Month: October 2016

Ep 05: 99 Red Walloons

Did the Canada-Europe trade just get torpedoed by an obscure region of Belgium? Wallonia is being blamed by Canada’s Minister on International Trade for making agreement on the CETA deal impossible. With the Conservatives throwing mad shade, what will the Liberals do on the trade file?

Also, Michael Chong presents his democratic reform proposals, which look much like his earlier democratic reform proposals. The Liberals face criticism over cash-for-access meetings and young workers literally turn their back on Trudeau. Finally, the Green Party of BC is attracting some talent in New Westminster.

If you liked this shorter episode of PolitiCoast, make sure to subscribe on iTunes or wherever you listen and tell a friend what you think. Also, send us suggestions on what you want to hear us cover.

Image credit: Flickr/Global 2000


Ep 04: You’re Fired!

Ian & Scott are joined by Micah to discuss all things politics, both in BC and across the Canada. In this episode they discuss the firing of the Vancouver School Board, reactions to the third US presidential debate, the Supreme Court of Canada appointment, new BC leadership candidates for the federal Conservatives and NDP, Trudeau’s backing away from electoral reform and a bridge to the sunshine coast.

Buckle in, this is a long one. And apologies for the lower sound quality on this one, we had to record over Skype and using our b-studio.


Ep 03: Trumpster Fires

Ian & Scott delve into a post second presidential debate review even as the Trump campaign meltdown shows no signs of abating. They also respond to some of the feedback on carbon pricing, the state of the Conservative Party of Canada’s leadership race, Uber’s lobbying the BC government, Trudeau’s Bombardier Bailout, the Tsawwassen Mills chaos, an update on CETA the Canada-EU free trade deal, falling Vancouver house prices and the start of the next election campaigns in Yukon and Sechelt.

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Don’t (Carbon) Tax Me Bro!

In the six days since Episode 2 of PolitiCoast: Green Shift 2.0 Shift Harder was released the feedback we received on Facebook can at best be described as “mixed”.  It turns out Carbon Taxes are controversial. Who would have thought?

The responses can be broken down into four general but over lapping categories.  First climate change doesn’t exist. Second carbon taxes do not work. Third carbon pricing raises the cost of living and hurts families. Finally there is a moral responsibility for corporations not people to pay for the damage of climate change. I am not going to devote much space to the first point because if decades of scientific research and an overwhelming consensus among scientists isn’t enough to convince you of reality of climate change some guy with a politics blog certainly isn’t going to.  The remainder of the responses are worth examining.

The claim that carbon taxes are ineffective was a common critique. If true it would certainly be a solid reason to oppose Trudeau’s plan. However this claim does not stand up to scrutiny on either theoretical or empirical grounds. The economic theory underpinning carbon taxes is pretty simple. It is based on two premises; prices convey information and people respond to incentives. Currently in jurisdictions without carbon prices there is no effective way to convey to people making economic decisions the costs, in terms of environmental damage, of their carbon emissions. A carbon price conveys that information by placing an approximated dollar amount on the damage a tonne of carbon causes to the environment. With that knowledge being transmitted to people via prices they can then assess if the benefits they gain from emitting that carbon are worth the damage inflicted. Perhaps most importantly that evaluation of the tradeoffs cannot be avoided. Because people generally respond to incentives and tend to opt for the lower priced goods or services, people will generally opt for lower carbon emitting options due to the lower relative price. The least marginally beneficial uses of carbon will decrease as the economic calculus no longer makes sense. This will result in reduced carbon emissions. There are well established market mechanisms by which carbon taxes work. Mechanisms, which those on the right ought to accept but often don’t. But that is a topic for a follow up post.

As for the empirical question, it was frequently claimed in our comments section that British Columbia’s carbon emissions had increased since the carbon tax was introduced in 2008.  The data published by the Government of British Columbia shows a decreases of total emissions from 66.8MT to 64.5MT as well as per capita and per dollar of GDP.  Unlike other provinces which have seen a decrease from phasing out coal electricity the composition of the BC electrical grid (predominantly hydroelectric) has remained largely unchanged.

Another frequently raised concern was carbon taxes would raise the cost of living. And that this would be especially hard on the poor and to a lesser extent the middle class. This has been the federal Conservative’s favourite line of attack. While these are reasonable concerns they are neither unaddressable nor sufficiently serious to out weigh the benefits of carbon pricing. The increase cost of many everyday goods and services can be addressed by following the BC model of a revenue neutral carbon tax. Under the BC model the revenue generated by the carbon tax is used to cut other taxes. The net tax burden remains the same however the tax burden is concentrated on those areas of the economy with the highest carbon output. For a family with a low carbon foot print they can come out ahead because their income taxes have been reduced. And for the poor, who have little disposable income and are hardest hit by increases in the cost of living a rebate can be issued to offset the new costs. Perhaps most importantly this increase may be temporary as businesses are incentivized to develop less carbon intensive (and therefore cheaper) ways to provide goods and services. In a competitive market those savings are passed onto the consumer.

The final point raised was that morally the burden of paying for the cost of climate change should fall on corporations, who have profited from carbon emissions rather than on people. However this misses a couple of key points. These business only exist because there is demand from the average citizen for their goods. If people didn’t want oil and products for which oil is a feedstock there would be no Exxon, no Suncor and no BP.  There would be no money to be made because no one would buy their product. Ultimately the huge corporate structure that exists is there to meet the demands people have for goods and services. It is meeting those demands which have resulted in the environmental damage we are trying to address. People should bare the costs associated with their consumption behavior. Without having to bare those costs people will lack the incentive to adjust their consumption.

Furthermore there is the implicit assumption in this argument that an economic agent (in this case a corporation) merely will bare a cost imposed on it without changing behavior or passing that cost onto other parties. Focusing solely on corporations will merely result in them passing the increased cost of doing business onto their customers. It is the same as a tax on consumers, just one that is better hidden.

Carbon taxes are undoubtedly going to be a controversial topic in the coming months and years. It is important for such a critical issue as dealing with climate change that the best arguments are presented and there is no misunderstanding about the benefits and costs of carbon pricing.

The Trumpster Fire debate

It’s Thanksgiving weekend, so Scott and I aren’t able to sit down and record a special episode on the US presidential debate that happened last night. So while we will get to much of this on this week’s episode (assuming more news doesn’t drop and I’ll get to that later), having just watched it, I wanted to give my immediate reactions (filtered through some of the analysis I’ve already read).

First though, I want to start by saying how thankful I am for choosing to watch the Blue Jays complete the sweep of the Texas Rangers in the ALDS last night. It was a fantastic and nail-biting finish, something I can’t say about the debate.

The Texas Rangers making the Trump campaign look coordinated.

The low bar

Going into this debate, many commentators were calling it potentially the worst week of Donald Trump’s campaign: His horrible first debate performance, the leak of his 1996 tax returns, his late-night Twitter rants, the leak of his bragging about sexually assaulting women and defections by numerous high profile Republicans. Simply put, he needed a miraculous performance to have any realistic chance at salvaging his campaign.

And I want to emphasize this for a moment.

Until now, Trump has gone from scandal to scandal, saying things that would destroy the careers of any typical politician, and simply falling upward. Yet something’s finally changed and the sleaze is starting to stick.

So while over the entirety of this debate, Trump managed to remain relatively composed and temperate – he even managed to land some of his attacks – I have a really hard time seeing it as enough to stop the bleed.

In the first debate, the bar was set so low for Trump that he just had to step over it to not fail (he didn’t). In this debate, the same low bar has now been for Clinton’s path to victory. It’s getting to the point where Clinton wins by default by being a living, breathing human.

On fitness for president

We didn’t see Trump degrade in this debate the way he did in the first. Part of this, I think, is simply due to the format that put most of the interactions between the candidates and the moderators rather than between the two candidates. The other part, and I’ll delve into this at the end, is that perhaps Clinton’s strategy was simply to stay out of the way of the ongoing dumpster fire that has become the Trump campaign.

That said, Trump did lose his temper a few times in the debate. Most notably near the end when Anderson Cooper probed him, ironically, on whether someone who goes off on late night Twitter rants is fit to be president.

Trump, feeling such a slight to his ego and temperate, chose to, again, demonstrate this by going off on an angry tirade. In this case, he tried to clarify the specific words he Tweeted about Alicia Machado’s supposed sex-tapes, bragged about the 25 million followers he has on Twitter and Facebook, and pointed out that Hillary tweeted late at night too (not realizing she most likely has a team behind her account).

Similarly, Cooper pressed Trump on whether he would concede that his, now infamous, 2005 comments constituted sexual assault (and full props to Cooper for that) and that he was admitting to assaulting women. Trump responded by continually referring to it as mere “locker room talk” before pivoting sharply to the need to fight ISIS. Ironically he even said he respects women the most. He also brought up women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault (he held a news conference with them hours before the debate and brought them to the audience) and how Hillary had attacked them.

Clinton meanwhile, tried to set herself apart by talking about values of diversity and pointing out how Trump had not apologized for his similarly disgusting comments about Mexicans, Muslims, people with disabilities and others.

Emails and Clinton’s vulnerabilities

In another exchange over Clinton’s emails, Trump went into his full disruptive attack mode. While she was trying to defend herself and her record, he continually interrupted her and the moderators who tried to stop him, until she effectively gave up. Beyond that, Trump brought up the idea that, as president, he’d appoint a special prosecutor to put Clinton in jail.

While Clinton smiled through this absurd and totalitarian suggestion, she missed any return attack on this. On several occasions when Trump attacked, Clinton’s responses seemed almost muted or dangerously smug. Perhaps she’s confident in her position in the campaign (and she has every reason to) but I could see those smiles, even if only to conceal an inner horror at Trump’s comments, working against her.

Trump clearly thought he had an angle on Clinton along this line as he brought up Bernie Sanders’ comment that she has bad judgement at least three times. He’s likely still also hoping (probably in vain at this point) to win disaffected Bernie bros to his side. Those are the same voters who are worried about the email scandal and Clinton needs a stronger rebuke here.

Pence meets the bus

Finally, despite all of this, what actually might sting Trump the most in his own adopted quarters of the Republican Party, was his denunciation of his running mates foreign policy statements. When questioned on Mike Pence’s statements that the USA needed to take a strong stance and challenge Russia and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Trump said he hadn’t spoken to his VP pick on the issue and “we disagree.”

While it’s been widely described as Trump throwing Pence under the bus, I’d argue it’s even bigger than that.

There are differences between the Republicans and Democrats on foreign policy but for the most part they have agreed about who the enemies are and whether action needs to be taken. The disagreements come down to levels of involvement and the exact balance between diplomacy and aggression.

Yet Trump has struck out on a radically different course throughout his campaign and it comes to a head when he says he disagrees with and hasn’t even talked to the person he supposedly chose to be his second-in-command.

On the foreign policy front, Clinton repeatedly brought up Russia and the suggestion that the Kremlin was working to influence the outcome of the election (possibly through Wikileaks), and that Putin didn’t want her to win. It was something Trump, again, didn’t outright deny but merely suggested that, while he “didn’t know Russia, it would be great if we got along.” And he questioned whether the Syrian rebels (that is, those who started an uprising against a corrupt and dictatorial regime in favour of a secular, liberal democracy) were worse than Assad.

Who won?

As I discussed in our preview episode, I have problems with the simplistic nature of the question of “who won” as it seems inevitably graded on a curve. That said, most polls agree with my take that Clinton won.

And under the analysis I tried to set out, that is who objectively performed better, it was easily Clinton. She appeared more presidential, more steady and more informed on the issues. I think her strongest point in the debate was actually on tax reforms, challenging Trumps claims that cutting taxes for the wealthy would benefit the middle class. She also presented her 30 year record in office stronger than she has previously, discussing specific measures she’d enacted.

Trump was definitely more prepared for this debate than the first, and clearly had a few specific points he wanted to bring in, but Clinton was again more polished and didn’t stumble like she did in the first debate – even when she had the perfect opportunity to say Trumped-up-trickle-down economics again.

Clinton’s long game

But this all plays into a theory I’ve been thinking about during this election.

It’s been well documented, and Trump even concedes, that Clinton’s campaign is much better funded than his. This has been the case for months and has undoubtedly taken off over the past two months. This funding gap means that the Clinton campaign can afford the best strategists and spend as much as it chooses to, when it chooses to.

It’s also well aware that the election is not until November 8.

So while Clinton got a healthy poll bump after the media focus of the Democratic National Convention, I believe that her campaign purposefully remained muted over the following weeks. They spent August and September fundraising and collecting any last bits of evidence they’d need.They also spent it preparing Clinton for the final push.

The turning point was then planned for and executed at the first debate. That was the first opportunity for the American public to directly compare and contrast Clinton and Trump as candidates side by side.

At this point, Clinton’s advisors had poured over every bit of footage they had of Trump and psychoanalyzed all the evidence to develop a strategy for her to needle him and knock him off balance in that first debate. And it worked. Whether on his personal business dealings, loans from his father, his past racist business practices, his tax returns or his comments about women, Clinton egged Trump into a furious rage on every issue in that first debate.

It then set off two weeks of hell for the Trump campaign as leak after leak came out.

Each of which, I’d argue, was either organized by the Clinton campaign, they were aware of in advance, or they at very least they had the staff to capitalize on in a way that Trump’s campaign just couldn’t.

This brings us into last night’s debate where Clinton is riding a renewed wave of support, approaching the height of her post-convention bounce, and all at a time when advance polls are starting to open. To win, as I mentioned, she merely needed to stay competent.

There’s an adage that politicians should keep away when their opponents are self-destructing. The temptation is to drive the knife in or salt the wounds of your rivals, but there’s a lot of risk to such a strategy. Getting dirty with Trump is bound to end up badly, so for the most part Clinton let Trump do damage to himself. She interrupted just once and generally pivoted quickly from denouncing his lies to speaking about her own values and positions. It was the moderators, notably the esteemed Anderson Cooper, who spent the most time challenging Trump.

So now we’re still almost a month away from election day. Over the next month, I expect more leaks, more prominent Republicans distancing themselves from Trump and a continued push by the Clinton campaign to run Trump, and arguably the Republican Party, into the ground.

Or, at least, that’s what I really hope happens.