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Why are Conservative-run Canadian provinces turning down federal cash? The answer's in the Republican playbook

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Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister. Photo: Manitoba Government/Flickr

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau observed back on April 16 that the Ontario provincial government led by Premier Doug Ford was throwing roadblocks in the way of Ontario municipalities accessing federal money for needed transportation infrastructure, Conservatives responded with angry denials, and not just in Ontario.

The prime minister had told a news conference Kitchener, Ontario, that over the previous year Ford's Conservative government hadn't approved a single infrastructure project for which federal funds were available. Trudeau called this an example of Ford's government "letting down Ontarians."

Ontario Infrastructure Minister Monte McNaughton characterized the PM's comment as "a desperate attempt to change the channel," a phrase that was quickly picked up and repeated by Conservative echo chambers in media and on social media.

But surely this little blip on the political radar, soon forgotten in the news coverage of the Alberta general election results that evening, from which Jason Kenney's United Conservative Party emerged triumphant, seems more credible in light of recent revelations.

I speak, of course, of the news last week that Manitoba's Conservative provincial government has also refused to accept an offer from Ottawa to provide $5 million in federal carbon tax funds to finance green enhancements at elementary and secondary schools. The sum may be small, but, as they say, it's not the lousy five million bucks, it's the principle of the thing.

The offer was part of a broader federal program to use money from Ottawa's carbon tax to upgrade schools in the four Conservative-run provinces that refused to introduce their own carbon-pricing systems and therefore fell under the federal carbon tax legislation, against which Andrew Scheer's federal Conservatives have chosen to campaign.

Manitoba's seldom-seen Conservative Premier, Brian Pallister, dismissed the federal offer as "a hoax," on the grounds "the feds want to have a PR campaign to promote the carbon tax and they're on their own."

While the logic of Pallister's commentary may seem a little strained, as with Ford's policy in Ontario the motive is not difficult to figure out.

As has been said here before, modern Canadian Conservatives don't seem to have many ideas of their own, and take most of their strategies straight out of the Republican Party playbook south of the 49th parallel.

As is well known, in the age of Donald Trump, American Republicans won't do anything that might help their Democratic Party opponents, even if they have to hurt their own constituents to achieve that goal.

Consider the 14 Republican states that refuse to expand the U.S. federal Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act, in large part because they don't want to do anything for which Democrats could take credit, but also because they have a pathological hatred of the former president Barack Obama's policies in general, and his health-care reform in particular.

The growing rural health-care crisis in the United States, New York Times economics columnist Paul Krugman wrote in June, "is largely … a direct result of political decisions."

"The simple fact is that the Republicans who run Tennessee and other 'non-expansion' states have chosen to inflict misery on many of their constituents, rural residents in particular," Krugman wrote.

"Rural voters often complain that national elites don't care about their needs," he explained. "Well, one way to make people feel hostile toward those elites is to block their access to federal benefits, and hope they don't realize who's actually causing their misery."

Don't think for a moment the same cynical calculation isn't on Conservative minds in this country, especially with a federal election campaign under way, the economy in pretty good shape, and a Liberal government in Ottawa.

It will be no surprise to see Ontario, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan also turn down similar federal offers. As will Jason Kenney's Alberta, one imagines, now that it's in the process of joining the self-styled "resistance" to carbon pricing.

After all, as has been noted here before, carbon taxes are the Obamacare of Canada, an idea invented by the political right, then cynically abandoned and misrepresented when more centrist parties like the Liberals and Alberta's NDP adopted and implemented it.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Photo: Manitoba Government/Flickr 

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