[Editor’s note: Steve Burgess is an accredited spin doctor with a PhD in Centrifugal Rhetoric from the University of SASE, situated on the lovely campus of PO Box 7650, Cayman Islands. In this space he dispenses PR advice to politicians, the rich and famous, the troubled and well-heeled, the wealthy and gullible.]
Dear Dr. Steve,
I am confused. I had thought that the goal of carbon taxes was to make fossil fuels more expensive, thus decreasing their use and thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But if that's the case why is the B.C. government giving drivers a gas rebate? Doesn't that defeat the purpose?
It does seem odd, doesn't it? But there's a reason “politics” and “policy” are spelled differently. Politics is often where policy goes to die.
If nothing else the government's gas gift illustrates how difficult effective climate-based policy is going to be. Show people pictures of sad polar bears and collapsing ice sheets and they will cry for action. Show them a price-per-litre that starts with a “2” and an entirely different part of the brain is activated. Mild-mannered drivers are suddenly transformed into Will Smith on Oscar night. In this part of the world, gasoline is still widely considered a human right. And as the backlash against bike lanes has demonstrated, Hell hath no fury like a motorist scorned. Governments ignore this at their peril.
A politician will tell you that politics is the art of the possible. And it isn't possible to do good things if you are out of power, so job one is to keep voters happy. Irish poet and author Oliver Goldsmith wrote what could be the politician's credo: “He who is in battle slain can never rise to fight again; He who fights and runs away may live to fight another day.”
Goldsmith has a lot of great quotes. Here's another: “How small, of all that human hearts endure, that part which laws or kings can cause or cure!”
It's a fact that most of the stuff that happens to us is not of our politicians' doing — either the stuff they brag about or the stuff they get blamed for. Certainly our current astronomical gas prices are not the fault of the B.C. government, regardless of what the anti-tax crowd may say. John Horgan did not invade Ukraine.
And yet it does little good to claim innocence when people are howling. The BC NDP did not cause the situation, but they have to be seen at least attempting to cure it.
Politics! You think you know it. But then someone starts up the blender and everything starts to spin. To cite an obvious example, the bizarro nature of current U.S. Republican politics — a party that once revered Ronald “the Soviets are the evil empire” Reagan now worships Donald “Putin is so smart, he's a genius” Trump. And an issue like gas rebates can really expose the twisted wiring beneath day-to-day politics. Who will come down on which side of a given issue? The roads to political expediency can come in from the west or the east, from the right or the left.
Take Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and B.C. Premier John Horgan. Both offered provincial drivers some rebate relief. But in Kenney's case it was framed as a refund of fuel taxes, which his government claims to dislike anyway. Horgan's rebate is pitched at relief for regular working folks who are seeing their budgets buffetted by world events — Horgan specifically referenced the Russian invasion in justifying the rebate.
So if you're a B.C. driver you're getting a left-wing rebate. In Alberta that's some sweet, freedom-loving, right-wing cash. Spends the same.
Or take U.S. congressional wizard Lauren Boebert. Boebert, recently heard heckling President Joe Biden when he spoke about his dead son and who once said that her pronoun is “Patriot,” has ranted against “Green New Deal extremists.” Yet she, like those green extremists, is against gas rebates. It's not because of polar bears or climate change. The reason, of course, is socialism.
Socialism is bad. If helping little old ladies across the street is socialism, Boebert is against it. And gas rebates, she says, are socialism.
When it comes to climate policy, high fuel prices are supposed to be a feature, not a bug. But that's a very unpalatable dish to serve up, and politicians do not grow fat on such fare. So here's a big rebate sundae with whipped cream.
Just to remain thematic Dr. Steve will close with yet another Oliver Goldsmith quote. “I fretted myself about the mistakes of government, like other people,” he wrote, “but finding myself every day grow more angry, and the government growing no better, I left it to mend itself.”
Tempting, Oliver. Some days it's very tempting.