The (Right) News Rundown
- This week the Canadian economy reported some great news. The economy grew at a rate of 4.5% this past quarter. Its previous estimate was in and around the 3% range. This is truly great news for all of Canada.
- What’s more, the Alberta Treasury Branch reported that the Albertan economy is officially out of recession. The province is expected to experience a 3% GDP growth this year but challenges still remain going forward since growth will not return to pre-recession levels and oil prices remain low.
- Pivoting back to Canada this means that the country has had its best start to a fiscal year in 2002. This news is great and everyone should be happy about what’s going on in both Canada and Alberta but two questions remain that aren’t being asked by the media.
- 1. If the economy is roaring at 4%+ growth, why are we still forecasting billions of dollars in deficits at the federal level?
- 2. With a strong economy, interest rate hikes undoubtedly arise, what happens to the hot housing markets of Toronto, Vancouver, and other large cities where investment markets could potentially cool?
- We won’t have an answer to the first question at the earliest until Parliament resumes and possibly not until next year when the next federal budget is tabled. What is clear and what should be asked by the media is the following: with such positive growth is it necessary to maintain such deep deficits and what can only be amounted to as stimulus spending as seen in the form of infrastructure and general government overreach.
- Secondly, we need to be incredibly wary of debt for those who live in hot housing markets. Those who got in at a lower interest rate could inevitably and unfortunately be priced out of the markets in those cities. It raises the question that perhaps the real estate market in these cities needs to adapt rather quickly to a new economic reality in Canada where interest rates potentially increase.
- Last week I noted that there were a few news stories in BC, one of which was the decision of the new BC NDP government to eliminate tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges on September first.
- For those who don't live in the Lower Mainland, the Port Mann Bridge spans the Fraser River between Surrey and Coquitlam on the Trans Canada Highway route, and is an important way for commuters to get between the eastern and western parts of Greater Vancouver. The Golden Ears Bridge is slightly to the east of the Port Mann, and connects northern Langley with Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge. In total, there are 14 bridges in the Lower Mainland area that span the Fraser River.
- The tolls from both toll bridges ranged between $3.15 for cars, pickup trucks and SUVs and $9.45 for commercial vehicles.
- Eliminating the tolls on the bridges was an election issue, with the NDP promising the get rid of them immediately, the Liberals wanting to reduce the tolls gradually while the bridges were being paid for, and the Green Party wanting to leave the tolls in place. The Greens have condemned the NDP's decision as a "reckless measure" that costs too much for little benefit. The Liberals believe that eliminating the tolls right away is unaffordable, which is why they wanting to do it gradually over time. Many areas that the bridges service are ridings that flipped from the BC Liberals to the NDP in the May 2017 election and contained some of the closest battles, so it's not inconceivable that this issue could probably be what caused the Liberals to lose seats in the area.
- What will instead be used to pay for the costs of the bridges is tax revenue garnered from the entire province, with more than $4 billion in debt now being tacked onto the taxes of everyone in the province. At least 180 workers in tolling operations stand to be affected, and will be provided severance, said Transportation Minister Claire Trevena.
- Premier John Horgan said it was unfair for drivers in one part of the province to pay tolls when drivers in other parts of the province do not. "If you live in Kelowna, you don't pay tolls to cross a bridge. If you live on Vancouver Island, you don't pay tolls to use the highway," Mr. Horgan said. "These tolls, in my opinion, are unfair to people in the Lower Mainland."
- Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver immediately criticized the decision as "high cost and low impact," and said the money would be better spent on "high return on investment decisions," for instance, child care, student housing and education. "It is disappointing that the first major measure that this government has taken to make life more affordable for British Columbians will add billions of dollars to taxpayer-supported debt," he said in a statement.
- As Stephen Quinn writes, "In the meantime, where are we? We have two bridges – both built and financed with the understanding that they would be paid for by tolls, now declared toll-free. We have a 10-year, $7.5-billion Metro Vancouver transportation plan with no sustainable way of financing it in the long term. We have billions of dollars in debt that now belongs to all B.C. taxpayers. And we have taken a step backward on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.
- In government, Fridays are usually reserved for bad-news announcements that will, hopefully, fade away over the weekend. Really bad news is relegated to late Friday afternoon, when, again hopefully, coverage will be minimal. So Premier John Horgan and the BC NDP announcing on late Friday afternoon that the tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges will be eliminated as of Sept. 1 is a curious thing."
- This week UCP leadership candidate Jason Kenney tweeted a meme on Twitter and this caused a public controversy that was picked up by the media and one “spectacularly unimpressed Calgary political scientist.”
- This image shows a young couple walking through a city while the man turns his head to look at another woman passing by. The man’s girlfriend is noticeable unimpressed. The meme that Jason Kenney tweeted (and probably not even created by the Kenney team) was one where the image was adapted to show the NDP looking on favourably at the carbon tax while Alberta, the guy’s girlfriend in the meme looks at him in an unimpressed way.
- Twitter has a habit of promoting replies to tweet that agree with the general sentiment of each other. The result of this was an “outrage” by the group of users who posted replies in disgust. It’s worth noting that the demographics of Twitter generally skew leftward hence why any replies in support are buried near the bottom of the thread.
- One who was very upset with this post was U of C associate professor Melanie Thomas calling the tweet “oh so very #sexist”. Global featured an interview with Thomas and featured Thomas prominently in the article. Global later goes on to state after airing Thomas’ complaints that she was an NDP candidate in the 2004 federal election.
- This also lead Global to bring up Kenney’s past stances on gay straight alliances (GSA’s) and LGBTQ rights.
- In the final paragraph’s of the article we see the defence from Kenney’s communication director who called it “contrived outrage on social media” and said “what is truly offensive is the NDP imposing billions of dollars in new taxes on Albertans…”
- The article wraps with a link to Vox.com which Global rightly calls a “fairly liberal website” that explains the meme and ultimately calls it “a fun, funny meme based on humanity’s universal love for the ridiculousness of stock photos and pairing unlikely things together.”
The Firing Line
- Before we get into the meat of the story, it's important to have a bit of background. The federal riding of Lac-Saint-Jean in central Quebec is a riding that has been Conservative ever since former Roberval mayor Denis Lebel ran and successfully won in 2007.
- Lebel was a popular mayor and was easily elected, and re-elected every year he ran, surviving the NDP "Orange Crush" of Quebec in the 2011 and the Liberals' resurgence in 2015. In the past few years Lebel was Harper's Quebec Lieutenant, and since 2015 had been the Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, and was an important voice for the Conservatives in Quebec for interim leader Rona Ambrose during the leadership election of Andrew Scheer. Lebel retired from politics in late June, and received a standing ovation from all parties in the House of Commons for his service.
- Before Lebel won in 2007, Lac-Saint-Jean had been a stalwart BQ riding, all the way back to when it was Lucien Bouchard's riding, the first leader of the BQ who was a former PC cabinet minister under Brian Mulroney and later Premier of Quebec. Even through multiple redistributions the allegiance of the voters of the region has been very predictable, and the last time a Liberal been elected in the area was 37 years ago in the 1980 election.
- Enter Trudeau, with a purported 45% support among all parties in Quebec. He believes that the Liberals have a strong chance to win in the riding, despite Lebel's longevity and strong challenges from the NDP and BQ. WIth that, the Liberals are pulling out all the stops to gain the riding, which will be the first major test of new Conservative leader Andrew Scheer.
- The Globe and Mail notes that the Liberals are "enacting a number of campaign-style activities ahead of the official by-election call. Trudeau spent two days boosting support for his party in the riding in late July, attending a large street festival and meeting local politicians and union officials. The Liberal Party's Quebec caucus is also holding its summer meeting this week in the city of Alma, which is in the riding, to showcase its 40-member contingent from the province in the House."
- On top of that, the federal government is set to announce more than $10-million in funding for improved high-speed Internet service and cellular coverage in the Lac-Saint-Jean region, just before Trudeau calls a by-election in the vacated riding.
- The high-speed Internet and cellular-coverage announcement was made on Thursday in the riding by Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains and International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne. The funding will come from a $500-million program called Connect to Innovate, which aims to help 300 rural and remote communities "to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the digital age." The Lac-Saint-Jean announcement will be the first under the federal program.
- While the infrastructure issues are very real in Lac-Saint-Jean, with poor cell reception and internet services in the area, it is curious how the Liberals waited until just after Lebel resigned the seat for the announcement to be made. It gives the impression that the government is using tax dollars to buy off the riding.
- What's more, is that outside of the one article on the issue in the Globe and Mail that's actually been hidden behind a paywall for subscribers only, the media has been silent on the issue, at least the English media. A Google search will lead only to the short official announcement on the government's website. Clearly the media is not picking up on the political ramifications of this project.
Word of the Week
an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation.
• a humorous image, video, piece of text, etc., that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users.
How to Find Us
Episode Title: Tolls, Memes, and The Internet
Teaser: Canada has strong economic growth; why are there still deficits? Tolls on BC bridges are eliminated shifting costs to taxpayers, a meme from Jason Kenney causes overblown coverage, and the Feds are spending money in Lac-Saint-Jean ahead of a by-election.
Recorded Date: September 2, 2017
Release Date: September 2, 2017
Edit Notes: None