Michael Chong Is Wrong

September 9th, 2016 | R. Rados
michael chong #cpcldr

I want to tell you a bit about my story. It's not only a Canadian story, it's a conservative story. My Canadian story started in 1981, when I was born in a hospital in Regina, Saskatchewan. I was raised by a single mother and my great grandparents, who came to Canada from Hungary as refugees during the second World War. I haven't seen my father since I was eight, but I'm sure his parents or grandparents or great grandparents or great great grandparents were immigrants or refugees from Europe at some point or another. My great grandfather watched as his fellow Hungarians were ripped away from their families and thrown beside him into a Russian gulag in Siberia, where they were forced to eat out of the same buckets they used to defecate in. Eventually my great grandparents were reunited and they came to Canada for a better life founded on strong Canadian values.

My story is not only a Canadian story, it's a conservative story. My great grandparents worked hard and saved their money to build a better future for their children and grand children. Like many Canadians, I was raised by a single mother in a poor neighbourhood and I didn't grow up with a college fund. Instead of living at home for free and going to university, I moved out early and worked as a dishwasher, a delivery driver, a burger slinger and a parking lot attendant. When I did finally decide to try university, I took out a loan. My Canadian story is much different than Michael Chong's Canadian story, but it's still a conservative story. The biggest difference between my story and Michael Chong's story is that I'm not using mine to pander to a certain ethnic group of voters – I'm using it to prove a point.

To the Conservative Party's Chong wing of young and enthusiastic supporters, the Conservative Party needs a moderate leader who can capture and inspire minorities. But, as history dictates, the best way for Conservatives to capture and inspire minorities is with strong principles, not with a leader that has a face that looks more like theirs. That's not to say that Michael Chong has no principles, because he does. Michael Chong has strong principles that would be best suited for the Liberal Party.

The one thing that really sets Chong apart from his Tory rivals is his support for a national carbon tax. The race is in its early stages, but reactions to Chong's carbon tax have been mixed. Obviously, Chong has seen the most opposition in a province that could be hit with two carbon taxes during one of the deepest recessions in its history. If you talk to someone associated with the Chong campaign, they'll tell you that Albertans are receptive to a carbon tax. If you talk to someone who lives in the real world, you'll hear the opposite. In December, Mainstreet Research found that 68% of Albertans were opposed to a provincial carbon tax. A month later, Insights West found that 50% of Albertans were opposed to a carbon tax, with only 36% in support. That same Insights West poll found that 76% of Wildrose voters and 71% of Progressive Conservative voters oppose a carbon tax.

If it looks like Michael Chong has his work cut out for him in Alberta, it's because he does. But Alberta isn't the only province showing resistance to another tax. Just a few months ago, in March, a Forum poll found that 59% of Ontarions disapprove of the province's new cap-and-trade program, which would increase the price of gasoline by more than four cents per litre. The poll found that a majority of Ontarions view the government's new cap-and-trade scheme as “just another tax”.

Michael Chong has been trying to sell his carbon tax to conservatives along with a promise to substantially decrease the federal income tax. The problem with cutting income taxes to help swallow a new carbon tax is that democracy can't guarantee lower income taxes forever. A new Conservative government might cut income taxes, but it won't count for much if the next Liberal government increases them later. The only way to successfully sell a carbon tax to anyone who is vehemently against it would be to abolish an existing tax and make it more difficult for future governments to implement new ones. If those polls by Insights West, Mainstreet and Forum are any indication, it isn't just conservatives who are sick of taxes.

Not only would a national carbon tax throw a few extra bricks onto the shoulders of single parents like my mother, a national carbon tax would be redundant. By 2020, we can almost guarantee that every Canadian province will have its own provincial carbon tax. Adding a national tax wouldn't drastically prevent tornadoes and blizzards, it would only suck more money out of our wallets. If we end up with another Liberal government in the future, we can expect most of that money to leave our country – as $2.6 billion will under Justin Trudeau. Michael Chong can give us all the promises and guarantees that revenues would be invested in or refunded to Canadians, but he can't guarantee what future governments will do.
It doesn't stop at a national carbon tax. Michael Chong is wrong about a lot more. His response to Kellie Leitch's survey question about screening immigrants for anti-Canadian values was not only hypocritical, it was uncalled for. In his statement, he accused Leitch of using “dog whistle” politics to appeal to what we can only assume – according to Chong – is the Conservative Party's racist underbelly. The term “dog whistle” is often used to accuse conservatives of using code words and subtle gestures to appeal to white supremacists. The problem with Michael Chong using the term against Kellie Leitch is that screening immigrants isn't racist and – according to polls – most Canadians support increased measures for screening immigrants and refugees. Secondly, the term is extra rich when it comes from a guy who repeats the story of his Chinese heritage over and over and over again at every campaign event. Michael Chong has gone out of his way to use identity politics and his immigrant heritage to paint a portrait of what he thinks is the average Canadian. Chong has also spent a considerable amount of time reaching out to Canada's Asian communities, probably under the assumption that he would get their votes simply for being Asian.

When compared to Maxime Bernier's statement in response to Kellie Leitch, Chong's looks like a childish retort that resorts to accusing everyone who disagrees with him of racism. Rather than pointing a finger at Leitch and whining about racism, Bernier addressed the logistics of Canada's screening process and criticized Leitch on the grounds of logic, not emotion. Other candidates, like Tony Clement, also chose not to throw around accusations of racism in their responses. Even Rona Ambrose took the high road by calling Leitch's survey question “poorly worded”, without suggesting that her intentions were racist.

When it comes to economic policies that stifle competition and increase the price of food, Michael Chong is wrong again. In 2005, Michael Chong supported supply management. So far, it doesn't seem like he has changed his position. If you don't know what supply management really is, let's look at an explanation from Michael Chong himself.

There are three pillars to supply management. Supply management is like a three-legged stool. There are production quotas, pricing controls and import controls. Those are the three elements that are important to supply management.” – Michael Chong, June 7, 2005.

Before explaining the basics of supply management, he stated his love for those production quotas and pricing controls:

Supply management has been the one bright light in agriculture. I support supply management....I support supply management because supply management works.”

Economists and academics from the likes of Christopher Sarlo, Larry Martin and others have refuted the idea that supply management “works”. Vincent Geloso and Alexandre Moreau wrote this in the Financial Post:

The reason milk, cheese and butter (and poultry and eggs) are so expensive in Canada is simple: supply management. That’s the system where producers pay thousands of dollars to acquire a permit for the right to operate. Since the number of permits granted by the government is limited, our supply of milk, cheese, butter, poultry and eggs is limited as well.

However, as Canada’s growing population keeps getting richer, demand for these foods keeps increasing. The result is soaring prices, since Canadians can’t import these goods from abroad because of the sky-high duties imposed to keep foreign dairy out.”

The truth is, supply management is a protectionist policy. It's a policy that has been strongly supported by past Liberal governments and the NDP. Following the Kellie Leitch controversy, progressives and Michael Chong supporters accused Leitch of trying to bring the “alt-right” nationalism expressed by Donald Trump into Canada. Unfortunately, we could accuse Conservatives who support supply management (import controls) of the same thing. Donald Trump's criticisms of free trade and opposition to the TPP have earned him the nationalist label, along with his immigration policies.

It could have been assumed that Michael Chong would change his position from 2005 on supply management, like he did his position on gay marriage, but that doesn't seem likely to happen. In 2005, Chong voted against same-sex marriage, but changed his mind in 2016 to a more convenient, progressive stance.

To his credit, Michael Chong was the first Conservative leadership candidate to fire shots at his fellow contenders. He has thrown subtle criticisms at Maxime Bernier and Tony Clement. He was one of the first to openly oppose a leadership bid by Kevin O'Leary and he was the first to hurl accusations of racism. Meanwhile, the rest of the Conservative candidates seem reluctant to fire any shots at him over his blatantly Liberal policies. At some point – we can only hope – the Conservative leadership race will heat up and Michael Chong won't be the only one acting like he wants to win.

A lot of rank and file Conservatives fear the party will fracture or divide if the candidates disagree with each other on certain policies. That couldn't be further from the truth. If anything, the party's leadership race will keep falling under the radar while the candidates politely tip-toe around each other. The policies of most of the candidates will fail to resonate with Canadians if they aren't properly debated. If the race doesn't heat up soon and the candidates keep refusing to spar, the Conservative Party will stumble into 2019 unnoticed. If Conservatives want a leader with clearly defined policies and a vision for 2019, the current crop of candidates will need to take their gloves off. If Michael Chong sneaks under the radar and fails to attract criticism, he could win. In such a case, there wouldn't be much left to differentiate the Conservative Party from the Liberal Party in 2019.