Robbing Peter to Pay David Suzuki

Commentary, Environment, Frontier Centre

Both the American and Canadian elections are about the degree and role of government involvement in our lives and what functions are best carried out by government or the private sector. True, it is never explicitly stated, but it is what the politicians don’t talk about that is usually troublesome.

Perhaps the major difference is that the US is moving toward government levels of control that already exist in Canada. In addition, Canadians generally have a much higher acceptance of greater government control. Americans generally distrust government and cherish individual freedoms as the very basis of their existence as a nation. In a very broad way, the two countries divided during the US War of Independence, which was a battle against the absolute control of government through the monarchy. Many of those loyal to the British government moved to Canada to continue under the monarchy.

Another major difference is that Canadians have been taken further down the path of greater government control through exploitation of environmental issues, such as the Kyoto Accord, than Americans.

I carefully use the phrase “been taken further down the path” rather than “gone down the path”, because most Canadians are not aware of the science or facts of environmental issues and acquiesce because it seems to be the right thing to do.

Blessed are they who want to do the right thing, but cursed are those who exploit this virtue.

The U.S. Senate, while Al Gore was Vice President voted 95 to 0 against the Accord. Canada also has a much more virulent push for carbon taxes at the federal level and implementation at the provincial level such as in British Columbia.

Despite opposition from a minority Conservative government a bill was passed at the federal level legally binding Canada to implementation of the Kyoto Accord. A measure of the commitment by a few to imposition of more government control under the guise of environmentalism is the existence of the Green party, as single issue party. As the master of single issues, David Suzuki, pointed out, with no parliamentary seat and therefore not an official party, they were able to force participation of their leader in a national leaders debate. This is just one small measure of the bullying ability of a minority exploiting the moral high ground that only they care about the environment.

George Bernard Shaw said, “A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.”

The comment raises many questions about what is at the heart of the current US and Canadian elections. First among these is the role of government. Should they have the power to take money from Peter to give to Paul? How much money should they be allowed to take? What impact does the transfer of wealth have upon Peter and Paul? How much does the action affect the willingness of Peter to produce surplus wealth or the desire of Paul to accept responsibility for his lack of wealth and do something about it? Edith Hamilton said, “When the freedom they wished for most was the freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and never was free again.”

To understand the current Canadian election you must put it in the context of history. It is likely that the amount and role of government is as crucial a decision today as the original establishment of the country under the British North America Act. It was about defining the role of government but more important dividing the areas of jurisdiction and power between the federal and provincial governments.

While dissension and conflict continued over these divisions concerning political power such as the Meech lake issue and taxation powers such as the GST, the most important division has remained mostly under the surface.

This is the conflict between ownership of resources, which under the DNA is provincial jurisdiction, and environmental issues triggered by development, which the federal government claims. A simple, but almost unnoticed and certainly a little understood comment by former Alberta Premier Ralph Klein illustrates the problem. He said CO2 is a resource and resources belong to the provinces. He was saying the Kyoto Accord was really a provincial issue because it was about that resource and the provinces should at least have had the vote in its implementation.

Only two of the Provinces, Manitoba and Quebec, were in favor of the Accord. Their support was because most of their power came from hydroelectricity and they stood to make a great deal of money from selling carbon credits.

Of course, the federal government is able to argue that the Accord is an international agreement and therefore in their jurisdiction. It is interesting to look at the changes in the division powers and responsibilities negotiated by Newfoundland and Labrador when they joined Confederation.

For example, water is a provincial resource but its movement across provincial and national boundaries is federal responsibility. Newfoundland and Labrador arranged to right to sell their water beyond their boundaries. Many people were surprised a few years ago when the Newfoundland and Labrador Premier was negotiating to sell fresh water outside the country without the involvement of the federal government.

Few realized that his was the only province able to carry out such an action. In a resource rich country like Canada control the resources is essentially the only tool available to the provinces to maintain and advance their economies. The conflict between development of these resources and the claims of environmental damage will continue to escalate as long as environmental extremism overrides human needs and common sense.

The original and primary role of a nation state government was to defend the nation. Governments raise the money to perform this function. Since national governments had the role of defending the nation they were given the power to do what was necessary. I recall how dramatic the implementation of that power was when Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau determined the insurrection of separatists in Quebec was sufficient to implement the War Measures Act. This effectively removed the rights of individual citizens and provided the government with the power to act without accountability. Many expressed their concerns but to no avail. The majority, frightened by kidnapping and murder, were relieved to have the government take charge. Exploitation of these fears and the desire to be protected among the majority of the citizens is why dictatorships invariably invoke an outside threat to take absolute control.

During World War II allied nations that remained free from invasion saw their governments take considerable control. In England, it was extreme with the government even controlling through the use of ration books to type and amount of food as well as clothing which citizens were entitled. Many don’t know that some of this rationing extended beyond the end of the war. I recall as a child the joyous year 1952 when candies (sweets in England) were finally free of rationing. In Canada rationing was much more restricted. A food rationing program was instituted in January 1942, and gasoline rationing in April 1942. Of course, simple shortages or complete unavailability allowed Canadians to be exhorted by their government to make do with less.

While that marked freedom from extreme government control it did not mark the end of the larger role government had assumed. In Britain, the government of Winston Churchill was defeated by the socialist government of Clement Atlee within a few months of the end of the war. It was reasonable for the people of Britain to look forward to a new form of life after the hardships and sacrifices they have made. The problem was the new government did not want to give up much of the power it inherited, especially since it serviced their political desires of greater government control. Although the events in Britain were more extreme than elsewhere almost every country emerged from the war with greater government control of many aspects of everyone’s life.

Eventually, it was the cost of servicing such a government, in most cases funded by the former temporary but now permanent income tax that confronted the trend. Leaders like Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and in Canada Brian Mulroney, led the charge against the cost of government. Mulroney tried to shift the tax burden and make it more equitable through the GST and attempted to yield more power to the provinces through Meech Lake.

Criticisms of Meech Lake were specifically about how it weakened the role and power of the Federal government. Interestingly, they didn’t really tackle the question about the role and extent of government in a nation and an individual’s business. In fact, one can argue that it was the failure of Margaret Thatcher to deal with the social and economic fallout created by the reduction of government that led to her defeat.

In the current US election the question of the role and extent of government is central and specifically addressed by Senator McCain and Governor Sarah Palin. It is never mentioned by Obama but is integral to his socialist view of a dramatically increased role for government. The vast majority are agreed that communism with absolute government control and anarchy with no government control are not the answer, but beyond that there is great divide among the citizens about what should be in government hands and what should be left to individual citizens and private industry.

In the Canadian election the issue is obliquely addressed as part of their platforms, but none of the parties are directly discussing the division of political power between the federal and provincial governments, or the division of activities between government and private industry.

The debate is greatly complicated in the US but more so in Canada by the fact that few citizens have any experience of life with a dramatically reduced government. Listening to your fellow citizens provides measure of the difficulty. They will complain about too much government, too many taxes and too much red tape, yet you can hear the same people within the same day say about a problem, “Why doesn’t the government do something about this?”

You can add to this the number of people, usually over half of any society, who prefer not to have responsibility or have to make decisions for themselves. They, like Paul, have benefited from the government robbing Peter to carry out those functions for them. They are not disposed to surrender a lack of personal responsibility and forego the largess governments provide. Maybe the good news is that many of them don’t even exercise their right to vote.

The debate in the US presents the traditional argument for the role of government as defense of the nation against terrorism and radical Islam and now a growing resurgence of totalitarianism in Russia. The other side essentially ignores these concerns dismissing them as bogeymen of the power elite exploited to maintain power.

However, they exploit a much greater bogeyman, the total collapse of the ecosystem. In Canada the appropriate role and the cost of defense are only minor issues. I suggest this is because we cannot think of who would attack us and we are also aware that we are simply not capable of defending the second-largest country on earth. This puts greater emphasis on defining the specific role and extent of the federal government. Despite being a minority, the Conservative government has reduced and redirected the role of the federal government.

The previous government and all current opposition parties are espousing policies of greater government, greater spending, and greater control over every aspect of our lives. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the proposals on global warming and climate change.

Under the last government according to the Attorney General’s report Environment Canada spent $6.8 billion on climate change without achieving anything. This money should have been used to reach the pollution targets they had set but failed to achieve. Part of the anger directed at the government for cutting many of the programs and research facilities funded without effect from the $6.8 billion was because of a skillful but totally deceptive propaganda to make CO2 a pollutant.

Confusion of global warming and climate change with pollution has helped make it the new enemy. As Dr. Hugh Ellsaesser put it in 1995, “For those environmentalists who have felt threatened by technological progress and economic growth, the campaign to prevent global warming has become a vehicle for achieving many other goals.” It thus joins the general argument that industrialized humans are destroying the planet and thus becomes the outside threat most governments use to remove personal freedoms and increase taxes. In Britain economist and politician Ed Miliband brother of the Foreign Secretary David Miliband said “I want a society where there is intergenerational equity.”

This is doublespeak for the argument that we are wrecking the planet for our children and grandchildren. It is the standard exploitation of fear and guilt, but is it true?

The short answer is no. The world is in far better shape than environmentalists and media present. It is a very rare event when they report an improvement or identify and correct an earlier erroneous story. Before we surrender any more freedoms or money we should assess the real situation. This is difficult because first you have to take the people from where the media have led them. The media has created a virtual reality world and government agencies are disposed to identify problems to perpetuate themselves. As Mary McCarthy said, “Bureaucracy, the rule of no one, has become the modern form of despotism.”

While there are some problems they are not usually the ones identified. Often we are diverted from real pollution and other issues. The Canadian government billions on climate change while not even meeting their own targets for air pollution reductions. However, pollution levels were reduced although not adequately or fast enough. Few people are aware that there are reductions in virtually all levels of pollution in the US and most western nations. Developing nations acknowledge the pollution problems, but generally take the view of the Indian government who said development to eliminate starvation trump any immediate attempts to deal with climate change or pollution.

Much more problematic is that all parties in the US and Canada have opted to fight global warming and climate change. Two points: the world has cooled since 2000 AD and is expected to continue cooling until at least 2030, the climate always changes and current changes are well within natural variability. So we have all parties planning for warming when it is cooling and that, especially for Canada is a much greater threat and they arrogantly and ignorantly plan to carry out the impossible namely stop climate change. Of course, they will do all this with your money and essentially without your permission.

At no time since World War II has the question of the amount of government been more critical in a US or Canadian election. Ironically, the question is made more complicated by the surrender of individual freedoms to a monolithic government for the common good an effort required by WWII. Despite threats posed by terrorism, rogue governments, religious extremism and dictators the real enemy that provides the great threat people who want more government need to justify removal of freedoms and increased taxes is the environment, especially global warming and climate change.

As the former Canadian Minister of the Environment, Christine Stewart, said “No matter if the science is all phony, there are collateral environmental benefits…Climate change [provides] the greatest chance to bring about justice and equality in the world.”

No, it is not an adequate justification from any perspective. Besides as H L Mencken said, “The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule.” So we come back to the question Abraham Lincoln posed. “Must a government of necessity be too strong for the liberties of its people or too weak to maintain itself?”

It is a question that must be answered but few have experience of less government.