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Aaron Wudrick: Trudeau and Ford double down on wasteful corporate welfare with yet another EV deal

Commentary

The saga of Bombardier, once a symbol of Canadian pride, is a sobering one. Joseph-Armand Bombardier, who founded the company in 1942, was a great Canadian inventor and entrepreneur. But over time, the company that bears his name morphed into the poster child for corporate welfare in Canada, becoming utterly dependent on using its outsized political clout to browbeat successive governments into funneling them perpetual taxpayer largesse. The results have cost Canadians more than $4 billion in direct costs alone; distorted and disfigured our economy at the expense of other sectors not so favoured; and sowed unhelpful regional divisions to boot.

Unfortunately for Canadians, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford don’t see the Bombardier trainwreck as a cautionary tale. They see it as a blueprint, to be repeated on an even bigger scale—this time for electric vehicles (EVs)—and even more alarmingly they’re super-sizing the subsidies.

The latest installment of taxpayer lolly came this week, in the form of $5 billion worth of direct subsidies and tax credits for Honda (2023 global profit: $8 billion USD) to retool its existing Alliston, Ontario plant to build EVs. This comes on the heels of other government “investments”—always the euphemism of choice in polite company—to the tune of $28 billion for Stellantis and Volkswagen’s EV battery plants in Windsor and St. Thomas, Ontario.

What will taxpayers get for the new $5 billion contribution? The press release touts the creation of 1000 “new” jobs—clearly a bargain at just $5 million apiece—which will more than likely not even be new at all, but merely shifted away from other, unsubsidized sectors and businesses. This is “on top of retaining the existing 4,200 jobs at the assembly plant” which awkwardly (but accurately) makes it sound more like a ransom fee than an exciting new partnership.

Then there are the much-vaunted “spinoff effects,” the arithmetic reliability of which always falls somewhere between random numbers picked out of a hat and yanking a lever on a slot machine. What about supporting an EV supply chain? Once again the Bombardier example is instructive. Far from supporting an entire ecosystem, taxpayers were still forced to prop up its suppliers; bankroll Bombardier-led research; swallow debts for distressed assets the company scooped up at bargain basement prices; and backstop cheap loans for clients.

Lo and behold, we see the same story now playing out with EVs. There’s the aforementioned $28 billion for EV batteries. There are fat demand-side subsidies for well-to-do buyers. Does anyone doubt for a millisecond that it’s only a matter of time before another player in the EV ecosystem chain squawks for help—and that the moment they do, Ford and Trudeau will be there in jiffy, press corps and ribbons in tow, grinning for the cameras as they mainline a fresh infusion of taxpayer cash to the latest lucky recipient?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a tour of a Honda Manufacturing Plant in Alliston, Ont., Wednesday, April 5, 2023. Cole Burston/The Canadian Press.

Just as it was for aerospace, the government’s “plan” for EVs is nothing more than a massive gamble with other people’s money, informed not by sound economics or superior market insight but by enormously perverse political incentives. Ribbon cuttings are highly visible. Opportunity costs are not. “New jobs created” sounds great;  “jobs that would have otherwise been created but for resources being diverted away” is cumbersome and hard to prove. The political benefit of announcing “investments” accrues today, or at least in time for the next election. The political consequences of failure—if any—lie many years into the future, long after the culprits will have left public life. 

Perhaps most troubling for Canadians is that there seem to be fewer and fewer political voices willing to criticize this type of tried-and-failed industrial strategy. Historically, New Democrats had been vocal opponents of “corporate welfare bums”—a term coined by former NDP Leader David Lewis in 1972. Similarly, conservatives—ostensibly the keepers of the free-market flame—have at least opposed corporate welfare while in opposition if not while in office. Perhaps this explains Doug Ford’s comfort in executing such a blatant flip-flop having once campaigned on ending corporate welfare, even going so far as to say it’s not fair that some companies get grants or loans from taxpayers while others don’t. But even predictable political expediency aside, there is a misguided strain on the Right that seems to have developed a sudden and inexplicable faith in government’s ability to plan economies—one that seems every bit as enthusiastic as traditional socialists or social democrats.

Bombardier represents the most calamitous example in a real-world track record of industrial policy that suggests we need more, not less, skepticism about government’s ability to successfully pick winners and losers. Barring the emergence of more robust defenders of a market-led approach, the likes of Trudeau and Ford look set to lead Canadians down the road to another eye-watering economic travesty.

Mathew Giagnorio: Why an Ontario chief librarian was fired for her thought crimes

Commentary

What is the purpose of a public library? It is a local gateway to the world and all the knowledge that it contains. It is a sanctuary of the written word and a cornerstone of civic life and the community it serves. It provides a foundation for lifelong learning, curiosity, and independent critical decision-making, along with the personal, social, and cultural development of individuals and social groups. 

Participation in and the development of a robust democracy in a diverse and open liberal society is contingent on unrestricted access to education and knowledge, thought, culture, and information. In engaging with this content, we must have the intellectual freedom to refute, question, and debate topics. 

The role of the librarian is a steward and protector of this public space. They must allow for equal access to the knowledge it houses. That knowledge should be eclectic, inspiring, insightful, and provocative.

The wonderful thing about a library is that if you don’t like a particular book, you are not obligated to read it. There are plenty of books to choose from. 

This approach to free thought was not the case in the shameful dismissal of Cathy Simpson, chief librarian, and CEO of Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library. The treatment she endured demonstrates a complete disregard for viewpoint diversity demanded in the forum of the public library. 

Simpson wrote a column entitled “Censorship and what we are allowed to read: public libraries should be home to many viewpoints, not just progressive ones” for a local newspaper. It was published, ironically, on February 22nd  during the “Freedom to Read Week,” an annual event that encourages Canadians to think about and reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom, which they are guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It also happened during the Toronto Public Library’s intellectual freedom series.

It was a column I would have written myself, and I commend her for doing so. In it, she addresses genuine concerns about hidden censorship in libraries that amounts to a selective defence of books and authors based on the valour of victimhood. She also raised the narrowing of book choices which now dare not diverge from what is now deemed absolute truth. If they are questioned, the questioner faces strong political forces that will be out to get them. “Viewpoints that don’t conform to progressive agendas are rarely represented in library collections and anyone who challenges this is labelled a bigot,” she wrote. “We ask our colleagues to ensure ‘Freedom to Read Week’ does not become ‘Freedom to Read What We Decide You Should Read Week.’”

Shortly after Simpson’s article came out, Matthew French, a resident of Niagara-on-the-Lake, wrote a response letter that served anything but an intelligent rebuttal to the views presented. It reads largely like a hit piece designed to cast Mrs. Simpson as persona non grata and damage her emotionally and financially, leaving her reputation in shambles. He implies she’d be open to the discrimination of gay people and denying the Holocaust. 

What I find most amusing is that instead of responding to Simpson’s article and presenting arguments, he instead chose to smear her. He actually proved her points by claiming in fact that her balanced views proposing library neutrality and the freedom to read, and her association with the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism (FAIR), are horrid “far-right” American talking points.

Now, when you think of far-right folks, do you think about people like Shadi Hamid, a respected professor of Islamic studies and Washington Post columnist? How about respected New York University psychologist and author  Jonathan Haidt? What about Daryl Davis who is a musician, author, actor, and lecturer noted for “having interviewed hundreds of KKK members and other white supremacists and influencing many of them to renounce their racist ideology”? Davis is a Black man, by the way. 

Or wait, maybe you think of someone like Andrew Sullivan. He’s a writer, blogger, and author whose 1989 landmark essay “Here Comes The Groom,” made the first real case to conservatives for gay marriage in the U.S..  He was an influential force in the American Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage less than four decades later. He’s also gay. All these people sit on FAIR’s board of advisors.

Or maybe you think of someone like Monica Harris who is an activist, lawyer who graduated from Harvard and worked with Barack Obama, and author who “advocates for balanced, common-sense solutions to systemic problems based on our shared values and goals.” She is a gay Black woman. She’s also the executive director of FAIR.

Graphic novels have their own shelf at the Marshall Public Library in Marshall, Mo., Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2006. Orlin Wagner/AP Photo.

I find it frightening yet unsurprising that Simpson’s article, which calls for a return to liberalism,   was labelled as  “right-wing dog whistles” because it did not adhere to the current tribal doctrines whereby you must give absolute obedience to one side. 

We now live in a world where these sides of the political spectrum have drifted to become so far apart from one another; where any deviation of thought from either side’s tribal doctrine is seen as “extreme,” and where the person who espouses it must be branded as an undesirable and banished from the public square. The letter that French wrote was just that: a signal of absolute obedience to his tribe, and an effort to brand Simpson as an undesirable who must be banished.

We are living in a world where books, authors, and even librarians are being removed because they do not ascribe to the absolutist ideas of the Right and Left; where you must obey the sacred tenets of your “side” or “tribe.” Attempts to ban and censor have become mainstream. 

Over the years, in our Canadian school libraries and public libraries, books such as The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, Maus by Art Spiegelman, Underground To Canada by Barbara Smucker, The Wars by Timothy Findley, The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, Salma Writes a Book by Danny Ramadan have all been the targets of some form of censorship and calls for removal. Some are still being targeted today.

Books are art. So, like any piece of art, there will be people who are going to like them and people who won’t. However, that doesn’t mean that we must then not make it available to everybody else. If we start removing works deemed controversial because of their themes or their authors from the shelves of public libraries, school libraries, and bookstores, then we are restricting people’s ability to engage with those topics. We are depriving them of topics that challenge their perspectives; topics beyond the ones that make them feel comfortable.