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It’s time for an honest conversation about the costs of new federal programs

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From the Fraser Institute

By Jake Fuss and Grady Munro

The Trudeau government will table its next budget on April 16, and with the government’s push on the initial steps of national pharmacare, it’s important to remember there’s a cost Canadians must pay for new and expanded government services.

In March, the Trudeau government and the NDP reached an agreement to introduce the first steps of a national pharmacare program that will initially cover diabetes drugs and contraceptives, but may eventually grow to cover far more. This marks the third major national social program introduced by the Trudeau government in recent years, accompanying the $10-a-day daycare and national dental care programs promised in Budget 2022.

These policies represent an approach by the federal government to expand its role in the funding and provision of social services—an approach which has support among Canadians. Polling data from 2022, which sought to understand Canadian views on new spending programs, revealed the majority of respondents supported $10-a-day daycare (69 per cent), pharmacare (79 per cent) and dental care (72 per cent)—when there were no costs attached.

The Trudeau government has chosen to fund these new programs primarily using debt. Through planned deficits and rising debt interest costs for the foreseeable future, Ottawa is shifting much of the burden of paying for today’s services onto future generations of Canadians. Put differently, the new services are not free, and must ultimately be paid for through higher taxes in the future because debt comes with costs.

It’s therefore informative to look at what happens to the popularity of these programs when the true costs are communicated to Canadians. Polling data clearly shows these new programs lose considerable support when linked to a direct cost in the form of an increase in the federal goods and services tax (GST). Indeed, support for government-funded pharmacare, dental care and daycare plummeted to well below 50 per cent of respondents if the services are paid for by increased taxes.

This is the key difference between Canada and countries such as Sweden or Denmark, which are often used as examples of countries that maintain expansive social services and income supports. These countries have gone much further than Canada regarding government provision of services, but have paid for it through corresponding tax increases applied to individuals and families today rather than through borrowed money. Moreover, the tax burden falls primarily on the middle class, which utilizes these services the most, as opposed to concentrating tax hikes on top income earners.

For example, Swedes earning more than US$62,000 per year face the country’s top marginal personal income tax rate of 52.3 per cent. In comparison, although Canada’s top marginal rate (53.5 per cent) is roughly the same level as Sweden’s, it doesn’t kick in until earnings of nearly US$177,000. Moreover, both Sweden and Denmark maintain a national sales tax rate of 25 per cent, while Canadians face sales taxes ranging from 5 per cent to 15 per cent (depending on the province). Simply put, the Nordic countries fund expansive government through high taxes on their citizens.

To put the cost of national dental care, day care and the first steps of pharmacare in context, an increase in the GST to 6 per cent from its current 5 per cent would be insufficient to pay for an estimated annual cost of at least $13 billion on these programs.

In recent years, the Trudeau government has introduced substantial social services without the corresponding tax increases required to pay for them. But increased federal spending will require higher taxes for families either today or in the future, and Canadians must remember this when deciding if they truly want these new programs.

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Ottawa should end war on plastics for sake of the environment

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From the Fraser Institute

By Kenneth P. Green

Here’s the shocker: Meng shows that for 15 out of the 16 uses, plastic products incur fewer GHG emissions than their alternatives…

For example, when you swap plastic grocery bags for paper, you get 80 per cent higher GHG emissions. Substituting plastic furniture for wood—50 per cent higher GHG emissions. Substitute plastic-based carpeting with wool—80 per cent higher GHG emissions.

It’s been known for years that efforts to ban plastic products—and encourage people to use alternatives such as paper, metal or glass—can backfire. By banning plastic waste and plastic products, governments lead consumers to switch to substitutes, but those substitutes, mainly bulkier and heavier paper-based products, mean more waste to manage.

Now a new study by Fanran Meng of the University of Sheffield drives the point home—plastic substitutes are not inherently better for the environment. Meng uses comprehensive life-cycle analysis to understand how plastic substitutes increase or decrease greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by assessing the GHG emissions of 16 uses of plastics in five major plastic-using sectors: packaging, building and construction, automotive, textiles and consumer durables. These plastics, according to Meng, account for about 90 per cent of global plastic volume.

Here’s the shocker: Meng shows that for 15 out of the 16 uses, plastic products incur fewer GHG emissions than their alternatives. Read that again. When considering 90 per cent of global plastic use, alternatives to plastic lead to greater GHG emissions than the plastic products they displace. For example, when you swap plastic grocery bags for paper, you get 80 per cent higher GHG emissions. Substituting plastic furniture for wood—50 per cent higher GHG emissions. Substitute plastic-based carpeting with wool—80 per cent higher GHG emissions.

A few substitutions were GHG neutral, such as swapping plastic drinking cups and milk containers with paper alternatives. But overall, in the 13 uses where a plastic product has lower emissions than its non-plastic alternatives, the GHG emission impact is between 10 per cent and 90 per cent lower than the next-best alternatives.

Meng concludes that “Across most applications, simply switching from plastics to currently available non-plastic alternatives is not a viable solution for reducing GHG emissions. Therefore, care should be taken when formulating policies or interventions to reduce plastic demand that they result in the removal of the plastics from use rather than a switch to an alternative material” adding that “applying material substitution strategies to plastics never really makes sense.” Instead, Meng suggests that policies encouraging re-use of plastic products would more effectively reduce GHG emissions associated with plastics, which, globally, are responsible for 4.5 per cent of global emissions.

The Meng study should drive the last nail into the coffin of the war on plastics. This study shows that encouraging substitutes for plastic—a key element of the Trudeau government’s climate plan—will lead to higher GHG emissions than sticking with plastics, making it more difficult to achieve the government’s goal of making Canada a “net-zero” emitter of GHG by 2050.

Clearly, the Trudeau government should end its misguided campaign against plastic products, “single use” or otherwise. According to the evidence, plastic bans and substitution policies not only deprive Canadians of products they value (and in many cases, products that protect human health), they are bad for the environment and bad for the climate. The government should encourage Canadians to reuse their plastic products rather than replace them.

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ESG Puppeteers

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From Heartland Daily News

By Paul Mueller

The Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) framework allows a small group of corporate executives, financiers, government officials, and other elites, the ESG “puppeteers,” to force everyone to serve their interests. The policies they want to impose on society — renewable energy mandates, DEI programs, restricting emissions, or costly regulatory and compliance disclosures — increase everyone’s cost of living. But the puppeteers do not worry about that since they stand to gain financially from the “climate transition.”

Consider Mark Carney. After a successful career on Wall Street, he was a governor at two different central banks. Now he serves as the UN Special Envoy on Climate Action and Finance for the United Nations, which means it is his job to persuade, cajole, or bully large financial institutions to sign onto the net-zero agenda.

But Carney also has a position at one of the biggest investment firms pushing the energy transition agenda: Brookfield Asset Management. He has little reason to be concerned about the unintended consequences of his climate agenda, such as higher energy and food prices. Nor will he feel the burden his agenda imposes on hundreds of millions of people around the world.

And he is certainly not the only one. Al Gore, John Kerry, Klaus Schwab, Larry Fink, and thousands of other leaders on ESG and climate activism will weather higher prices just fine. There would be little to object to if these folks merely invested their own resources, and the resources of voluntary investors, in their climate agenda projects. But instead, they use other people’s resources, usually without their knowledge or consent, to advance their personal goals.

Even worse, they regularly use government coercion to push their agenda, which — incidentally? — redounds to their economic benefit. Brookfield Asset Management, where Mark Carney runs his own $5 billion climate fund, invests in renewable energy and climate transition projects, the demand for which is largely driven by government mandates.

For example, the National Conference of State Legislatures has long advocated “Renewable Portfolio Standards” that require state utilities to generate a certain percentage of electricity from renewable sources. The Clean Energy States Alliance tracks which states have committed to moving to 100 percent renewable energy, currently 23 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. And then there are thousands of “State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency.

Behemoth hedge fund and asset manager BlackRock announced that it is acquiring a large infrastructure company, as a chance to participate in climate transition and benefit its clients financially. BlackRock leadership expects government-fueled demand for their projects, and billions of taxpayer dollars to fund the infrastructure necessary for the “climate transition.”

CEO Larry Fink has admitted, “We believe the expansion of both physical and digital infrastructure will continue to accelerate, as governments prioritize self-sufficiency and security through increased domestic industrial capacity, energy independence, and onshoring or near-shoring of critical sectors. Policymakers are only just beginning to implement once-in-a-generation financial incentives for new infrastructure technologies and projects.” [Emphasis added.]

Carney, Fink, and other climate financiers are not capitalists. They are corporatists who think the government should direct private industry. They want to work with government officials to benefit themselves and hamstring their competition. Capitalists engage in private voluntary association and exchange. They compete with other capitalists in the marketplace for consumer dollars. Success or failure falls squarely on their shoulders and the shoulders of their investors. They are subject to the desires of consumers and are rewarded for making their customers’ lives better.

Corporatists, on the other hand, are like puppeteers. Their donations influence government officials, and, in return, their funding comes out of coerced tax dollars, not voluntary exchange. Their success arises not from improving customers’ lives, but from manipulating the system. They put on a show of creating value rather than really creating value for people. In corporatism, the “public” goals of corporations matter more than the wellbeing of citizens.

But the corporatist ESG advocates are facing serious backlash too. The Texas Permanent School Fund withdrew $8.5 billion from Blackrock last week. They join almost a dozen state pensions that have withdrawn money from Blackrock management over the past few years. And last week Alabama passed legislation defunding public DEI programs. They follow in the footsteps of Florida, Texas, North Carolina, Utah, Tennessee, and others.

State attorneys general have been applying significant pressure on companies that signed on to the “net zero” pledges championed by Carney, Fink, and other ESG advocates. JPMorgan and State Street both withdrew from Climate Action 100+ in February. Major insurance companies started withdrawing from the Net-Zero Insurance Alliance in 2023.

Still, most Americans either don’t know much about ESG and its potential negative consequences on their lives or, worse, actually favour letting ESG distort the market. This must change. It’s time the ESG puppeteers found out that the “puppets” have ideas, goals, and plans of their own. Investors, taxpayers, and voters should not be manipulated and used to climate activists’ ends.

They must keep pulling back on the strings or, better yet, cut them altogether.

Paul Mueller is a Senior Research Fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research. He received his PhD in economics from George Mason University. Previously, Dr. Mueller taught at The King’s College in New York City.

Originally posted at the American Institute for Economic Research, reposted with permission.

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