Corporate Canada betrayed capitalism. Now it has been betrayed

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Appeared in the National Post, July 4, 2024
Corporate Canada betrayed capitalism. Now it has been betrayed

The original Battlestar Galactica, a campy space opera, debuted on network television in 1978. Canadian actor John Colicos played the traitor Baltar, who helps robot Cylons ambush human civilization. After humans have been almost wiped out, Baltar is hauled before the Cylons’ Imperious Leader. “What of our bargain?!” Baltar demands. “My colony was to be spared!” The Leader says he has altered the bargain. “How can you change one side of a bargain?!” Baltar spits, not getting it. “When there is no other side,” the robot tells him, “You have missed the entire point of the war. There can be no survivors.” “Surely,” Baltar stammers, finally understanding, “you don’t mean me.”

Corporate Canada should know the feeling. After years of colluding with climate hysteria and betraying capitalism, Canadian companies have been dumped at the curb.

On June 20, Bill C-59 received Royal Assent. It’s a hodgepodge bill of humdrum provisions, hundreds of pages long, related to last year’s spring federal budget and fall economic statement. But buried in the stack are two sections that prohibit “greenwashing.” Businesses cannot claim that their products or practices help to protect against climate change or provide other environmental benefits unless they can prove the claims are true. The provisions amend the Competition Act and make climate and other environmental claims subject to the same regulatory regime as false advertising.

Companies and industry associations have taken down climate pledges and environmental commitments from their websites and social media. “Ottawa’s ban on ‘greenwashing’ has already put a chill on climate disclosure targets,” objected Deborah Yedlin, president and CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, in a commentary for CTV. It will affect the entire economy, she wrote, add bureaucratic burden, halt investment, and weigh on Canada’s sagging productivity. Corporate Canada has lost its climate bargain.

Over the course of decades, Western countries, but nowhere more than Canada, have undergone a cultural revolution. Accelerating climate activism, aggressive social justice ideology and managerial government have changed the landscape. Business elites, instead of defending capitalism, competition, open markets, the rule of law and other values of Western civilization, decided to switch rather than fight. To protect their own prosperity and influence, corporate leaders learned to speak the language and adopt the norms of progressive collectivism. They became cheerleaders for the new regime. Many came to believe in it themselves.

Companies took on new roles. The social responsibility of business became not merely to increase its profits, as Milton Friedman famously insisted, but to serve as social welfare agencies. They were not just to obey the law and deliver products and services that people wanted to buy, but to pursue social and environmental causes. They would serve the interests not just of their shareholders but their “stakeholders,” as “Environmental, Social and Governance” (ESG) models demanded.

In their marketing and rhetoric, they embraced climate action, corporate social responsibility, social licence, “equity, diversity and inclusion” (EDI) and social justice. They promoted the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are a blueprint for socialist managerialism. The Business Council of Canada endorsed carbon pricing and Canada’s climate plans. Major oil companies promoted net zero and repeated the kinds of claims that governments themselves made: that climate action in Canada helps to prevent the climate from changing.

Such claims are patently false. Even if you believe in anthropogenic climate change, if your country doesn’t contribute much to the problem, cutting its contribution isn’t a solution. Bringing Canadian carbon emissions to zero would make no measurable difference to anything. Countries that together produce far and away most of the emissions on Earth have no intention of changing their paths. And who can blame them? If I were them, I would do the same.

Canada excels at climate boondoggles. Carbon taxes are just more money for government coffers that do not necessarily reduce emissions, if that actually mattered.

Wind and solar power, a lucrative source of government largesse that some businesses have adeptly saddled up to, don’t replace fossil fuels. Carbon capture and storage, perhaps the most pathetic pretend of them all, is a breathtakingly expensive symbolic gesture that cannot be applied at scale. The Paris accord and its net zero aspirations are climate fairy tales.

Canadian business leaders would never say any of this. That was the deal: pay homage to the climate gods, and you can be on the team. But now they can’t.

Progressive statism has never been about the climate, or transgenderism, or whatever the cause du jour. The target has always been Western values and principles. Free enterprise is anathema to its aspirations, and as it turns out, so is prosperity itself. Canadian companies have betrayed the economic principles of their own society. How does government change one side of a bargain? When there is no other side.

The Canadian business community still does not understand the point of the revolution. There can be no survivors. Surely, they sputter, you don’t mean us.

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