Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The dangerous Mr. Scheer

[The Run is The Tyee's election newsletter - you can subscribe here. I wrote this for a recent edition.]

Andrew Scheer’s harmless schtick has worked for 15 years as he’s avoided doing doing anything notable while climbing the political ladder. Now he wants to be prime minister. And his policies would be dangerous.

My long career has included stints writing newspaper editorials, a form with its own clich├ęs. A favourite is the anguished cry “How many more must die before…” followed by whatever the writer wants to see happen, from a neighbourhood stop sign to global disarmament.

It works because politicians do make life-and-death decisions, from sending troops to war to raising speed limits. It’s part of the job.

But Scheer’s campaign promises, despite his genial blandness, seems particularly deadly.

Consider Scheer's response to the opioid crisis, which killed 4,588 people last year. It ignores evidence, and apes the Harper government’s wilful blindness to reality. Scheer promises to invest in treatment and recovery, yet another education campaign “highlighting the benefits to young Canadians of staying drug free” and promises money to cities to pick up needles.

All good. But not a word about keeping people alive, from safe consumption sites to expanded access to poison-free drugs to wide distribution of naxolone kits to reverse the effects of overdoses.

Which means more people will die as a result of government policy. In B.C., research has shown that without those measures more than twice as many would be dying of overdoses.

Overdoses killed 4,588 Canadians last year. Scheer’s policies would condemn more people to preventable deaths. (The other parties’ positions have their own huge flaws, but none are quite so indifferent to the human toll of the opioid crisis.)

Scheer has pledged to cut Canada’s foreign aid budget by 25 per cent, claiming falsely that he could find the $1.5-billion savings by ending aid toward relatively well-off countries “like Italy, Brazil, Turkey and hostile governments like Iran.” That’s not true, as John D. Cameron and Robert Huish pointed out. Aid to those four countries totals just $13 million. Cutting $1.5 billion would require ending development aid for desperately poor countries, which means deaths, decline and deteriorating world security. (After three years in Honduras, I left impressed by our contribution and convinced most Canadians would be proud of the work being done on their behalf.)

Do we even need to talk about the climate crisis? Scheer’s phoney climate plan was, I wrote in The Tyee, an attempt to pretend to care about the issue, with no goals, no commitments, no real actions. It’s a climate plan for people who don’t believe climate change is an issue.

Which again means more preventable deaths in Canada and around the world.

Finally, a brief warning about Scheer and women. He claims access to abortion would not change if the Conservatives take over. Anti-abortion groups don’t believe him — they helped Scheer win the leadership and are staging a national campaign to elect Conservatives in swing ridings. Scheer, one major group says, is “arguably the most pro-life leader the Conservative Party of Canada has seen since John Diefenbaker.”

But even if you accept Scheer’s claims, you should be worried that he’s the choice of people who want to limit women’s rights. An August poll in the U.S. dug into attitudes around abortion. It included 10 questions on attitudes on various aspects of women’s equality. Things like “are women too easily offended,” “does access to birth control affect women’s equality,” “is the way women are treated in society an important issue”

And across the board, people who favoured limiting access to abortion also rejected the idea that gender equality is an issue that needs to be addressed. And those people — or their Canadian counterparts — are cheering for a Scheer victory.

I’ve been involved in covering about a dozen federal elections. Often, the differences between parties aren’t really that great.


Not this time. 

Thursday, February 21, 2019

My Tyee piece: Budget’s inequality measures a start, but more progress depends on us

Governments don’t talk about inequality much these days. The B.C. government’s Throne Speech didn’t even include the word.

And while the provincial budget took useful steps to address growing inequality, it also showed how decades of anti-tax rhetoric have limited governments’ options — at least if they hope to get re-elected.

Take the BC Child Opportunity Benefit, the initiative most clearly targeted at inequality.

It’s an important step. The benefit — up to $1,600 for a family’s first child, $1,000 for a second and $800 per additional child — will make a huge difference for poor families, and society when it’s launched in October 2020. The single greatest determinant of life outcomes is childhood poverty. A small amount of extra income can mean sufficient food, needed medicine, a trip to the library or better child care and a lifetime of savings for society.

And the government’s approach is more sensible than the 2015 BC Liberal program that it replaces. That provided less money — a maximum of $660 a year — and only for children under six, while the new program extends support to 17. 

More importantly, the Liberals’ program wasn’t aimed at the children and families who needed it most. A single parent working full-time at minimum wage got the same benefit as a family with an income of more than $100,000.

Which is simply stupid based on any pragmatic cost-benefit analysis of the program.


The budget offers a more sensible, effective and progressive approach. 

If you're interested enough to read the rest, head here to The Tyee.