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Economy

Federal government’s fiscal plan raises red flags

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5 minute read

From the Fraser Institute

By Jason Clemens, Jake Fuss and Grady Munro

The Trudeau government recently released its fiscal update, which provides revised estimates of spending, taxing and borrowing. A careful examination of the update raises several red flags about the state of Canada’s national finances.

First, some analyses raised concerns about the state of federal borrowing, which are well founded. While the government downplays the level of potential borrowing over the six years covered in the fiscal update, the projected deficit—that is, the amount of spending in a specific year in excess of the amount of revenues—will reach $40.0 billion this year (2023-24) and $38.4 billion next year. However, the estimate for next year does not include the national pharmacare plan that the Trudeau government has agreed to as part of its governing agreement with the NDP.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) estimated that a national pharmacare plan modelled on the Quebec system would cost $11.2 billion in 2024-25 (the provinces would likely cover some of this). The 2019 report of the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare, better known as the Hoskins Commission, estimated that a national pharmacare program would cost $15.3 billion in 2027.

Consequently, if the government introduces national pharmacare next year, without any offsetting reduction in other spending and/or meaningful tax increases, the deficit for 2024-25 would reach $49.6 billion, not the reported $38.4 billion. The higher borrowing needed to finance pharmacare continues each and every year, meaning that the overall level of federal debt would also increase.

A second red flag, which the fiscal update ignored, relates to Canada meeting its international commitment for defence spending. Canada is a party to the NATO agreement calling on member countries to spend 2.0 per cent of GDP on national defence. In 2022, Canada spent just 1.3 per cent of GDP on defence. According to the PBO, for the federal government to meet its NATO spending obligations next year (2024-25), it must spend an additional $14.5 billion. That means annual borrowing could be as high as $64.1 billion if both additional defence and pharmacare spending were financed entirely by new borrowing.

And there are legitimate reasons to believe the government would not raise taxes to finance a new pharmacare program. According to polling data in 2022, 79 per cent of survey respondents supported a new national pharmacare program—but support plummeted to just 40 per cent when the new hypothetical program was financed by higher taxes, specifically a higher GST.

That brings us to the third red flag. The total national debt will reach a projected $2.1 trillion next year (excluding the additional potential spending and borrowing noted on pharmacare and defence) and the interest costs on that debt are expected to reach $52.4 billion. For reference, the total national debt stood at $1.1 trillion in 2015-16 when the Trudeau Liberals took office.

By 2028-29, the last year included in the fiscal update, the federal government expects interest costs to reach $60.7 billion. That’s only slightly less than total planned health-care spending by Ottawa for the same year ($62.9 billion). And this is actually a conservative estimate since it excludes potential higher borrowing for programs such as pharmacare and thus higher debt levels. It also ignores any possibility of a downgrading in the ratings for Canada’s debt, which would result in higher interest costs. And it ignores the risk of an economic slowdown or recession that would further increase borrowing and ultimately debt interest costs.

While the federal government, particularly the prime minister and his finance minister, continue to describe their stewardship of federal finances as prudent and responsible, close examination of their fiscal update reveals that federal finances may soon deteriorate from their already worrying position.

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Agriculture

‘Net-Zero’ Policies, ESG Reporting Raise Farm Costs, Food Prices—Report

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From Heartland Daily News

Tim Benson

 

 

So-called “net-zero” climate policies are imposing significant costs on American farmers and families, according to a new report from The Buckeye Institute.

A model developed by Buckeye for the report, Net-Zero Climate-Control Policies Will Fail the Farm, indicates that complying with net-zero emissions mandates, and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) reporting standards is likely to increase annual operating expenses for farmers by at least 34 percent. In addition, the model indicated the mandates will result in a 15 percent annual increase in grocery bills for families, as well as significant increases in individual grocery item prices, such as American cheese (79 percent), beef (70 percent), bananas (59 percent), rice (56 percent), and chicken (39 percent).

Net Zero and ESG

“Net-zero” refers to the balance between the amount of carbon dioxide emissions produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere. For a country to achieve “net-zero,” means either not producing any emissions at all or “offsetting” an equivalent amount of emissions through methods like “carbon capture and storage,” reforestation, and the use of “renewable” energy sources. Carbon dioxide pricing schemes like cap-and-trade systems or carbon dioxide taxes are other significant “net-zero” policies.

Meanwhile, ESG scores are essentially a risk assessment mechanism increasingly used by investment firms and financial institutions that force large and small companies to focus upon politically motivated, subjective goals which often run counter to their financial interests and the interests of their customers.

Companies are graded on these mandated commitments to promote, for example, climate or social justice objectives. Those that score poorly are punished by divestment, reduced access to credit and capital, and a refusal from state and municipal governments to contract with them.

ESG Targeting Agriculture

Many of ESG’s metrics, primarily those related to imposing environmental controls, are directly linked to the agricultural industry and food production. Examples of some of these metrics include: “Paris [climate agreement]-aligned GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions targets,” “Impact of GHG emissions,” “Land use and ecological sensitivity,” “Impact of air pollution,” “Impact of freshwater consumption and withdrawal,” “Impact of solid waste disposal,” and “Nutrients”—which, despite its innocuous-sounding name, is a metric that forces companies to estimate the “metric tonnes of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium in fertilizer consumed.”

Farmers and food producers use chemical fertilizers and pesticides for crop growth, in addition to producing waste biproducts, consuming substantial quantities of water, using vast swathes of land, and releasing what climate alarmists claim to be planet-ending carbon dioxide emissions.

“Europe, fully committed to the Paris Climate Accords’ decarbonization plan, provides a forecast of the agricultural and economic consequences likely to result from the ESG-reporting agenda,” the report notes. “After implementing strict ESG-reporting mandates, European banks, for example, became reluctant to lend to farmers with high nitrogen and methane emissions.   Reduced credit strained family farms.

“Europe’s emissions cap-and-trade policies exacerbated the problem and helped put generational farmers out of business,” the report continues. “Those policies also raised prices of farm-related energy and fertilizer, which, in turn, raised the price of food and groceries.”

‘Immolated’ Farming Industry

The report describes how the European Union’s commitment to the Paris climate agreement and associated ESG and net zero goals are undermining its agricultural sector and food security, which has lessons for the United States.

“Europe immolated its farming industry and made the continent’s food supply more expensive and less secure,” the report says. “Adopting similar policies in the United States will yield similar results.”

Federal and State Fixes

The report makes a number of recommendations for what can be done to “avoid the failures of net-zero policies.”

Federally, they suggest the United States withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords, repeal the “renewable energy” and carbon capture and sequestration subsidies in the Inflation Reduction Act, and consider banning federal agencies like the Farm Credit Administration from utilizing ESG policies.

On the state level, the report recommends states legislatures pass laws preventing “state agencies, fund managers, insurers, and lenders from using ESG criteria to guide investment decisions and set insurance policies and premiums.”

Enlisting the Private Sector

For the private sector Buckeye’s report suggests corporate boards from industries “that will be negatively impacted by ESG reporting and other net-zero policies should inform shareholders about how ESG-reporting requirements will affect operations and long-term shareholder value.” They also suggest farmers “decouple farming practices from their purported climate benefits and use the methods that are best for their farms, families, and produce.”

“Government climate-control policies ensconced in the Paris Climate Accords, the Inflation Reduction Act, and ESG-guided mandates carry a hefty price tag, especially for U.S. farms and the American consumer,” the report concludes. “The full price of climate control policies and directives needs to be measured and understood, especially the costs they will inflict on American farms and households.”

‘Unrealistic, Unattainable,’ and Costly

Buckeye’s analysis is important for putting numbers on the high cost of ESG and Net Zero policies, providing an evidence-based warning to Americans not to follow Europe’s path, says Cameron Sholty, Executive Director of Heartland Impact.

“This report shows what American and European farmers intuitively knew: that net zero carbon emissions are unrealistic, unattainable, and ultimately add cost through the supply chain and ultimately to consumers’ pocket books,” said Sholty. “Buckeye should be commended for putting the numbers to the insidiousness of ill-advised carbon-free farming pursuits.

“Its folly imposed by activists seeking to control the means of production and how we live and thrive in a civilized society,” Sholty said.

Tim Benson ([email protected]is a senior policy analyst with Heartland Impact.

For more on farm policy, click here.

For more on net zero, click here.

For more on ESG, click here.

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Economy

Indigenous Loan Program Could Pave the Way for More Natural Resource Economy Ownership

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From EnergyNow.ca

By Resource Works

“We want to be part of the oil and gas industry”

Ottawa has promised a loan program for Indigenous communities to buy equity stakes in natural resource projects, but many questions are still unanswered.

Ottawa is currently under scrutiny as it prepares to incorporate an Indigenous loan-guarantee program into its 2024-2025 budget, aimed at assisting Indigenous communities in acquiring equity stakes in natural resource projects. This commitment was made in Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s fall economic statement on November 21.

The government will advance development of an Indigenous Loan Guarantee Program to help facilitate Indigenous equity ownership in major projects in the natural resource sector. Next steps will be announced in Budget 2024.

The federal budget is typically presented to Parliament in either February or March, with the 2023-2024 budget having been announced on March 28 last year. While Ottawa has engaged in consultations with Indigenous leaders and organizations, there remains a notable lack of specific details, including a critical issue – whether the program will permit investment in oil and gas projects.

The First Nations Major Projects Coalition, boasting over 145 members, strongly advocates for Indigenous peoples to have the autonomy to determine their investment choices without constraints imposed by Ottawa. Although the government did assert its commitment to ensuring Indigenous communities benefit from major projects within their territories on their own terms, First Nations groups worry that the loan-guarantee program might mirror the green restrictions of the current Indigenous loan program provided by the Canada Infrastructure Bank.

This existing program allows equity stakes only in infrastructure projects aligned with the bank’s investments, such as clean power, green infrastructure, broadband technology, and transportation. For some time, the First Nations Major Projects Coalition (FNMPC) and the Indigenous Resource Network have been at the forefront of campaigns urging federal loan guarantees to facilitate Indigenous participation in natural resource projects.

Sharleen Gale, Chair of FNMPC, argues that fossil fuel investments must be a component of any federal loan-guarantee program, as equity in the oil and gas industry can empower First Nations to thrive in alignment with their values.

“We want to be part of the oil and gas industry,” says Gale.

In 2022, the Indigenous Resource Network (IRN) initiated the “Ownership Changes Everything” campaign, advocating for Indigenous ownership in resource projects. This campaign calls upon Ottawa to implement a loan program modeled after similar initiatives in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario. Robert Merasty, highlights the challenges faced by Indigenous communities due to the Indian Act, which prohibits First Nations from using their land and assets as collateral. Consequently, they lack the necessary at-risk capital to secure favorable interest rates.

“The problems our communities are facing is that there are few mechanisms to access the necessary capital for investing in projects and having equity,” says Merasty.

In 2023, FNMPC penned an open letter to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, emphasizing the significance of advancing major resource projects for a successful energy transition and economic growth benefiting all Canadians. They also pointed out that the Indian Act remains a significant hurdle, preventing First Nations from leveraging their assets and land for borrowing.

FNMPC estimates that over the next decade, 470 major projects impacting Indigenous lands will require more than $525 billion in capital investment, with approximately $50 billion needed for Indigenous equity financing. An illustrative case from Alberta involved energy giant Enbridge, which partnered with 23 First Nation and Métis communities to sell an 11.57% interest in seven pipelines in northern Alberta. This partnership was made possible through a loan guarantee from the Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corp., which provides financing to Indigenous communities seeking commercial collaborations, alongside various other financial supports.

Greg Ebel, CEO of Enbridge, has joined the campaign for a national program.

“Investment in the entire energy sector and many others could be accelerated by the immediate implementation of a federal Indigenous loan-guarantee program to ensure Canada’s Indigenous Peoples have a seat at the table while also having equity that helps them secure a more prosperous future,” says Ebel.

As we await further developments, the question remains: Will a federal loan-guarantee program come to fruition, one that encompasses loan guarantees for investments in natural gas and oil? We are hopeful for a positive outcome.

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