Like The Hub?
Join our community.
Join

Policy Pulse: Sean Speer: The Conservative platform highlights foreign policy while the world watches Afghanistan

News

Welcome to The Hub’s Federal Election 2021 Policy Pulse, where we’ll be tracking all the policy announcements from the major parties, with instant analysis from our crew of experts.

With the election scheduled for Sept. 20, we’ll be monitoring 36 days worth of policy ideas, so watch out each morning for the day’s live blog where we’ll be tracking every announcement as it happens.

4:00 p.m. — Aaron Wudrick: Ceasing pipelines and oil exploration will likely have no positive impact on global emissions

Aaron Wudrick, the director of domestic policy program at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, weighs up a proposal to stop building pipelines and cease oil exploration:

The Green Party today released parts of its climate change agenda including an unequivocal commitment that no pipelines would be built nor any further oil exploration would occur under its watch in the name of reducing carbon emissions.

Although these measures would presumably reduce Canada’s carbon emissions, they must be balanced with a broader set of policy objectives including providing jobs and opportunity and ultimately financing the transition to new forms of energy.

Production and investment in the oil sands remain vitally important to Canada’s economy, supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs throughout the country.

Under current policy promises, global demand for hydrocarbons like oil will increase, and hydrocarbons will continue to account for the majority of global energy generation even if all signatories reach their Paris Climate commitments. This demand is being driven by the developing world. If Canada does not fill that demand, other countries will do it.

The proposal to not build new pipelines and prevent oil exploration will harm Canada economically and will have no positive impact on global emissions. Furthermore, the impacts of this decision would be principally borne by Indigenous communities who are disproportionately industry partners when compared to non-Indigenous Canadians.  

To transition to a clean future requires replacing higher-emitting sources, such as coal, with relatively lower-emitting sources such as oil and natural gas. The extractive industry also provides the funds and resources necessary for government to fund further transitions, including to wind, solar, nuclear, and other non-emitting sources, as well as toward technologies which are ultimately at the root of both mitigation and long-term carbon neutrality.

3:30 p.m. — Sean Speer: The Conservative platform highlights foreign policy while the world watches Afghanistan

Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole broke with campaign convention and released his full policy platform this morning.

The platform, which policy expert Alex Usher described as “one of the most detailed manifestoes ever released,” contains hundreds of policy promises covering the full range of federal policy areas. It’s the type of policy agenda that could easily populate ministerial mandate letters across the government and keep incoming ministers busy for several months and even years.

The Conservative platform has short- and long-term dimensions. Short-term measures include a temporary hiring tax credit following the expiration of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, an investment tax credit to stimulate business investment in 2022 and 2023 and a one-month GST holiday this fall for retail purchases. Longer-term measures include the creation of a new Canada Advanced Research Agency to support high-risk, high-reward projects, liberalizing foreign ownership restrictions in the telecommunication sector, and progressivity-enhancing reforms to the Canada Child Care Expense Deduction.

Similar to the NDP’s platform, the Conservative plan currently doesn’t provide individual costing or an overall fiscal plan. That will follow in the coming days as the Parliamentary Budget Office assesses the measures and provides its own estimates.

It’s fair to say, though, that the Conservative policy promises won’t significantly accelerate deficit reduction efforts and may indeed contribute to longer-term costs for the federal government including, for instance, a promise to increase the growth rate of the Canada Health Transfer to at least 6 percent per year. It’s remarkable how much the fiscal policy debate in Canada has shifted from the 2015 federal election when the Liberal Party first broke ranks with the other parties and committed to deficit spending.

Given the platform’s comprehensiveness, there’s much to unpack here and The Hub’s crew of experts will provide further analysis on individual policy promises — including those related to innovation, housing, and fiscal federalism — in the coming days.

But one policy area worth flagging is national security and foreign policy. The Hub’s associate editor Amal Attar-Guzman recently wrote about the big, sweeping changes occurring in the realm of geopolitics (including, for instance, the growing U.S.-China rivalry) and the need for the political parties to outline their respective plans for Canadian foreign policy.

While one may agree or disagree with the Conservative positions on these issues, it’s notable that the party’s platform dedicates as much attention to them. There are policy promises related to cybersecurity, Arctic sovereignty, military reform (including procurement), trade and investment screening, international development, NATO, the United Nations, Canadian policy around the world, and its relationship with China.

This is, for all intents and purposes, a mini-foreign policy statement that seems highly relevant in light of real-time developments in Afghanistan. It should put pressure on the other political parties to put forward their own ideas and vision for Canada’s place in the world. That’s a healthy sign for next 35 days.

2:25 p.m. — Green Party leader unveils ‘three simple things’ to combat climate change

Green Party leader Annamie Paul was in Toronto today to announce what she described as “three simple things” to fight climate change.

Paul said her party will ensure not even “one single new pipeline” will be built in Canada. The Green leader also said her party would not support fracking in any form and would block any new oil exploration projects.

2:00 p.m. — Sean Speer: NDP platform promises significant new entitlement programs

The Hub’s editor-at-large Sean Speer takes a first look at the NDP’s full platform:

It’s barely one day into the federal election campaign and we already have full policy platforms from two parties.

The New Democratic Party released its full, 115-page platform on August 12 — three days before the campaign officially kicked off. The Conservative Party released its platform this morning (and we’ll have more on that later today).

Although we’ll undoubtedly learn more about the NDP’s individual policies (including its multi-year fiscal plan) over the course of the campaign, the full platform provides an overall picture of how the party is interpreting the big issues facing the country and the proper role of government to respond to them.

It’s fair to say that the NDP’s general focus is on issues of equity and fairness and its predisposition is to a more active role for government in regulating the private economy (such as “price caps” on cell phone and internet bills) and providing for direct service provision (such as a national pharmacare model). Its expanded view of the state would be paid for by a combination of ongoing deficit spending and a more progressive tax system, including higher taxes on luxury goods, a COVID-19 “excess profits” tax and a new wealth tax.

In terms of specific policies, two signature proposals are (1) a national pharmacare model and (2) a permanent $2,000 per month income support program as a well as a promise to establish a “guaranteed livable income.” These policies would represent significant, new federal entitlement programs depending on program design and generosity.

On pharmacare, the platform commits to an initial annual budget of $10 billion — though the Parliamentary Budget Office has previously estimated that a national pharmacare model would cost between $20 billion and $22 billion per year.

The NDP plan emphasizes that bringing prescription drugs into the single-payer model would generate savings for Canadian businesses who would no longer need to pay for employee drug insurance plans. The platform estimates that these savings could amount to “approximately $600 per employee with extended health benefits every year.” (It’s hard to assess the likelihood or magnitude of such savings given that (1) employees losing their employer-provided health benefits would presumably want pay increases and (2) the high costs of pharmacare may necessitate business tax increases.)

The bigger risk, however, is that the transition from employer-provided plans to a government formulary would narrow access to different medicines for Canadians. There’s evidence, for instance, that current public plans for low-income citizens or seniors cover a narrower range of drugs than most public plans and are generally far slower to add new ones. The upshot is that the large majority of Canadians who are currently satisfied with the access and affordability of prescription drugs could be negatively impacted.

As for the commitment to a “guaranteed livable income,” we’ll need to learn more about the design and generosity of the NDP’s promise. It’s worth highlighting, though, that analysis by economist Kevin Milligan shows that a basic income model invariably faces an “impossible trinity” between a basic income’s generosity, work effects, and affordability. Even in the most modest case, the incremental cost to government could be as much as $165 billion per year.

The NDP should be lauded for putting out its full plan for voters so early in the campaign. As we learn more — including its projected overall fiscal implications — The Hub’s experts will provide further independent, non-partisan analysis of what the various policies will mean for Canadians and the country as a whole.

1:30 p.m. — Trevor Tombe: The Liberals and Conservatives want to create one million jobs. Is it feasible?

University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe evaluates the “one million jobs promise” from the Liberals and Conservatives:

Canada’s 44th general election is underway, and in his opening remarks Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole committed to recovering one million jobs. This commitment is shared by the Liberal Party and has been a recurring commitment by the federal government leading up to the campaign.

Is this feasible? And if so, when might it happen?

The latest data from Statistics Canada shows Canada’s overall employment in July was just under 18.9 million. This is roughly 760,000 fewer jobs than if pre-COVID trends in employment growth continued, though nearly three million jobs above where we were in April last year. Projecting forward, employment of 20 million was likely by next year.

Though a large commitment, achieving it is feasible. It requires returning to pre-COVID trend plus modest growth afterwards. As the overwhelming majority of employment not yet recovered is accounted for by accommodation, food services, recreation, retail, and other sectors directly affected by the pandemic, large employment growth appears possible as public health conditions improve. 

Ups and downs are surely to come, but increasing employment by one million jobs over the next year or two appears feasible without significant effort by whoever forms government.

11:25 a.m. — Liberals promise to extend pandemic recovery hiring program

Speaking in Longueuil, Quebec, today, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau promised to extend the recovery hiring program for businesses hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trudeau also announced support for especially hard-hit industries, like tourism and the arts, with temporary wage and rent support of up to 75 percent of business expenses throughout the winter.

The Liberals would also launch a new arts and culture recovery program to match ticket sales for performing arts and live theatres to compensate for reduced capacity due to the pandemic.

11:05 a.m. — Conservatives reveal party platform

In Ottawa this morning, Conservative leader Erin O’Toole revealed the party’s entire platform. We’ll be digging into it today and throughout the campaign.

O’Toole said the Parliamentary Budget Officer is in the process of costing the platform and the Conservatives will release an updated version when that is finished.

This afternoon, we’ll have analysis on the newly-released NDP platform from The Hub’s editor-at-large Sean Speer.

10:50 a.m. — NDP would go after ‘hundreds of companies’ that paid dividends after using wage subsidy program

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh was in Toronto this morning to announce that an NDP government would go after companies that took pandemic relief from the government and then later paid out dividends to shareholders.

Singh said that “hundreds of companies” used government programs — such as the wage subsidy for companies that experienced a drop in revenue during the pandemic — and then paid “millions of dollars in dividends” or increased executive pay.

Reporters pressed Singh for more information on how enforcement would work, but the NDP leader didn’t offer any details.

10:40 a.m. — In elections, all event start-times are rough guesses

Each morning the candidates issue press releases letting reporters know where and when they will be making announcements. One long-standing tradition of election campaigns is that these times are wild guesses, at best.

We’re still waiting for Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s 10 a.m. news conference to start and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh’s announcement is also delayed.

We’ll have updates as soon as they begin.

6:00 a.m. — Party leaders fan out for first full day of campaigning

The itineraries for the party leaders are trickling in for the first full day of campaigning.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau will be in Longueuil, Quebec, this morning at 10 a.m. to make an announcement about Canadian businesses.

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole will be in Ottawa to provide details on the party’s plan to rebuild the economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. O’Toole will be speaking to reporters at 11 a.m.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh will be in Toronto Monday morning “to announce measures to make the ultra-rich pay their fair share.” Singh’s news conference kicks off at 10:30 a.m. ET.

Green Party leader Annamie Paul will also be in Toronto to make an announcement about the party’s climate platform at 2:25 p.m. ET.

Stay tuned for more details about the events and real-time analysis of the policy announcements.

Sunday — Trudeau visits Governor General to kick off the campaign

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau brought his family to Rideau Hall on Sunday to ask Gov. Gen. Mary Simon to dissolve Parliament, triggering the country’s 44th federal election.

We’ll be bringing our readers instant policy analysis on every issue that arises during the campaign but, as we get ready for the flurry of campaign announcements, University of Calgary economist and The Hub contributor Trevor Tombe has some general advice for evaluating the proposals from each party.

“During the election, voters should ask what problem proposals are aiming to solve. If it’s unclear, that is a red flag,” wrote Tombe on Sunday.

Policy Pulse: Trudeau visits Governor General to kick off the campaign

News

Welcome to The Hub’s Federal Election 2021 Policy Pulse, where we’ll be tracking all the policy announcements from the major parties, with instant analysis from our crew of experts.

With the election scheduled for Sept. 20, we’ll be monitoring 36 days worth of policy ideas, so watch out each morning for the day’s live blog where we’ll be tracking every announcement as it happens.

Sunday — Trudeau visits Governor General to kick off the campaign

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau brought his family to Rideau Hall on Sunday to ask Gov. Gen. Mary Simon to dissolve Parliament, triggering the country’s 44th federal election.

We’ll be bringing our readers instant policy analysis on every issue that arises during the campaign but, as we get ready for the flurry of campaign announcements, University of Calgary economist and The Hub contributor Trevor Tombe has some general advice for evaluating the proposals from each party.

“During the election, voters should ask what problem proposals are aiming to solve. If it’s unclear, that is a red flag,” wrote Tombe on Sunday.