CITIZEN INK: Climate change and integrity on the ballot

For this undecided voter, growing federal debt and ‘out-of-control’ sway how she’ll vote on Oct. 21

by Katherine Wagner/Special to THE NEWS

I’m in the habit of voting. Since my 18th birthday, I’ve cast a ballot in every federal, provincial, and municipal election I’ve been eligible to vote in.

As far as habits go, it’s an important one to cultivate, but occasionally it can feel onerous. This election is one of those times.

I don’t consider myself partisan and I’ve voted, at one time or another, for all mainstream parties.

Sometimes, it’s mostly about the character and integrity of the candidate. At other times, it’s primarily the record and vision of the party. In the case of boards and councils, it’s also about a mix of perspectives.

Two weeks until the federal election, and I’m still undecided. My primary concerns include climate change, out-of-control-spending and integrity.

During the past four years our federal debt grew by approximately $85 billion, and the four years previous to that it grew by approximately $43 billion. Currently the debt is roughly $700 billion.

Since March 2009, federal spending announcements have been tracked through David Akin’s Twitter account @OttawaSpends.

In the month before the 2015 election campaign, the previous government made 600 announcements for a total of $1.4 billion in last minute spending. In August of this year, the current government spent $13 billion to make 4,500 announcements.

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The debt persists and grows. The budget deficit is added to the debt each year, accumulating across spendthrift governments.

As anyone who carries a credit card balance knows, there is a cost to servicing the debt and the interest charges compound.

Based on 2016-17 figures from the finance department, at least eight cents of every tax dollar we send to Ottawa goes to pay public debt charges for a total of at least $24 billion a year (keeping in mind that interest rates are at historic lows).

After promising in 2015 to balance the budget in 2019, the Liberals appear to have decided debt and deficits don’t matter.

The Greens and Conservatives have promised to balance the budget in five years and the NDP will balance the budget “when prudent.”

There is a lot of talk about debt to gross-domestic-product (GDP) ratios, but little acknowledgment that history has proven there is no crystal ball that predicts economic growth, downturns, recessions, and depressions.

To a greater or lesser degree, the parties appear to want to spend money like there is no tomorrow, or at least none that stretches beyond the next election cycle.

Deficit spending relies on a relatively stable economy moving forward, and no one seems to be talking about the potential for climate change to severely disrupt our current economic foundation.

Odds are it will, and sizeable economies like ours do not turn on a dime. A long-term vision is critical as we face looming climate-change-related challenges.

All of the major parties include climate change strategies in their platforms. However, as a layperson, evaluating their potential effectiveness is challenging. Canada’s economy is underpinned by natural resources.

Cutting emissions is important, but how are would-be governments planning to deal with both the impact of their proposed policies and (inevitable even if mitigated) climate change on our economy and revenue sources?

I’m looking for a broader focus on research and development and a long-term vision that addresses the changing realities.

At the same time, what does it matter who I vote for if they do not keep their promises, and engage in lies and cover-ups?

I want to believe that the candidate and party I vote for will be open and truthful to the best of their ability, but the SNC Lavalin scandal and the ethics commissioner’s report have severely damaged my trust, and the disillusionment persists.

It is with a jaundiced eye that I consider the party platforms and my ballot choices.

Of course, many other issues also concern me including the clean water crisis on reserves. We have the know-how, economic wealth, and technology to address this crisis, so why are people in our First World country still suffering under Third World conditions?

Ditto for the fact that citizens continue to sleep in parks, because their mental health needs go unmet and they cannot access housing.

I want to vote for a comprehensive vision that demonstrates thought beyond a four-year horizon: A vision that considers the costs and benefits and interplay of all proposals and a humility that acknowledges that no one can claim to have all the answers at this point in time.

I want to feel good about voting, but that’s not going to happen on Oct. 21. There are still two weeks to go before I must decide how to mark my ballot, and I’ll be watching and listening carefully.

– Katherine Wagner is a member of the Citizens’ Task Force on Transparency, a former school trustee and member of Golden Ears Writers

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