Some of our readers are probably not familiar with the details of Canadian politics, but I’m fairly sure we’re all familiar with bullshit, so this situation should be at least a little relatable. Essentially, United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney appears to have made promises to the Motor Dealers’ Association of Alberta (MDA) in exchange for a substantial amount of campaign contributions. One of those promises was a proposed ban on “RHD Asian Vehicles.” Also, those contributions may be a dodge of election laws.
I know for our readers the proposed ban on right-hand-drive Asian cars carries the most interest. Here’s the specific quote about that from a letter from the MDA to its members regarding their meeting with Jason Kenney:
“6) Issues Requiring Government Action - Banning of Imported RHD Asian vehicles - Legislation will be pushed through the legislature.”
Now, this line is odd for a number of reasons, mostly because of how the cars are referred to as “RHD (Right-hand drive) Asian vehicles.” Really, that can only mean one thing: Japanese cars. Japan is the foremost Asian car-making country that produces RHD cars that might end up in North America, though it’s not clear why they weren’t just referred to as Japanese or JDM vehicles.
In fact, specifying any location of origin at all nullifies any argument that the attempt to ban RHD cars is some sort of safety issue—if it was, then why not ban British or Australian or Indian RHD cars as well?
Also, it’s not specified why the dealers want a ban, though we can guess. Canada allows for almost anything to be imported once it’s 15 years old (a full decade less than the U.S. 25-year law) and of course a lot of the cars that people choose to import are desirable JDM cars like Nissan Skylines.
Still, the volume of these cars can’t be enough to really threaten sales of new cars from dealerships, can they? To find out, I reached out to an Alberta-area JDM dealer, Zen Autoworks.
I spoke with Sean Baertsch, the owner, and asked him about what’s going on here, and, specifically, if he’s worried. “No, I’m not,” he told me.
Baertsch went on to tell me that it’s not that there’s so many JDM cars sold in Alberta, or even all of Canada that dealerships would have a valid concern over lost business, it’s that the dealerships don’t like any non-dealer automotive sales, period.
“They see any vehicles sold outside the network as a threat. Even private sales”, Baertsch said.
Baertsch also told me that this wasn’t the first time attempts had been made to quash sales of JDM cars completely, and that he recalls fighting a similar battle about a decade ago.
The bigger issue, though, is the fact that the dealers effectively came up with the six issues they wanted addressed, as can be read in their letter:
1) Carbon Tax - The provincial carbon tax would be scrapped immediately. He would join the coalition of other provinces in opposing the proposed Federal government carbon tax.
2) Other Taxes - Corporate and personal income tax increases imposed by the NDP government would be rolled back.
3) Minimum Wages - Minimum wages would be frozen until other Canadian provinces catch up. His transition team will be exploring graduated minimum wages for youth workers.
4) Labour Code, OH&S, WCB Changes - All the recent legislated changes to these three areas will be cancelled.
5) Consumer Protection Act Changes - MDA President will be asked to meet with the UCP transition team to provide input on how to rebalance the playing field between consumers and industry. Returning AMVIC to a delegated authority from a government agency, appointments of AMVIC Chair, compensation fund control, etc.
6) Issues Requiring Government Action - Banning of Imported RHD Asian vehicles - Legislation will be pushed through the legislature.
...and then effectively proposed that they could obtain this legislation via donations to Kenney’s campaign, via a “Third Party Advertisers” loophole that allows for donations that aren’t covered by the usual limitations of Canada’s election financing laws. Essentially, what’s happening here is that it could be interpreted that the money from the dealers, which is going through a third-party advertising group called Shaping Alberta’s Future, is being used to directly help a political party more than just supporting advertising, and as such could be interpreted as a way around limits on campaign donations.
The letter itself makes the donation request very clear:
The MDA made two motions:
1) That the MDA contribute $100,000.00 to the Shaping Alberta’s Future political action company to assist in the UCP 3rd party advertising campaign.
2) That the MDA solicit its dealer members to contribute to Shaping Alberta’s Future. The MDA’s goal donation is $1,000,000.00. They suggest that each MDA dealership write a cheque in the amount of $5,000.00. All the dealers at the MDA Board meeting committed to a contribution of $5,000 for each of their dealerships and they encourage all member dealers to do the same prior to October 15, 2018.
All cheques are to be made payable to: Shaping Alberta’s Future And mailed to the MDA office at: 6248 - 50 Street Edmonton, AB. T6B 2N7 The MDA will post the contribution numbers on a weekly basis so members can see the fundraising results.
This certainly seems to suggest that Kenney’s political agenda and platform is something that can be bought, as people have been pointing out:
No matter what you think of the content of the dealers’ requests, the donations from the dealers are at the very least questionable, and could constitute an attempt to circumvent campaign finance laws.
It’s worth noting that the proposal to raise contributions from the dealers is in the same letter as the six very specific action items the MDA wants to have happen, and that this letter, which specifically references a meeting between Jason Kenney on September 6, 2018, and that letter very specifically addresses how contributions from the dealers can directly help Kenney’s political party, the United Conservative Party (UCP):
“According to recent polls, the UCP presently has a favorable lead over the NDP. However, the challenge is the UCP war chest at this time prevents them from countering the negative ads against the UCP from various provincial unions, other groups received funding from left leaning socialist agencies and / or funds from the NDP party campaigning against the right.
Without adequate funding, the UCP cannot counter these allegations and when there is no rebuttal - one loses the media messaging battle.
Following the meeting with UCP leader, the MDA Board members discussed how we could help this pro-business party.”
I spoke with MDA president Denis Ducharme to try and get more information about what is going on. Regarding the donations to Jason Kenney’s advertising campaign and their meetings with Kenney and their list of legislative requests, Ducharme told me that “we have not broken the law in any way.”
Regarding why the MDA wanted the ban on RHD “Asian” cars, Ducharme told me there were two reasons: First, he told me that the 15-year-old cars had “aged out” in their home countries, which doesn’t seem to be true, at least not in any specific legal context.
He noted that no dealer sells 15-year-old cars, and cited safety and environmental concerns about the 15-year-old cars. I asked him why, if this was the case, this would just be limited to RHD Japanese cars, and not a blanket ban on all 15-year-old or older cars, but Ducharme instead of giving a direct answer about that, Ducharme moved to his next point.
The second reason Ducharme gave me was safety, saying that a study from a Canadian insurance company had shown that RHD cars caused 50 percent more accidents.
I had two issues with this: first, Sean Baertsch of Zen Autoworks was familiar with this study, and told me that further investigation about the study and its sources found that it was questionable at best, and second, why would a concern about RHD cars be limited to just Japanese cars? Why wouldn’t they seek to ban British RHD cars, for example?
When asked about this, Ducharme said that the JDM cars were all 15 years old, and returned to his 15 year-old car argument, which brought us back to the why-not-all-old-cars question. At this point, all the circular arguments were making me dizzy.
I also reached out to the Kenney campaign office. The communications person told me that the platform is still under development and that Jason Kenney has made no promises to the MDA or anyone else.
In the meantime, hold on tight to your right-side wheels, Canadian JDM-drivers.