Deal me out

There was a time someone with a “government contract” could be fairly certain they were going to get paid, receive services, or otherwise have the terms of an agreement fulfilled.

No more, it seems, as an alarming trend of seemingly cavalier cancellations by various levels of government is becoming more pronounced.

Any recounting of recent history of trashed transactions has to begin with the Dalton McGuinty-era Liberals ill-conceived torching of plans to build two gas-fired power plants before the 2011 election in a blatantly partisan effort to hold onto two GTA ridings. While the price tag to the taxpayers for that debacle has been estimated to be more than $1 billion, at least the companies involved received their cancellation fees as agreed upon and the deal could be considered “kept” in at least a legal sense.

The same can’t yet be said of the new Ontario Conservative government’s decision to cancel a cap and trade agreement with two other jurisdictions, Quebec and California. As Ontario businesses currently hold more than $3 billion in carbon credits they’ll no doubt be looking to be reimbursed. In addition, last week the federal government announced the pull-out means Ontario may not be eligible for $420 million designated for the province under the Low Carbon Economy Leadership Fund and the Trudeau government has said any province that doesn’t have its own carbon-pricing plan in place by 2019 will have a federal carbon tax imposed. Under Premier Doug Ford, the Ontario government has set aside $30 million more taxpayer dollars for a court fight on that issue, one most analysts predict the province can’t win.

If the most dire predictions on how much taxpayers will eventually soak up over the current government’s head-in-the-sand approach to climate change prove accurate, it will make the gas plant tab look like lunch money.

Then there’s the positively surreal situation regarding any deals involving the current administration in the U.S. Down south The Donald obliterates agreements as globally significant as the Paris Accord on Climate Change or the Iran nuclear deal for no other apparent reason than they were signed by his predecessors. And that’s where the global glue that has kept the world’s major powers bound together in relative peace for a generation begins to come undone.

There are times when a deal ceases to serve the purposes of those who carved it out in good faith and renegotiation or even cancellation is in order. But these days the chances of having a deal honored are better at an online casino than in any sort of legislative body. Today’s partisan environment means legal agreements that worked their way through the parliamentary process are routinely discarded simply because they were the last guy’s idea. The price of scrapping plans is becoming prohibitive and extremely wasteful.

When the North American Free Trade Agreement was first put together there was plenty of opposition to the open border approach on both sides. However, once duly finalized and signed it was given time to take effect and integrate the economies of three nations and has become something importers and exporters in both nations value and rely on. At least until one guy decided he needed some cheap tweet fodder.

Governance by constant course reversal seems like a great way to get nowhere. Sadly, it appears we’re well on our way.