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She-election Bullshit Bulletin No. 4: The Wrath of Jody
Nobody's taxing your home ... yet. Money falls from the sky, and why you should Never Trust the Polls.
Welcome to the fourth instalment of our weekly election Bullshit Bulletin, where we’ll note and mock some of the incredibly dumb stuff that crops up during the campaign. A reminder that this list is not comprehensive; we try to delineate between True Bullshit and the wiggle room required of Ordinary Electioneering. We also don’t pretend to see everything, so if you want to send us suggestions, tweet us at @the_lineca, and add #bullshitbulletin, or drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org, with Bullshit Bulletin in the subject field.
Most of our bullshit bulletin entries have been targeted pushback against a specific instance of bullshit, but twice this week, we have noticed two general “themes” of bullshit, and felt the need to call them out.
First of all, we would like to specifically invite our Conservative and Liberal friends to take a few deep calming breaths and settle the fuck down about Jody Wilson-Raybould’s forthcoming book, Indian in the Cabinet, which will be out on Tuesday — but was splashed early in the Globe and Mail. The book will recount, among other things, JWR’s memories of the SNC-Lavalin scandal. The excerpt the Globe ran certainly doesn’t paint Justin Trudeau in a particularly flattering light.
But it doesn’t matter.
Seriously, our Conservative friends need to rein it in. The SNC-Lavalin affair was an example of the Liberals at their very worst; so utterly self-assured and self-righteous that any ethical or normative breach can be justified to themselves so completely that they’re genuinely shocked and offended that not everyone else buys the official story. However, alas, there’s no remaining life in this scandal. The very best-case scenario for the Conservatives is that the topic bubbling up again reminds some voters that they don’t love Trudeau, and why. But any big damage this was gonna do to Brand JT, it did literally years ago, and before the last election campaign. There are no remaining undecided voters who’ll swing based on a new book that dishes on a pre-COVID scandal.
But now to our Liberal friends, good Lord, people, chill out. We’ve seen quite a few of you, including some who ought to know better, muttering darkly about the “timing” of JWR’s book, landing as it is right before the election.
The book was announced in March, people. We all knew it was coming — so did the Liberals when they called the election. Was the book’s publication timed for maximum impact? Well, no shit Sherlocks. What, was JWR obligated to delay out of deference to the guy who kicked her out of caucus for defying him? Here’s some sage wisdom for the Libs out there: if you make enemies in politics, those enemies will eventually try to fuck you. It’s real deep stuff, we know. You’re welcome.
Meanwhile, JWR is selling books. This is what book selling is: her publisher accelerated the book’s publication date by a few weeks to land when it would have maximum public interest, and the greatest potential for earned media. JWR gets to stick it it to JT and maximize her sales before hitting the speaking circuit, where the real bucks get made.
Also, so what?
Stop gargling your own bathwater, people. We’ll read the book when it’s out, but it won’t swing the election.
Now, onto another similar theme, where the parties need to rein it in: Canadian politics exists on a pretty narrow spectrum, despite the heated rhetoric, and you’ll often end up looking silly when you accuse your opponents of planning to do stuff that is just wildly out of step with their own electoral interests. Alas, as above, the Conservatives and Liberals were both at it this week, on housing taxes and, sigh, yes, again, guns.
On housing, the Tories are trying to drum up fear that the Liberals have a secret plan to tax primary residences. Not taxing the capital gains on a primary residence isn’t just a sweet deal for homeowners — though it is — it’s a critical part of how millions of Canadians are planning to fund their retirement. There are a lot of arguments you can fairly make that we should tax the capital gains on primary residences. But doing so would be spectacularly politically dangerous, especially among the aged demographics who reliably vote. Do the Liberals seem the type to be bristling with courage when it comes to alienating the Boomer-era middle class (and up)?
This all seems to hinge on two things: a Liberal candidate who gave a muddled answer on whether the Liberals would do this — he seemed to able cover off both “yes” and “no,” and the Tories quickly promoted the part of the video where he said “yes” but left off the no. This had shades of Freeland’s “manipulated information” stunt from earlier in the campaign, but despite a lot of hand-waving by Liberals, it’s not quite the same — the Liberal candidate really does say taxing home sales will happen, before later saying, actually, we probably won’t do that, whereas O’Toole never said anything close to what the Liberals claimed he did.
The second thing is that the Liberals have said in their plan that they’d tax primary residences if they are purchased and sold within 12 months — a measure intended to clamp down on speculative flipping (a major bummer to one of their own candidates).
In the long run, we suspect the government will come for the wealth home-owning Canadians have accumulated in their primary residences, because, frankly, we have hundreds of billions of dollars in unfunded projects and no way to pay for them. There simply aren’t that many reservoirs of capital in this country. That said, it probably won’t happen before the ever-screwed Millennials are finally in a position to cash in on equity — many decades from now. Pretending some bumbling candidate and a targeted exception is proof of a nefarious plan is bullshit, Conservatives. Stop it.
In fact, it reminds us quite a bit of what the Liberals are still trying to do to the Tories on guns.
The Conservatives, in their platform, do promise to overhaul how Canada classifies firearms. But … this is good. That is always how our firearms classifications were supposed to work. The problem was that the Liberals kept finding themselves in the awkward spot of having firearms they really would prefer banned remain unbanned because they didn’t fit the specific criteria laid out in the law. But instead of amending the law, they’d add exceptions. Mini little notwithstanding clauses, as it were, for particularly infamous rifles.
That’s what their 2020 “assault weapons ban” that we discussed in a previous bullshit bulletin did — it took a few kinds of rifles and deemed them banned — poof! — but not a bunch of other functionally identical rifles. Why? Because the Liberals only saw value in campaigning against the ones the public has heard about and find scary. The rest? Meh.
A simplified registration system could indeed legalize some firearms that are currently not legal. It could also do the opposite! We know full well why Bill Blair is insisting the sky is falling, but claiming that an overhauled system would necessarily permit snub-nosed pistols or anti-fucking-tank weapons is dumb speculation. Obviously the Conservatives would manage guns differently than the Liberals, and they should, because the Liberals have managed them badly. But the only thing the Tories like more than guns is remaining competitive in suburban ridings. Hysterical Liberal claims to the contrary are, ahem, bullshit.
The NDP released its costed platform, and good for it! It promised $214 billion in spending over the next five years — but don’t y’all worry. Singh isn’t coming after you, Average Joe voter. He’s going to crack down on the really rich.
A wealth tax on those with more than $20 million in assets. The CRA will get $100 million to help it crack down on offshore tax havens — which will bring in $12 billion. Rising corporate income taxes — another $25 billion. Increasing the capital gains inclusion rate to 75 per cent would bring in another $44 billion!
We’re not experts on the ins-and-outs of international corporate tax flows and law, and we won’t pretend to be. But it shouldn’t take several degrees in this stuff to point out that these numbers, if not total bullshit, are at the very least a little optimistic.
We’re not opposed to cracking down on tax loop holes and tax cheats, of course. Canada does suffer a tax gap in the range of $14 billion per year, thanks to wealthy companies and individuals investing in international and domestic tax dodges. However, nailing that capital down is difficult. The rich are crafty little devils, and the more money they have, the more they can invest in legal albeit sophisticated accounting. Also, let’s not ignore the fact that rich people move. They have the resources to simply pick up and re-domicile in welcoming, warm, low-tax countries that aren’t covered in three feet of snow and ice six months out of the year.
We don’t fundamentally oppose taxing the ultra rich a little more, but we’re just not as optimistic about the cash to be found here absent a broader multilateral effort to sanction international tax havens, and the like.
Trying to eke out tax gains this way is difficult and labour intensive, and we will note to the Liberals’ credit, that they have planned to invest $1.9 billion between 2015 and 2023 on exactly this file (and hope to reap $13 billion in additional revenue on the efforts.) This is actually more than the NDP have promised. Regardless, this is also one of those areas where we will certainly hit diminishing returns.
We know why this stuff is incredibly popular. Everyone wants more social spending, but nobody wants to pay for it. And as the majority of voters aren’t among the mega rich, it’s easy to sell the masses on the notion that the world is ripe in untapped financial fruit, lacking only the political will to pluck.
Give the man credit where it is due; on the campaign trail Trudeau was asked about about the NDP’s eat-the-rich policy, and he responded with this:
“The idea that you can go with unlimited zeal against the successful and wealthy in this country to pay for everything else is an idea that reaches its limits at one point, and I don’t think the NDP get that.”
Singh said that this was more evidence that Trudeau was “on the side of the billionaires.” While that may be true in an abstract, cultural sense in that we’re sure Trudeau would love to spend his retirement years giving lofty speeches at Davos and WEF conferences, we actually don’t doubt Trudeau’s commitment to spending as much as he could reasonably get away with.
Further to the NDP’s platform costing above, some real bullshit we should have flagged earlier. Part of Singh’s plan to bring in All The Revenue reiterated his plan to end all oil and gas sector subsidies. Back in August, the NDP claimed that oil and gas received an astonishing $18 billion in subsidies.
Big if true.
To support this claim, the NDP relied on a report compiled by Environmental Defence which, God bless them, are not the most reliable source for a breakdown of Canada’s spider-web like relationship with oil and gas players. The problem, here, is with the use of the word “subsidy.”
When most think “subsidy” what they’re imagining is the Government of Canada cutting a greasy check to Imperial Oil while wearing a bitumen soaked skin suit. But go read Environmental Defence’s own report and you realize that what it’s adopting an expansive definition of a “subsidy” to get to these eye-popping figures.
Their calculations include funding that is actually being directed to clean up orphan gas wells, for instance, and to invest in green energy transition. It includes the estimated cost of policing the Coastal GasLink pipeline conflict, and COVID support programs.
We’re talking about “oil and gas subsidies” that are going to green tech programs for electric car batteries, or to lower the emissions on steel production. What’s also being counted here are ordinary tax write offs in the sector for things like exploration or property expenses.
One might safely consider the purchase of the TransMountain pipeline a boon to oil and gas — but is it a subsidy?
In some reports, Environmental Defence has also flagged oil and gas “subsidies” that more properly fit under the heading of “Reconciliation” ie; funding that goes to increase “Indigenous economic participation in oil and gas-related infrastructure projects in Alberta and B.C.” Oh, and a “one-time investment from the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund to add 13.2 million liters of fuel storage capacity.” Or funding to provide “energy access for remote Indigenous communities.” In short: some of this money is going to remote First Nations communities that rely on diesel generators for heat and electricity.
Every one of these line items is immensely complicated, and in almost none of these cases can the taps be simply turned off tomorrow. Even if they were, these “subsidies” would need to be replaced with a program or expenditure that is also costly.
The lack of good answer here is a problem, O’Toole. It is reasonable to demand that your candidates are held to the same standard you are holding your travelling media to; and yes, we know that there are more technical challenges bringing media across provincial lines at the moment. But candidates are also canvassing.
At the very least, demanding candidates be fully vaccinated would have prevented stupid gotcha headlines like this: “O'Toole won't stop partially-vaccinated candidates from campaigning in seniors' homes if they follow rules.”
Look, we think the odds that the candidate in question here was a risk to anyone are astronomically low. A partially vaccinated woman, wearing a mask, keeping distance, and using a rapid test that day — we’re in lightning strike territory. Making an issue out of this is a little bit bullshit.
But imagine, for a moment, some unvaccinated paper candidate visits one of these vote-harvesting festivals known as a long-term-care facility with an early asymptomatic infection. Maybe he skips the rapid test that day — placing none too high a priority on others’ health. COVID-19 spreads like wildfire to a population with waning vaccine immunity, and a bunch of those residents die. It shouldn’t take a lot of imagination to see how badly that could go. Why has the CPC decided that this issue worth that risk?
Canada’s pollsters are continuing their decades-old feuds. We are here for it, but will also take this opportunity to re-iterate one of our guiding lights during election campaigns.
Never Trust the Polls.
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