Does Prime Minister Stephen Harper truly believe that the public is going to be impressed with his government’s out-of-left field introduction of balanced budget legislation? Or are his party’s polling numbers so grim that he is merely taking the time-honoured approach to poisoning the well for the next government? Either way, it’s a shallow, desperate act to look responsible by a government that has been anything but.
While Harper has always been one to talk the talk about fiscal responsibility, he has shown a remarkable inability to walk the walk. Seven consecutive deficit budgets would be proof enough, unless they had been designed to improve the country’s economy. They weren’t and they didn’t. Unless you can somehow make the argument that a government that has added, at a record pace, enormously to the federal debt, has somehow found a new, magical way to solidify an economy that has been sluggish for its entire term, and shows no hope of changing anytime soon.
Forget the performance of Canada’s economy against other G-7 or G-20 nations. Our resource nation, under Harper’s leadership, has been hell-bent-for-leather focused on the exploitation and exportation of natural resources, especially energy, a luxury that many other developed nations don’t enjoy. And what have we got to show for the obsession? A country that has lagged in adopting alternative energy technologies, has run up a debt that will take decades to grow out of, has lost credibility on the international stage, has wrested control of the economy from the people’s hands and put it into those of global corporations and has succeeded in creating an aura of fear that has allowed it to remove rights and freedoms from Canadians who once took them for granted.
It’s a legacy that shouldn’t impress the shrinking working and middle classes but is guaranteed to thrill said corporations, whose powers have been solidified by a proliferation of trade agreements that continue to export jobs in favour of maximizing profits for companies and returns to their shareholders. If you, like most, hold any mutual fund shares you have likely benefited, but not at the rate that would justify all you have lost during the reign of this maniacally anti-government government.
So really, what is wrong with balanced budget legislation? How about the fact that they don’t work? And why don’t they work? Because governments are not households, despite the oversimplified view that “conservative” governments have promoted since the Ronald Reagan days. All but three Canadian provinces have balanced budget legislation and every one has run deficits despite them. Why? Because resource-dependent jurisdictions are susceptible to unpredictable fluctuations in income from those resources when global prices change.
One need look no further than Alberta, whose residents have become so used to a low tax regimen (and a no-sales tax one) that they would rather see their government operate in a deficit than pay a larger tax bill. They don’t want cuts to services like highways, health care and education, so they accept deficits as a fact of life. Running a deficit, in less dramatic examples, is a way that governments can ease the impact of drops in private sector economic performance. Even Harper had to admit that when he grudgingly introduced infrastructure spending/investment programs to create employment for Canadian workers.
Woefully lacking in imagination, Harper remains focused on reducing federal government control over the economy, so much so that he wants to make it difficult for his opponents to run deficits in future years, even though he has routinely done the same.
It’s just too, too shallow, just like the feds’ arguments in court right now about the abuses of the system undertaken by Conservative senator Mike Duffy. While the prosecution argues that Duffy and Pamela Wallin broke residency rules and played fast and loose with expense allowances, is there anyone alive who believes that this wasn’t all done with a nudge-nudge wink-wink agreement in return for their services as fundraisers for the Conservatives? If you believe otherwise, Steve has some more anti-terrorism legislation designed to protect your freedoms to sell you.
Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.