Dion Redux

So Michael Ignatieff and his “new” Liberals are going to make the Cons submit to giving a report card on their economic plans.  Given the problems that Iggy has with the budget, this simply isn’t sufficient.  Here’s part of Iggy’s response:

The budget introduced yesterday is far from perfect. It does not fix the employment insurance system for thousands of workers who have lost their jobs in the past several weeks. It still threatens pay equity for women. It breaks their promise to every province from only two years ago on equalization.

The Cons can’t report on what they’re not even going to try to do.  But heck, who cares about workers with insufficent employment insurance?  Who cares about equalization payments – they only provide for social services – we don’t need good social services anyway, right?  And for sure, who cares about women doing the same work as men for less pay?  Not the Cons.  Clearly not the Liberals either.

For some reason, the Harper budget lets Iggy wiggle away, just as Dion wiggled away from taking responsibility for the last four years.  More Iggy:

To say that action is long overdue is an understatement. Canadians deserve action.

We deserve action so what we get is a “report card” that will tell us what the Cons aren’t doing; that will tell us how badly they’re doing what they are doing; and that will tell us that they’re not doing enough.  Is that all the “action” we deserve?

New Democrat Leader Jack Layton and Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe swiftly condemned the budget as a failed “ideological” document that does not address the needs of the jobless and the most vulnerable, or move Canada toward a greener economy.

Their parties intend to vote to defeat the government on the budget, and Layton publicly pressured Ignatieff to do the same.

Layton said the budget fails on the very tests – helping the most vulnerable, protecting the jobs of today and creating jobs for tomorrow – that Ignatieff had set out.

“He has a choice to make,” Layton told reporters.

“It’s either to prop up the Harper government and allow it to continue in a fashion that is clearly wrong-headed, or to pursue the agenda laid out by the coalition, which would create jobs for the future and would transform our economy and would really protect the people who are suffering the most from the economic crisis.”

Well, Ignatieff has made his choice – a coalition with the Conservatives.  Dion all over again.

More on the big problems with this budget:

The federal budget contained more than $3 billion in spending to address the environment, but it fell short of markers set by those who had called on the Conservatives to deliver a “green” economic stimulus plan.

[…]

critics say the federal government’s plans fall far short of national public transit and other infrastructure needs while spending too much taxpayers’ money in Alberta’s oil sands and not enough on renewable energy.

Neither have the Cons paid sufficient attention to the crises in Canada’s cities.  Toronto for instance:

Mayor David Miller badly wanted to embrace the federal budget that tossed billions of dollars before municipal governments. Here was an opportunity to play nice with the Stephen Harper government for once. But Finance Minister Jim Flaherty had to spoil it all by wrapping the gift in familiar, stultifying red tape that left Miller crestfallen.

“We are looking for a partner that will invest in our priorities, not their own,” Miller said barely an hour after the budget was tabled.

It may seem like nitpicking from someone who doesn’t share Harper’s politics. It’s not.

Experience has taught us that the Building Canada Fund that is to deliver the budget infrastructure goodies is cumbersome, inflexible and too slow afoot. For example:

Through some miracle, Toronto, the province and York Region agreed in March 2006 to extend the Spadina subway line from its terminus at Downsview to Highway 7. All that remained was funding approval from the federal government.

The Harper government put money aside for the project in the Building Canada Fund, and it sat there, and sat there. It took more than two years before the federal government approved the spending last September. The first construction dollars will be spent in 2009.

Understandably, mayors get testy when they find out the new $4 billion infrastructure fund that is supposed to get projects going immediately is tied up in the same Building Canada Fund that is excruciatingly bound in red tape.

“I hope we can get the federal government to change their minds on this,” Miller said yesterday. “Placing rigid requirements on funds like this does not work. The dollars need to be invested, not written down on paper. This is full of red tape.”

Well the Cons aren’t going to change their plans if somebody doesn’t make them.  Iggy is not that person.

Thomas Walkom at The Star:

It almost certainly won’t stop Canada’s economy from going into recession (technically defined as six months of economic shrinkage). Even finance department officials acknowledge that.

And while it will slow the steady rise in this country’s jobless rate, it won’t reverse it.

Mike McCracken, of the economic forecasting firm Informetrica, calculates that even after some $35 billion in fiscal stimulus over the next two years, (and yes, the proper figure is $35 billion not $52 billion as the government insists) the national unemployment rate will continue to creep up.

Indeed, the most important element of the budget will probably receive the least attention. That’s a two-page section – first laid out in Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s aborted November economic update – that gives the government carte blanche to bail out any financial institution facing difficulty.

Unlike a similar $700 billion U.S. scheme, there is no upper dollar limit to the Canadian plan.

As for the rest of the budget, it’s a mish-mash of proposals – some sensible, some less so – calculated to appeal to key constituencies and to demonstrate that the Conservative government cares.

That’s what it’s all about – convincing people that you care while you’re busy not caring.  Ignatieff is going to sign on to this budget and he’ll have to bear the consequences for that.  It’s now his budget as much as it’s Harper’s.  I guess that is to be expected.  Chantal Hébert at The Star:

Ignatieff has no cause to reject Jim Flaherty’s latest budget on ideological grounds. On that score and in contrast with last fall’s fiscal update, the Conservative economic blueprint is almost painfully spineless.

If its authors are guilty of anything this time around, it is political plagiarism of the most craven kind.

In their quest for parliamentary survival, the Conservatives have cut and pasted a lot of old-style Liberal spending initiatives and spread them pretty much across the board.

It is hard to think of a constituency, friendly or hostile to the Conservatives, that will not get a piece of the multibillion-dollar stimulus package the government has cobbled together.

[…]

The odds that the budget will help the Conservatives buy their way out of a tight parliamentary corner are higher than the odds that it will allow Canada to spend its way out of a recession. In almost every instance, the government has gone for the quickest and most-likely-to-be-popular fix.
Take tax relief, the hill on which the Conservatives ultimately planted their tattered flag yesterday.
About 10 per cent of the total stimulus package is devoted to the kind of permanent, broad-based tax relief the Liberals had warned against in the days leading up to the budget. But the bulk of it is targeted to middle- and low-income Canadians, and the Conservatives are betting that Ignatieff will not risk defeating the government over a tax cut.

Canada needs courageous leadership during this economic/social/environmental crisis we are living through.  Clearly, we’re not going to get it.  Canadian voters are as responsible for this as our leaders.  We won’t get what we don’t demand.

I’m giving the last word on the budget, Ignatieff’s response and Jack Layton’s position to James Laxer:

Michael Ignatieff began his press conference in the National Press Theatre in Ottawa today by saying that the Harper government’s budget was deeply flawed. For a moment, I thought he was about to do something interesting, to propose serious and substantive amendments to the budget. But then he dropped the clunker. The Liberals, he said, will propose an amendment requiring the government to provide periodic updates on how the budget is working.
There you have it. Michael Ignatieff went away last night, laboured, and brought forth a mouse.
Explaining himself in answer to questions from the media, the Liberal leader was embarrassingly sophomoric. The Liberal-NDP coalition had been useful, he said, because it had forced the government to put many useful measures in the budget. On the other hand, he said the budget remained a “Conservative” budget that likely would not work. Nonetheless, he said he intended to vote for it. Provided, of course, that his “Mickey Mouse” amendment is acceptable to Stephen Harper. By turns, Ignatieff sounded like Demosthenes, thundering down condemnation on a government that has repeatedly failed Canadians, and then like an apple-polishing pupil asking for a report card from the head master. Rule number one in politics: you can’t have it every which way. If you vote for the Conservative budget, it becomes your budget Mr. Ignatieff, no matter what font the government uses to print its reports for you.

In answer to questions that suggested that perhaps he had thrown the game away, Ignatieff could have replied in the manner of Hamlet: “Do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe.”

Having decided “not to be” as a serious opponent of the Harper government, Michael Ignatieff could consider a career on the stage.

Meanwhile, Jack Layton has become the real leader of the opposition. He showed courage when he reached out to the Liberals to form a progressive coalition that could provide Canadians with the leadership they need to cope with the economic crisis. He tried the option of working with the Liberals. Michael Ignatieff has walked away from that option. Layton has retained his integrity and his clear understanding of what the country needs. Progressives now have one party and one party only available to them: the NDP.

 Exactly.

UPDATE:  From the YWCA via Antonia Zerbisias via mattt

 “The government has set up some very inclusive spending with this budget for First Nations, seniors and people with disabilities, but we don’t see an awareness that Canadian women are very vulnerable in hard times,” says YWCA Canada CEO Paulette Senior. “Two-thirds of Canadians working for minimum wage are women, many taking any work they can find to hold family and community together.  Government stimulus spending must take this into account.”

More from the YWCA at Broadsides here

And, I’m watching The National – Keith Boag just called Jack Layton “too bitter” to compromise with Ignatieff and said he’d been “jilted”.  So now Jack is the scorned woman.  What if Jack is simply the only one who has any scruples in Ottawa?  Ignatieff is so smug he makes me barf.

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