OTTAWA — The six federal party leaders used the last televised debate of the campaign Thursday to make their pitches to voters. Along the way, they each made assertions with varying degrees of accuracy.
The Canadian Press Baloney Meter, which is a dispassionate examination of political statements culminating in a ranking of accuracy on a scale of “no baloney” to “full of baloney,” has weighed one claim from each leader.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau
“We’re already doing more than any other government has done in the history of this country to protect the environment and to fight climate change.”
Trudeau’s government adopted the same target for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions as Stephen Harper’s previous government had: to cut emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.
The Liberals have taken a number of steps to reach that target — but are not now on track to do so — and are promising to exceed it.
Among other things, they have imposed a price on carbon emissions in those provinces and territories that have refused to adopt their own equivalent carbon pricing mechanism. The price started at $20 per tonne this year, rising by $10 a year until it reaches $50 per tonne in 2022. Residents in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, Yukon and Nunavut will receive rebates from the federal government, amounting to 90 per cent of the revenue collected.
Among other things, the Liberals have also allocated billions for green infrastructure projects and public transit and are forcing an end to all coal power in Canada by 2030. They’ve introduced federal incentives to encourage the purchase of electric cars and are well on the way to implementing cleaner fuel standards and tougher regulations for methane emissions from oil production.
So is all that more than any other Canadian government in history has done to fight climate change and protect the environment?
“True, unfortunately,” says Catherine Abreu, executive director of Climate Action Network Canada.
“The Liberals have achieved a lot but this is much more a comment about the failures of past governments than the out-of-world achievements of this one.”
Dan Woynillowicz, of Clean Energy Canada, agrees Trudeau’s assertion is valid.
“Mr. Trudeau is correct that no previous federal government has done nearly as much to actually implement policies and programs to cut greenhouse-gas pollution domestically and encourage other countries to do the same,” he says.
Previous Liberal and Conservative governments signed onto international commitments to reduce carbon emissions but those pledges of action “didn’t translate into meaningful efforts,” Woynillowicz says.
He says credit must be given to British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario governments, which “showed significant climate leadership” before the feds joined the fray and whose programs have, in some cases, been used as models by Trudeau’s government. But, he says, the fact that “the federal government has impact at a national scale, including in those provinces not taking adequate action on their own, validates Mr. Trudeau’s assertion.”
For these reasons, Trudeau’s statement rates a ranking of “a little baloney.” It is mostly accurate but more information on the context of his boast is required.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer
“Justin Trudeau increased the tax burden on everyone, he increased taxation on 80 per cent of middle-class families.”
This line has been a mainstay of the Conservative campaign, repeated over and over despite being based on a 2017 Fraser Institute study that has been widely criticized by economists as deeply flawed.
Carleton University economist Jennifer Robson says the study looked only at families with children, which are just 26 per cent of Canadian households, according to the most recent census data. Moreover, it did not include any of the refundable tax credits introduced by the Trudeau government, such as the Canada Child Benefit.
As well, she says the study made “some very loose assumptions” about how many families actually benefited from boutique tax credits, introduced by the previous Conservative government for things like kids’ sports and arts, and cancelled by the Trudeau Liberals. Robson conducted her own study on those credits, which concluded that only 10 to 30 per cent of families were ever expected to use the tax credits and that actual usage “skewed very much towards high-income taxpayers.”
Robson says a Finance Department study that included all households and all taxes and refundable tax credits is a “much more valid and reliable way to measure” the net impact of the Trudeau government’s tax changes. That study concluded that 90 per cent of Canadian households saw an increase in their after-tax income.
By Robson’s own calculations, individuals’ average income-tax bill in 2017 was $5,237 — $25 less than the average in 2014 (adjusted for inflation). And that does not include any of the refundable tax credits introduced since 2015 that put more money in many Canadians’ pockets.
For these reasons, Scheer’s assertion earns a ranking of “some baloney.” The statement is partly accurate but important details are missing
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh
“We have a clear solution to solve the problem of irregular crossings and that is to suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement. But you (Trudeau) don’t have the courage to do that, because you don’t have the courage to condemn someone like Trump, who is putting children behind bars. Why do you not have the courage to say no to Trump and suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement?”
An influx of irregular migrants crossing into Canada has been a thorny issue for provincial and federal governments over the last two years.
More than 50,000 asylum-seekers have since arrived in Canada from the U.S., avoiding official border checkpoints where they would have been turned back.
Canada’s Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S. says asylum-seekers cannot claim refugee protection in Canada if they arrive at an official border checkpoint from a country that is considered safe, such as the United States.
But they can claim refugee status if they are already in Canada, which is why tens of thousands of asylum-seekers have been crossing into Canada through unofficial entry points on foot along the Canada-U.S. border.
But would standing up to U.S. President Donald Trump and suspending the Safe Third Country Agreement solve the problem of irregular border crossers?
Queen’s University law professor Sharry Aiken notes there is a clause in the agreement that allows either country to temporarily suspend the agreement without the need for a prime minister to directly engage with the U.S. president.
It’s something she believes Canada should do.
“I think the solution to the fact that there are deteriorating conditions in the United States in the aftermath of President Trump’s executive orders on immigration shortly after he assumed office and all of the policy developments since then, suggest very strongly suspending the agreement is the appropriate policy action and would solve that problem of irregular crossings, because, in effect the Safe Third Country Agreement has created a perverse incentive for irregular crossings,” Aiken said.
But Richard Kurland, an expert in immigration law and policy, says suspending the agreement would have the effect of multiplying the total number of refugee claimants in Canada.
Suspending the agreement would remove the incentive for people to cross at non-official entry points, but just because people coming from the U.S. could be eligible to file refugee claims in Canada at official crossings.
People could ignore the U.S. refugee system and just come to Canada to make their claims, Kurland says.
“With few or no barriers, there will be more claims if people believe they have a better chance with Canada than the U.S.A.”
As for the challenge to “say no to Trump,” both Aiken and Kurland agreed it might be a good sound bite when appealing to voters who dislike the policies of the U.S. president, but it would be harmful to Canada’s relationship with the United States and do nothing in itself to solve Canada’s refugee woes.
Given all this, Singh’s statement earns a rating of “some baloney.” The statement is partly accurate but important details are missing.
Green Leader Elizabeth May
“(O)ur costed platform was examined by the Institute for Fiscal (Studies) and Democracy and by the former parliamentary budget officer, Kevin Page, and he gave it a passing grade.”
May gave that answer when asked how she can convince Canadians that the Greens could manage the public purse, while proposing $70 billion a year in new spending. She pointed to the institute at the University of Ottawa, headed by Page, to give her platform’s fiscal plan credibility. But a closer look at the institute’s assessment of her platform suggests it’s not something to boast about.
The institute is analyzing each of the parties’ platforms and assessing them according to three principles: the use of realistic economic and fiscal assumptions, responsible fiscal management, and transparency. It initially gave the Green platform a failing grade on all three measures.
The party then revised its platform to address some of the initial concerns. The institute gave the revised platform a pass on realistic assumptions and on transparency but a fail on responsible fiscal management. Overall, it gave the platform a passing grade.
The institute noted that the Green party has a more ambitious agenda than the other parties, with “significant resources set aside for pharmacare, education, infrastructure, the environment” which it proposes to pay for with a host of fundamental changes to the tax system, including new taxes on wealth, financial transactions, banks and e-commerce; elimination of capital-gains deductions and a “historic” one-time increase in corporate taxes.
“While there is significant uncertainty associated with the costing of individual tax measures, this uncertainty (economic and fiscal) is magnified when all of these measures are combined and implemented over the short term. While the Green party highlights risk related to the implementation of these measures, there are no contingency plans or prudence adjustments to raise confidence in the medium-term fiscal objective of a balanced budget. We also note that there is a double counting of savings in the revenue raising measures (bank taxation and corporate tax increases) that would undermine the balanced budget objective,” the institute said.
“For these reasons, we find the Green party’s revised platform costing to be based on clear assumptions that are relatively transparent but which are not defensible from a medium-term fiscal-strategy perspective given the enormous levels of uncertainty.”
Given those details, May’s statement contains “some baloney.” It is partly accurate but important details are missing.
Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet
In response to a question about Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at the behest of the United States, a move Blanchet has previously said was a “mistake,” the Bloc Quebecois leader said the following:
“It was not a criminal thing, it was linked to sanctions that Canada should not follow up on. And when you’re on the ice against such a powerful opponent like China it is the Quebec producers and the western producers who have to pay the price in the end … It was an extradition issue that was related to commercial sanctions imposed by Americans.”
Canada arrested Huawei’s chief financial officer, the daughter of the company’s founder, at the request of the U.S. on Dec. 1 at Vancouver’s airport. Meng is wanted on fraud charges that she misled banks about the company’s business dealings in Iran.
The case set off a diplomatic furor among the three countries, complicated high-stakes U.S.-China trade talks and severely damaged Beijing’s relations with Ottawa.
China detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor on Dec. 10 in an apparent attempt to pressure Canada to release Meng. A Chinese court also sentenced a Canadian to death in a sudden retrial, overturning a 15-year prison term handed down earlier. Kovrig and Spavor haven’t had access to a lawyer since being arrested.
The U.S. Department of Justice laid 13 criminal charges, including conspiracy, fraud and obstruction, against Huawei and Meng.
Meng’s arrest was carried out under Canada’s extradition treaty with the United States. The terms of that treaty left Canada with no option but to detain her once the request was made by U.S. authorities.
Blanchet’s statement that her extradition request came as a result of U.S. sanctions against Iran is true, but suggesting that Canada should not have detained her because they were “commercial sanctions” and not criminal ones is false, says Ben Rowswell, president of the Canadian International Council.
“The charges against Meng Wanzhou relate to fraud, which is a crime,” he said.
“The fraud was allegedly committed to hide the fact that Huawei was violating U.S. sanctions, but she is being charged for her role, as CFO, in approving the submission of false statements to U.S. authorities.”
Blanchet’s statement about the Meng extradition issue earns a rating of “a lot of baloney.” The statement is mostly inaccurate but contains elements of truth.
People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier
“I don’t deny the science. In fact, there’s a number of scientists who wrote to the secretary-general of the United Nations to state that there is no climate emergency … We shouldn’t propagate fear about an emergency that doesn’t exist.”
Bernier has taken a number of controversial positions since leaving the Conservative party and forming his own People’s Party of Canada, and among the most controversial are his views on the climate.
He is among those who deny that climate change exists. In this statement he provides some rationale for this belief, referring to scientists who wrote a letter to the United Nations entitled, “There is no climate emergency.”
The trouble is, the contents of this letter have been debunked.
Scientists from around the world who analyzed the contents of the letter found the claims within it were either false or misleading.
“The letter claims, for example, that climate models ignore the benefits of increased CO2 on plant growth. This is false, as many climate models simulate the response of vegetation to increased CO2 — and the climate change it causes,” the scientific analysis states, as published by Climate Feedback, a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to science education.
Additionally, many of the contributors to the UN letter not experts in climate science, but engineers or economists.
“It recycles the same arguments that have been put forward and debunked by scientific experts, again and again. It was promoted by climate-denying groups like the Friends of Science and the American Enterprise Institute,” says Dan Woynillowicz, policy director with Clean Energy Canada.
Stephanie Plante, a politics scholar at the University of Ottawa, notes the letter is often touted alongside skepticism about vaccines and 9/11 conspiracy theories.
“This is Max at his best: pandering to his base while pretending the rest of us don’t have access to Google,” Plante said.
Among the plethora of organizations that support the idea that climate change is real and is a man-made problem is NASA. It notes on its website the current warming trend is “proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented over decades to millennia.”
“The science of climate change is about as settled as science ever gets: 97 per cent of scientists who are actively publishing in peer-reviewed scientific journals agree that humans are causing climate change,” Woynillowicz said.
Bernier’s claims that climate change is an emergency that doesn’t exist is a statement that is “full of baloney.”
Teresa Wright and Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press