is really about federal regulation versus provincial regulation, as is the health care issue. But the carbon tax got way more traction, so why do you think that is? Is it just because it has the word ‘tax’ associated with it?
TK: Well Allie, if I had to guess, I’d say it’s because the carbon tax or levy or price on carbon is seen to have an appreciable impact on Canadians, right? They understand and know that the cost of goods, the result of this initiative, will go up. I think we can extrapolate from the compete absence of a Canadian conversation on provincial health care transfers that they do not believe that there will be an impact, negative or I suppose positive, on the quality of care they receive. And until they do perceive that impact, I don’t think we should expect them to talk about health care transfers, right? I mean Canadians are much more concerned about the quality and access of service they receive, rather than the funding rates that go behind that care.
DW: Ya, I’d largely agree with what Travis is saying. I mean, as you pointed out, it’s a lot easier to grab hold of a tax as something to be opposed to, than a three percent federal transfer of money. It’s a more intricate idea that people have to grab hold of. And it seems to impact their life less than an actual, real increase in cost of living, like a carbon tax would put into place.
TK: If we could take a pause and step back for a moment, one of the things that I want to point out is, just listening to you detail this is, it’s been a bit of a busy week hasn’t it for Ottawa. A lot of people were talking about and wondering when this government might start to make the more difficult, challenging decisions it has to make, and at what point in its mandate. And they’re starting to make some of these really important, potentially controversial decisions. And I mean a levy on the price of carbon; approval of what should have been an incredibly controversial, to many of the people who voted for Justin Trudeau, a controversial project out in BC on the LNG approval; and also, largely keeping in place the funding formula that the previous Harper government used to fund health care for the provinces – something the Trudeau government said it wasn’t necessarily going to do. And so what’s really interesting to me is that the Trudeau government has obviously decided that its in its time and during its mandate where it’s going to start making the important, big decisions that start to define this government’s agenda.
AM: Right, so like you said, they’re staying with the health transfers, the agreed amount that the Harper government had in place. And earlier on in the past month, Trudeau’s government has also taken some criticism for staying with the emissions targets from the Harper government as well. And I was surprised that the LNG issue didn’t get as much traction as I thought it would either. And the carbon tax has really turned into kind of this rural/urban divide. Like a lot of the criticism on Facebook and on Twitter is that Trudeau is seen as not understanding a lot of the rural citizens in the western side of the country and that he doesn’t get working class life and how these taxes impact their every day. And I think that that’s something that we’ve seen in the past as a criticism of the government, but it’s really, really being driven home either. And interestingly enough, with the provincial health care transfers discussion, it didn’t really stay on health care transfers; it kept going back to the carbon tax and economy and the price of oil. So, do you think that this is going to impact their image overall, and that they’re going to have a problem discussing these topics with the western provinces?
DW: Well I think one of the interesting things that Trudeau has done with these recent big announcement is they’ve sort of coupled all of the sort of more right-wing ones with the more left-wing ones, if you understand what I’m trying to say. Like they have this announcement that they’re approving the BC LNG pipeline, they also make an announcement that they’re going to implement a pretty steep carbon tax. They say they’re going to stick with provincial health care transfers, but I don’t know – they do something else, what else have they done?
TK: I’d agree with David on that point, on the LNG and carbon tax announcement. I don’t think it’s an accident that they were made so close in proximity to one another. And if you were to ask me who won the debate on the levy or tax on carbon, I’d say both the Conservatives and the Liberals won. They achieved what they needed to achieve on these issues. The Conservatives are the lone party to oppose it, for the reasons they put forward; it’s not the right time, the economy is too sensitive, that we need to recover, that we’re losing jobs in Alberta. And they get a nice, juicy, wedge issue that plays well to their base. But, the Liberals also get the same. They have introduced a levy on carbon which they promised to do – their base that voted for them will be very happy to see. But at the same time, they also got to approve a project that their base might have perceived as very controversial and contrary to their environmental agenda, with not much of a peep from Canadians it seems. So, I mean good on them.
DW: Well they’re also announcing this in 2016 and it has to be implemented by 2018, correct?
AM: Yeah. It’s almost 2017.
(Time check: 10:27)
DW: Yeah, they’re announcing it, relatively, at a mid-point in their government. So people are largely going to forget about it by the time the next election comes around. People aren’t going to be used to the carbon tax; in many places it may not have come into full effect by the time we have the next election. So I think they placed this sort of controversial decision, which they knew – it’s ultimately whether you call it a levy or whatever – it’s still a tax, it’s still more money that people have to pay.
AM: Whether you call it a levy or another synonym for a tax (Laughs)
DW: Exactly. So, they’re implementing it in a way that I think is going to have the least amount of impact – at least negative impact. People are going to blow up now, get angry and then forget about it by the time the next election comes around.
TK: And Allie, back to your question of whether or not these criticisms will stick, I don’t know that they necessarily will. I mean if you think back to the Liberals, sort of, what they positioned as their governing narrative during the election – what it would be – was real change. And while they’re maintaining the same funding formula by and large as the Harper government, while they’re approving projects that many of their base might have seen as more appropriate for the Harper government to approve, they’re doing so in conjunction with their initiatives that are clearly distinguishing their governing agenda from the previous government in a way that their base will be very happy with; in a way that Canadians will still view this government as representing a significant departure from the agenda, and again the tone, of the previous Harper government.
AM: So, on that point, and also on David’s point on the elections, a surprisingly small amount of people were angry that… Like, Brad Wall posted that clip from the debates of Justin Trudeau saying that these kinds of levies were nonsensical, and a really small amount of people latched onto that, and the whole backstabbing narrative of ‘you campaigned on this and now you’re going back on it’ really didn’t get that much traction. It was really more just like, these taxes are a money grab for the Trudeau government. People don’t believe that any revenue that’s generated from them is going to go back to the provinces. But, nothing was attached to the campaign promise. So, does that just further your point, in that we don’t actually care too much about, we know that campaign promises are promises but that they’re rather lofty goals. And if you want to get real change in, some of those things will be —
TK: Yeah, well the promise was more about ensuring that Canada had a national climate change strategy that did put a price on carbon. I mean, obviously some promises were made that it wouldn’t be imposed on the provinces, and that he would work collaboratively with the provinces to ensure that they developed a model that worked well. But I mean the most important thing there for the people that are voting for Trudeau, you have to assume, was that there would be a price on carbon. That Canada’s environmental policy would take meaningful steps to lower greenhouse gas emissions using market forces. And so, for the people that voted for Trudeau, it’s more important that this is actually occurring then the means by which it is being implemented or being introduced.
AM: So the significant portion of the conversation that’s upset from the western side of the country, does he run the risk right now of alienating them further? I mean, a lot of these people were not onboard with his government in the first place. So, is this really an issue, or is kind of just like ‘well you didn’t like me before, you still don’t like me now…’
DW: I guess it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t in a sense. The west was always Trudeau’s weakest part of the country, especially these areas in Alberta where Notley is getting…the NDP has come out and said that it’s too high of a carbon tax. So I think Trudeau is certainly, or probably doesn’t help his chances, but I don’t think those chances were particularly prevalent in the west anyway.
TK: I mean, and also as they look ahead at the next election, which they always will be, you got to dance with the one that brought you, right? The people that voted for Trudeau across the country knew he would be implementing a more aggressive climate change strategy. So there will be people who are very upset about this but those aren’t the people that voted with him in the first place. And so he has to make good on the promises he made to ensure that his voting coalition stays with him come next election.
AM: Because you brought up Premier Notley, let’s move quickly to BC LNG because she’s pretty happy about this announcement, and pretty supportive. And this didn’t get a lot of coverage and it didn’t get nearly as much traction as one would think with this. So was there anything of note that happened in the house when this announcement was made?
DW: So, what you saw in the house was largely just the NDP attacking the Liberals on this. They tried to couple it with this announcement that the Liberals were not switching from Harper’s climate change emissions targets, they try to pain this narrative that the Liberals are not as environmentally friendly as they actually campaign on and as they try to present themselves. But beyond that, the Conservatives made a couple positive remarks about it. I mean obviously they were criticizing the carbon tax that that was coupled with it. But for the most part, I mean the Liberals are in a majority situation. They okayed a project that was supported by the largest opposition party. There was not a significant amount of pushback in Parliament in general.
TK: But what you saw there was the NDP trying to get this idea that Liberals don’t actually represent real change from the previous government; a narrative that they’re going to try and solidify as we go longer into the Liberals’ mandate here and into the next election. I have to say, I just I don’t think voters will believe it. You can argue whether the target for greenhouse gas emissions was aggressive enough, you can argue whether the LNG project should have been approved, but what voters are taking away, what we’re seeing them take away from the conversation is that the government has introduced a tax or a levy on carbon, right? That’s the most important thing that this government needs to communicate – and they are. They’re not winning every voter in this conversation, but they’re winning the voters they need to win.
AM: And I mean, the Conservatives are really leaning into their opposition of the levy. They’ve got a ‘sign our petition’ against the carbon tax up on their website. So they’re also, I guess, would you say they’re inadvertently helping the Liberal government push that message that they are impacting a significant change.
TK: Well, like I said, both parties on winning on this issue. The Conservatives get their wedge issue and get to own the economic argument if you want to be too simplistic about it. And then the Liberals get to demonstrate that they’re taking action that the previous Harper government wouldn’t have taken. They’re reinforcing their narrative; they’re demonstrating that they are indeed real change.
DW: Well also just the branding of it is so different. You have a carbon tax, which a lot of left wing and centre-left voters support, versus the BC LNG, an acronym, so you can’t really grab hold of that. It’s much easier to sort of forget and be like ‘Oh the Liberals have approved something’
AM: ‘Some tax, there’s a tax!’
DW: Right? One’s a very easy issue to grab ahold of, and the other is a much more technical – I mean BC LNG is a national tax like the carbon tax is, it’s not a national strategy or anything like that. Ultimately-
AM: People might be unfamiliar with [what] LNG is actually anyways.
DW: Liquify natural gas, I mean that’s not part of everyone’s daily vernacular.
TK: It’s part of mine.
AM: Well Travis, you’re smarter than the rest of us.
AM: So, two of the things in the Canadian conversation that were getting traction online but weren’t part of the Ottawa conversation because they weren’t actually about Canadian policy were: one, the protest on abortion rights in Poland, so women took to the streets and protested some policy that the government was suggesting, and this peaceful protest actually resulted in the government reversing their position on it, and so..
TK: Democracy in action!
AM: Democracy in action, and that was basically the sentiment of the Canadian conversation where people were posting things like ‘I stand with’ you know the women in Poland, and saying that was an example of just that – democracy in action.
And then the other thing, of course, which will be a part of the Canadian conversation until at least November 8th, the Vice Presidential debates and Alec Baldwin’s impersonation of Trump on SNL. So those two things were what was generating conversation outside of the Ottawa-
Time check: 18:36
TK: Well I think what made the –
AM: The Ottawa – Ottawa – the Ottawa (Laugh)
DW: The Ottawa bubble
TK: (Sarcastically) Boondoggle, the holiest of holy.
What I think made the protests in Poland particularly powerful, not to be too alliterative, was the image that partnered with the conversation. You saw just these tens of thousands of women in the street with umbrellas in the rain
AM: All dressed in black
TK: All dressed in…like it was a powerful image. It just demonstrated the commitment of these women to stand up for their rights in the face of intrusive, reductive, awful legislation. And I think it also just proves that in a year when a woman is likely to win the White House, that Canadians are looking to Poland as well and saying ‘I’m with her’.
AM: Always good with the ‘I’m with her’ Travis.
TK: So taxes were part of that overall conversation as well because a lot of people were talking about Trump’s comment that he smartly, intelligently manipulated the tax system to not pay taxes for all of this time.
DW: (Sarcastically) That’s smart.
TK: Wrong. I think that one of the things that I took away from that debate that wasn’t necessarily part of the broader sort of analysis was Trump has so far, he’s winning because he’s viewed as the declining white middle-class, as on their side. In states like Pennsylvania and Michigan where manufacturing is disappearing and they’re looking around, and they’re looking at a country that doesn’t necessarily reflect their point of view, their values, and their situation and life. They feel like they’re being left behind. And he’s said, I’m going to reverse these fortunes for you.
AM: The Vice Presidential debates got a lot of traction, and there was a discussion that Trump didn’t come out well from this. Like he was the only one who really took shots during this. His nominee for President was not doing him any favours during these debates. So, what do you think about the Vice Presidential debates. Like I don’t think anybody really cares that much as this time around about who these people are.
TK: I think what’s particularly unique about this cycle is how larger than life the top of the ticket is. I mean, Trump is in a league of his own for buffoonery. But Hillary Clinton will likely be the first female president of the United States and that’s, I mean you can’t get any more larger than life than that. And then also compounded the issue is just how, I don’t want to say boring, but Mike Pence and –
AM: The other guy.
DW: Tim Kaine.
TK: But Mike Pence and Tim Kaine aren’t exactly exciting candidates. I mean that’s exactly probably why they were selected. Because you know, their docile tones soothe the electorate.
DW: The funniest thing about the Vice Presidential debate I thought was how – well obviously this wasn’t the funniest thing, but it was an interesting thing about the Vice Presidential debate – was how many people reacted to it by saying, ‘oh Mike Pence 2020 I understand why he took this vice presidential nomination.’ Because for the first little bit, Mike Pence was not – when he was chosen by Trump – he didn’t really fit. He’s an establishment Conservative, he’s very opposed to most of the things Trump has said, he had endorsed Ted Cruz, but everyone saw in the debates him so handily dealing with Tim Kaine. Most people said that he overwhelmingly won those debates, that I think people finally realized ‘oh this man was just positioning himself. The Vice President thinks this ticket is going to lose, and is positing himself for his own run in the future.’ Pence gave off the idea that he’s not in this for a Trump presidency, he’s in it a Mike Pence presidential run.
TK: And what will be particularly interesting in the coming days is how Trump responds to that criticism. Or, responds to that idea that your own running mate doesn’t think you’re going to win, what do you think about that? And if Donald Trump’s demonstrated anything, it’s not exactly that he can’t shoot himself in the foot. So, we’ll see how that goes.
AM: It’ll be that he’s, you know, jealous cause Trump’s the best and-
TK: (Imitating Trump) Wrong.
AM: and no one can come close. (Imitating Trump) Wrong. Nope.
DW: (Imitating Trump) Sad.
AM: Sad. (Laughs)
DW: ‘Worn out Governor Mike Pence attacks own President. Sad.’
AM: When are the next presidential debates?
TK and DW: Sunday.
AM: Sunday. Sunday.
DW: Sunday. Sunday. Sunday.
TK: Sunday Funday!
AM: And Trump is going to appear in the presidential debate, he hasn’t backed out of this one.
TK: Right and leading into that, what everyone will want to know is has Trump changed the very successful formula that led him to his big debate success last time? (Laugh) Or is he just going to freewheel it and change things up.
AM: I just want to see if Hillary continues to call him Donald throughout the whole thing, cause that was a really good choice on her part.
TK: I just want to see if she shimmies again. (Laugh)
AM: Given the success of Alec Baldwin’s portrayal of Trump on SNL, do you think that it will affect the outcome of the election in any way, similar to how Tina Fey’s portrayal of Sarah Palin had a pretty big impact and Will Ferrell’s portrayal of Bush?
DW: No. Yeah, I mean well actually, in a sense, I don’t think it will. Because Trump is already an entertainer, he’s already a known commodity as a character, whereas with these other people they were politicians who then an entertainment persona was created for them by these comedians. I mean if you actually watch the Alec Baldwin impersonation, he basically just takes Trump’s lines, word for word, and barely changes them. Hillary’s character, Kate McKinnon’s impersonation of Hillary Clinton, was the only one that they actually wrote a majority of new lines for. So in a sense, yes, it’s obviously not going to help Trump in any way, but I think that a lot of the people that are going to find it particularly funny are not going to be a Trump fun.
AM: They already thought it was funny…
DW: Yeah, I don’t how many Trump supporters watch SNL on the regular.
TK: Yeah I think the difference is Trump started as a joke, Sarah Palin quickly became a joke. What’s interesting though is Will Ferrell’s portrayal of George W. Bush was largely seen as helping the presidential candidate, and helping the president, because it humanized him in a way that he wasn’t able to do with the electorate, and it sort of just softened his image a bit. To David’s point, Alec Baldwin is not doing anything except parodying Trump’s mannerisms and language and behaviour back at him, which I think is probably the most biting satire you can do.
AM: ‘We didn’t have to write any new material for this!’
DW: And speaking of humanization, the interesting thing that you noticed, that I noticed about the SNL skit was that all the jokes were about how unhumanized both these candidates are. How bizarre both these candidates are. Kate McKinnon made a joke as Hillary Clinton saying ‘my human father had this career, this relatable career…’
AM: ‘That I think is about drapes, I’m relatable too.’
DW: Yeah exactly. And I mean Trump is Trump, so he’s as far off from the average person as you can get. But I think it’s sort of an unknown commodity how this is going to affect the perception of Trump because both candidates aren’t particularly humanized that well. They’re both seen as caricatures, or sort of weird, slightly separated from the average person.
AM: Thank you both of you for joining us this week. Travis, thank you for being our special guest this week and joining the panel.
TK: It’s always a pleasure and I hope to be back soon. That was a hint.
DW: Just quickly on the Trump SNL thing, I think it’s really good – I was a fan of 30 Rock – I’m just really happy to see that Alec Baldwin is going to have consistent gig until 2024, at the end of Trump’s second term.
AM: You really needed to get that last little tidbit of information in there before we finished.
AM: Great, thank you for that insight David.
DW: Thanks for having me.
AM: Talk to you guys next week.
AM: That is our show for the week, thank you so much for tuning in. One more reminder that we have a digital dashboard available for download, so you can go to our website politicaltraction.fm and sign up to get that on a weekly basis. You can also as always follow us on Twitter @tractionfm and you can find us on Facebook at Political Traction. And a quick little scheduling note: next week is a break week for Parliament, so we’re going to be have a special episode. But for this episode we’re going to be talking about our favourite podcasts, so if you have any feedback about what your favourite podcasts are, on Canadian content, please give us a shout at either our Twitter or Facebook page. Or, drop us an email, the email is on our website, and let us know which ones are your favourite. And we’re going to be talking about which ones we like and why. So thank you so much and be sure to tune in next week.
AM: Political Traction theme song was created by Andrew Polychronopoulos and editorial oversight is provided by Joseph Lavoie, principal and digital lead at Navigator.
Music fades out.