Ok, as my charming children used to say to me when I was freaking out on them, take a downer, Canada. I mean that as no insult to people (like me) who actually do need a downer from time to time. It’s just that there is the tiniest bit of political hysteria going in my personal space and this blog is my release point.
A few people I know are angry with the Liberals and NDP for the instability they have brought to our country at this troubled moment in economic history. The TSE plummeted today and some think it’s because of the actions of the Opposition parties. This is no time for a political battle, they say, this is the time for action and that’s not going to happen if everyone’s focussed on the fight instead of on the economy. As if the CPC was focussed on the economy for Pete’s sake.
I’m wondering what people think was going to be happening right now if the Opposition parties had shut up. The economic statement that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty made last Thursday night gave Canada exactly what with respect to our flagging economy?
Here’s what, with my comments attached:
1. Eliminate subsidies to political parties.
Say what? Will the the elimination of subsidies to political parties save the Canadian economy? Most decidedly not. We will save some taxpayer money, but this will not be enough to represent a stimulus to the economy. What it will do is send Opposition Parties to rich and corporate “special interest” groups to raise funds and this is not what we want. It’s good neither for the economy nor for democracy itself. It’s the height of cynicism to use these difficult economic times to attempt to weaken the Opposition. Oh it might be good for the Conservatives, short run. They have more money and fund-raising ability than the other parties at the moment, especially the Liberal Party, which could well fall flat on its face as a result. I’m no Liberal, but I don’t want to see the Opposition weakened because the Opposition is the only way to hold the government accountable and in check. That’s Parliamentary democracy and I want it strengthened, not weakened.
One day, and I hope it’s soon, the CPC might be in need of that money themselves. There are more ways than I can count that I’d like to see the CPC fall off the continental shelf, but I acknowledge that there are Canadians whose views that Party represents and – that’s democracy – they may one day be relying on that money themselves. Harper tried to use the economic crisis to further his anti-democratic agenda. Period. That sucks.
2. Cutting back on government spending in the areas of travel, conferences, hospitality, exchanges, professional services and external legal services.
If everybody cut back on travel, conferences and hospitality, what the hell would happen to the economy? Tourism and the Canadian and worldwide hotel industry would sink even farther than they have already. I certainly don’t want Conservative government officials spending wildly on these items, but I’d have thought a fiscally responsible government wasn’t doing that to begin with. This kind of belt tightening is not what most economists think will stimulate the economy and it is counterintuitive to think otherwise. It’s window dressing to rationalize the real belt tightening that the Conservatives plan to inflict on Canadians who truly can’t afford it. Besides, some people think this item is about Flaherty eliminating cost over-run estimates from the budget.
3. Suspend the right to strike of civil servants until 2011 and restrict pay increases – quite likely influencing what will happen in the private sector later.
From an economic standpoint, this is unnecessary, since the contracts just recently negotiated involve an already modest pay increase. Oh I forgot, Flaherty said he intended to cap civil service wage increases at a per cent lower than that for which they bargained collectively. Well, yes, that could provoke a strike.
Interfering with civil servants’ wages reduces their purchasing power at a time when the economy needs Canadian citizens to consume more, not less, lest we fall victim to deflation. No, this is not about stimulating the economy, obviously. This is the CPC using the economic crisis as cover to pursue its long-term agenda of shrinking government overall and restricting workers’ rights.
Restricting labour rights at this time is a cynical act. It’s not just pinko commies who believe that the right to strike is a necessary restraint on capitalist tendencies toward – dare I say it? – exploitation of labour. Some have argued that the economy is more likely to be stimulated by strengthening labour rights, once again increasing purchasing power.
I think the restraints on labour rights proposed by Flaherty are part of the CPC’s long term agenda as well and they’re trying to use the economic crisis to provide legitimacy for that agenda. I doubt the suspension of the right to strike would turn out to be so temporary as Flaherty indicated. Not for one minute do I believe that.
4. Force women to bargain for equal pay.
Ha! I haven’t seen nearly enough outrage about this. Equal pay for work of equal value is a right and not something which can be bargained for and away. That is an insult to women. Because the economy is experiencing some difficulty, women should continue to work for less money on the dollar than men? Women should have to bargain for a basic equal right? Sorry, but what a prick. There’s no evidence offered that it costs Canadian society too much to pay women for doing the same work as their male counterparts. But, even if there was such evidence, how on earth could paying women less be justified? I suspect this would be unconstitutional legislation anyway, but what does the CPC care if women have to spend a few more decades in litigation trying to get the wages they’ve worked for? Again, this is about the long-term CPC agenda and not about the economy.
And, cnce again, it doesn’t make economic sense – if you keep women’s wages low, you reduce their purchasing power. Dumb. Unhelpful. Just plain creepy.
5. Cap equalization payments according to economic growth.
That means payments will fall next year at a time when costs for health care cannot be expected to fall at all. And guess what, folks tend to get sick in greater numbers when they have less income. So what’s this then? Laying the groundwork for a two-tiered health care system? Well, why not? It’s what the CPC is all about, but they’re afraid to come right out and say it – that might cause some dissent – so they do it under the cover of “responsible” fiscal restraint.
6. Sell off $2.3 billion of public assets.
Good thinking. Sell our assets in a depressed market, sell them cheap. And just how does selling public assets help the government to raise sustainable revenue in the future? Once the asset is sold, there’s a little money hanging around for just a little while. Awhile longer and that money is gone and the revenue is gone too, never to return.
7. Excelerate infrastructure spending by encouraging public-private partnerships, supposedly to “lever private capital”.
Nonsense. The point of government investment in infrastructure spending is to offset the shortage of private capital. Insisting on public-private partnership just slows the whole process down. But it makes for the privatisation of government services and that, alas, is what the CPC is about.
Stephen Harper and Jim Flaherty weren’t being stupid asses last week, though they are that. As has been pointed out elsewhere, the economic statement was in keeping with CPC ideology:
As Maclean’s columnist Paul Wells detailed in a cover story during the federal election campaign, Stephen Harper and his government, including Flaherty, are right-wing ideologues taking an incremental, pragmatic approach to slashing government.
Wells used the two-point GST cut and increase in provincial transfer payments during Harper’s first term to illustrate the point: “This is a massive decentralization of Canadian federalism. By constraining Ottawa’s ability to pay the bills with the GST cut, and ensuring a steady and growing stream of cash from Ottawa to the provincial capitals, Harper has sharply curbed the ambition of his government and of any government that might manage to succeed it. All of this has happened under Canadians’ noses, more or less unremarked by the Liberal opposition…”
So now, if you are ideologically opposed to government ownership of capital in the first place, as Flaherty surely is, then you may be just waiting for an excuse to sell things off. And a looming budget deficit may look like an ideal excuse to implement that ideological program, even if it doesn’t make a lick of economic or financial sense.
This suggests that Flaherty may be more scheming and dishonest than simply stupid … [emphasis mine]
It would have been almost impossible to wave more red Tory flags at the Opposition parties. In my view, those parties would be derelict in their duty to represent 65% of Canadians if they had let that statement go by. I know there will be many difficulties to come for any coalition government, but compromise has often been Canadian politics at its best. Stephen Harper has managed to make a minority government look like a majority – the usual give and take and negotiation between governing party and the Opposition just has not taken place, perhaps not least because the Liberals, under Stephane Dion, just were not willing to stand up to the Conservatives in any meaningful way. Till now, with the support of Jack Layton and the NDP. Better late than never.
I don’t expect this story to become any more clear by the end of the week because I think Harper will prorogue. But he can’t keep Parliament from sitting forever. I’ll be working my butt off to stop the NeoCons till Part One of the story is done. And if I have to start distributing “downers” to my family to do it, well, I will.