Like The Hub?
Join our community.
Join

Derek Nighbor: Trudeau’s pivot on carbon pricing shows need for rural policy lens 

Commentary

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent decision to relieve home heating cost pressures in Atlantic Canada has initiated an important conversation about the challenges faced by Canadians living in rural parts of the country. 

The announcement has largely been cast in political terms, with Trudeau seeking to manage pushback from his caucus in the region. 

I applaud these lawmakers and the government for recognizing the unique challenges of workers, families, and businesses of rural communities in the Atlantic provinces. 

But the groundswell of anger there would look familiar to anyone living in many other rural communities across the country. If anything, Trudeau’s announcement was a reminder of how smaller communities and their residents often get overlooked in the national conversation, and how we lack a coherent national approach to rural Canada. 

In visiting dozens of rural and northern communities across Canada over the past few years, I’ve heard a heightened concern from workers and community leaders who feel they are merely an afterthought when it comes to federal policymaking. 

Much of the current anger across the country stems from frustration around climate mitigation efforts, which are not only having a disproportionate impact on the cost of living in rural communities but also threatening the viability of industries that employ and sustain them. But the issue is much bigger and more personal than carbon taxes and climate. 

Rural Canadians have long faced bigger barriers to health and social services, public transit, affordable housing, and education. We make it unnecessarily difficult for people to stay or move to rural Canada. 

This needs to change. The federal government needs to do a better job of ensuring policy development is more deeply rooted in local feedback. We need to put more of a rural lens on the impacts of policy that’s created in Ottawa, much as we do for sustainability and other objectives. 

This isn’t just a matter of fairness. It’s in our national economic interest to ensure that rural Canada thrives. Most of the critical resources that make Canada a valued trading partner originate in rural parts of the country, not in cities. So does much of our safe and high-quality food supply thanks to Canada’s farmers and food manufacturing workers. 

The same holds true for Canada’s green transition, with rural Canada at the centre of climate action efforts. For example, these communities see first-hand the impacts of worsening fires and are committed to protecting residents and critical infrastructure by actively managing forests. 

Politicians must think beyond urban voter bases to tap into the value that rural Canada brings to the wealth of our country. They must consider a community-first policy mindset so we can attract and retain workers to power these vital sectors for tomorrow. 

It all starts by making rural communities viable places to live. According to the CRTC, 38 percent of rural communities still don’t have access to high-speed internet with unlimited data. The federal Rural Economic Development Strategy estimates that 24 percent of rural residents cannot find affordable rental housing—double the national average. None of this is acceptable. 

Second, it’s imperative we get the policy frameworks right to ensure rural regions remain economically healthy. That starts with a do-no-harm principle in our agriculture and natural resource sectors. 

Most leaders in resource-based industries like myself have long bought into the country’s green transition efforts. But we need to tread wisely, particularly for industries like forestry that, outside of the pandemic, have not benefited from historically high prices. We must continue to look at ambitious climate policy through the lens of global competition. 

Additionally, rural communities stand ready to work with all levels of government to solve our biggest challenges, from effective immigration policies and settlement services to improving access to affordable housing and accelerating economic reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and communities. 

Rural Canada—home to key industries like forestry, agriculture, mining, fisheries, and energy—makes up about 30 percent of the country’s GDP and an even bigger share of our exports. Canada’s raw material exports alone generated $250 billion in the 12 months through June, representing 32 percent of total shipments abroad. Add resource-related industrial exports and that number surpasses $400 billion, representing more than half of all our shipments. 

To seize the potential of a prosperous rural Canada of tomorrow that delivers for all Canadians, we need to start by recognizing the tremendous value these regions bring to our country and take strong actions to keep them vibrant and viable.

Patrick Luciani: Was Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine actually irrational?

Commentary

In the latest Hub book review, Patrick Luciani reviews How States Think: The Rationality of Foreign Policy by John Mearsheimer & Sebastian Rosato (Yale University Press, 2023) and highlights how his influential book and his activism helped lay the framework, intellectual and otherwise, for the unrest of our current moment.

When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the act looked irrational, even mad. Not to neorealists. The invasion was not only rational but also predictable. So argue political scientists John Mearsheimer and Sebastian Rosato in a new book, How States Think

The authors believe the best way to look at international conflict is through the lens of power politics. For Russia, losing Ukraine to the West would have tipped the scales of power in NATO’s favour, and that was reason enough to go to war. Professor Mearsheimer has insisted from the beginning that America was to blame for the Ukraine war because they knew how the game was played and pushed it too far. Even if Russia loses the war, it was the right decision from the book’s perspective. 

According to the authors, two conditions must hold for an act of war to be rational. First, there must be an open and free consultation with all significant policymakers at the highest level to vet all options before deciding. Second, leaders must adhere to a credible theory of how the world works. 

As realists or neorealists, Mearsheimer and Rosato believe that power is the only conflict arbiter since there are no powers above that of the state. Classical thinkers Thomas Hobbes and Niccolò Machiavelli knew that security was the highest end for people, or princes, who must take the world as it is, not how it should be. 

Liberals and soft power advocates argue that the ultimate aim of states is peace, not through power but through international cooperation. Mearsheimer and Rosato don’t think much of idealism or liberalism, especially now captured by the influence of political psychology and popular behavioural economics that focus on the individual and not the state. When that happens, the whole field of international security becomes fraught with chaos and little understanding. 

How States Think takes the reader through several historical cases that once looked irrational but were, in hindsight, rational. Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union in 1941 and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in the same year were reasonable actions given the circumstances both countries faced. This, the authors argue, is because both Germany and Japan went through deliberative processes that came to conclusions that aligned with their theory of how the world works. Whether they achieved their goals isn’t the point. Rationality doesn’t need success to justify the action. Two other cases that met the test of rationality were the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1963 and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. 

Examples of irrational wars were America’s attempt to oust Fidel Castro in 1961 and George W. Bush’s desire to bring democracy to Iraq in 2003. This false view of the world doomed both invasions. President John F. Kennedy falsely believed the domino effect that if Cuba went communist, so would South and Central America. In 2004, Bush was convinced he could bring peace to the Middle East by turning Iraq into a democracy and that other countries would follow in step. Both failed because they were based on false theories about the real world. Liberals and idealists want to put Putin on the psychiatrist’s couch and ask what quirk of personality drove him to invade. Neorealism just points to state survival as the ultimate answer. 

There are problems with the book’s premise. The definition of rationality is too narrow to be considered substantial. Is a simple theory and broad policy consultation all we need to understand how wars begin?

One can easily argue that Putin wanted to maintain power and popularity as his primary motive in starting the war. Who’s to say otherwise? Putin also has a deep inferiority complex, knowing that Russia will never beat the West and will always be a mid-level power—albeit one with massive nuclear weapons—despite its grand history and contribution to literature and the arts. The Russian scholar Stephen Kotkin once said Russia’s “capabilities never matched its ambitions.” Who’s to say that isn’t a valid reason for behaviour? Or perhaps it comes down to the very nature of Russians, who see war as not the last resort but closer to the first choice, given their history of conflict? 

It’s also naive to think Putin listened to his advisors with an open mind as a condition of rational behaviour. This misrepresents the facts we know about his behaviour and intolerance for open debate. Putin probably decided in early March of 2021 to attack Ukraine and brooked no opposition after. Some even argue that the botched U.S. pull-out of Afghanistan led him to believe President Joe Biden had no stomach for conflict. If he was so careful about the reasons for the war, why was he so unprepared to start it?

Ultimately, it is human beings, freighted with all their biases, emotions, motivations, and theories of how the world works, who evaluate and take action, not abstract concepts like “states”. Whether these people make peace, invade, or drop a nuclear weapon, the decision is up to them.