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The goal of politicians is to get elected. At one time, political parties put together carefully constructed platforms, and voters could then support candidates from the party whose platform they preferred.
Now, rather than putting a platform together in advance, parties are more likely to poll the populace to find out what appeals to the public. Then they put those items on offer, turning the election into Christmas in October. Questions like cost and compatibility do not arise.
Yet it is government’s job to run the country wisely.
Two issues have been top of mind for the Canadian public in this election campaign: affordability and the environment.
The good life is not affordable for many Canadians, especially the young. A home comparable to the one they grew up in is usually well beyond their means. Student debt is a heavy burden.
In B.C., high gas prices and sky high insurance costs for new drivers make running a car very expensive. The standard of living for a generation is at risk.
Then there is the environment – very much a concern for very many Canadians, and rightly so. The use of carbon based fuels is despoiling the atmosphere and contributing to global warming. Economic development is encroaching on the countryside and threatening plant and animal species with extinction. Food is mass produced and imported. Our planet is at risk.
The new federal government will want to do something about these two important issues. The difficulty will be in deciding exactly what to do because every step the government takes to improve affordability for Canadians tends to have a negative effect on the environment. Just about everything the government can do to improve the environment will increase the cost of living.
The cost of housing can be reduced by increasing the supply of homes, but that takes more land and resources. Putting housing close together causes more congestion and spreading homes apart generates more time spent travelling and the resulting pollution.
Forgiving student loans would help indebted students, but would reduce government revenue. To compensate, the government would have to increase taxes, lowering the net income of Canadians. Or they could eat the loss, leaving them with less income to tackle environmental or other priorities.
The conflict between affordability and the environment is most apparent when we look at gas prices and car insurance. As every Economics 101 student knows, lowering the price of anything increases its use. Making it cheaper to operate a car means more cars will be driven and for more kilometres. If gasoline prices are not allowed to rise, the movement to non-polluting fuels will be slowed. There will be even more traffic and idling vehicles stuck in it.
Food is one example of how moving to the standards that some environmentalists would like to see will hit all Canadians in the pocketbook – or should I say the belly? Local, organic agriculture is not very productive, resulting in less food being available and at higher prices.
We can grow local tomatoes and other produce in greenhouses here and save transportation costs. However, instead of using the free solar power that shines on the fields in Mexico, we are burning carbon based fuels to heat greenhouses.
Trying to deal with both affordability and the environment at the same time is like to trying to suck and blow at the same time. The politicians in our new government can no longer pretend to be Santa Claus handing out endless goodies. Hard choices will have to be made if any of Canada’s needs and desires are to be met.
The government does not have to turn into a total Grinch, but it will have to make hard choices about what it will and will not be able to do. And Canadian citizens can help by recognizing that we can’t have everything and letting our new government know what is most important for us now.
Roslyn Kunin is a consulting economist and speaker.
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