January 31, 2009

Just Another Take on the Budget

First off, in terms of numbers and allocations the Conservative budget isn't too bad but it isn't terribly good, either. The tax cuts should have been focused more on the lower- and middle- classes. If the goal is to increase disposable income and/ or encourage spending then the two largest groups of Canadians, who have also been the hardest hit by the downturn, should have been the focus. The bulk of the need lies with them and any extra spending will come from these groups and therefore providing them with more would go further to achieving those goals. However, an across-the-board tax cut could be considered the most fair for all Canadians. After all, we're all in this together as no one has been left untouched by the economic downturn. It's just that the broad tax cut, ultimately, isn't as effective.

There is also the issue of some of the policy matters that are contained within the budget. While it's nice that EI has been expanded by five weeks there are still lingering issues that weren't addressed. Something such as timely and easier access to people's own money should have been included. As well a balancing of the EI payments should have been included. Ontarians should have gotten a slight increase in the payments to match the other provinces. Since Ontario has taken the brunt of the downturn and cost of living is slightly higher than most provinces, these changes should have been a no-brainer. And let's not forget, contrary to what Harper or Finlay might say, the money in the EI program belongs to Canadians.

The EI program is essentially a government mandated 'savings' program for those rainy days, like when you lose your job and need money to get you by until you find other employment. To refuse easier access on the basis that the Conservatives don't want to make it "lucrative" to be unemployed or that they don't want people relying on the government is to distort and betray the purpose of EI and denying people access to their own money could be seen as theft since Canadians do not have a choice about paying into EI.

There is also the concern over women losing the ability to take pay equity issues to court. I'm not sure what the Conservative's problem is with women's equality but it has reached a sickening level over the course of their tenure. However, this being left over from the Fall Update shouldn't have been a surprise because of the Conservative's track record. What is a surprise is the Liberals' poor response to this issue.

The Liberals' amendment, while necessary (if you're attempting to make parliament work), isn't as strong as it could have been. Sure they're putting this Conservative government on 'probation' but the how is ill defined. It's great to have the Cons check-in every few months with updates but there is confusion over what this really means. Are they just giving government numbers, are the books being opened to the opposition or is an independent auditor doing a review? The amendment should have laid out all of this in greater detail. It should have also been much more demanding of accountability given the past record of budget deception and lack of transparency, especially on the part of Flaherty.

Furthermore, at the very least the Ignatieff and the Liberals should have demanded that the women's pay equity issue be dropped from the budget. I actually think that the Conservatives included it with the expectation it would be amended out. If an amendment were to ask for its removal and subsequently passed, the Cons could have saved face with their SoCon supporters because they proposed the idea but also saved face with critics and opposition because they would have been viewed as conciliatory.

The Liberals could have also explored changes to the proposals regarding EI, tax cuts, and areas that could have had an infusion of 'green' and next-generation technology and manufacturing. However, I believe the Conservatives would have fought to the end to not have these pass. We would then likely be heading into an election rather than a coalition government.

I don't have enough faith in our GG, Ms. Jean, to make the right decision between a coalition and election. She showed last Fall that she neither had the leadership or the fortitude to do what she should have. She made her last decision in secrecy and without full consultation. The same would have likely occurred here. And this budget is centrist or 'Liberal'-ish enough, at least on the surface, that inciting an unwanted and costly election over it would have put the Liberals in a tough position to defend their actions. Putting out a strong amendment, stronger than what was proposed, would have been the best maneuver.

The biggest loser out of all of this - besides women, the most vulnerable and the environment - is the Conservatives. With this budget they showed that they are more interested in power than conviction. However, even in the off chance they are being honest about their feelings on the necessity of this budget they still come out on the losing end. On one hand they would be admitting that Canadians don't believe in or won't accept conservatism (which I have been arguing for quite some time) or they are admitting that conservatism doesn't work. Either way, conservative Canadians aren't happy with Harper and his crew and the Conservatives are showing their cracks in large part because of this budget. Either side of this is a positive in my books.

Ultimately, Canada didn't even have to be in this position. If it weren't for the lack of judgement, common sense and leadership of the Conservatives, Canada's financial situation could have been much stronger prior to being hit by the economic downturn. If income taxes were cut rather than consumer taxes, if the surplus hadn't been completely wiped out, if social programs were strengthened rather than weakened, and if there had been greater attention paid to environmental technologies and next generation manufacturing, Canada would have dealt with this crisis much better. The stimulus package would have still been necessary but maybe there would have been fewer lost, more resilience on the part of our industries and a smaller deficit would be incurred. However, we've been governed by conservative ideologues who are more interested in their personal situations and beliefs, and trying to destroy the opposition. So much for leadership...



Cicely said...

The biggest losers are Canadians. Those that need help now are hurt. Those who don't will be hurt later by the massive deficit that has been accrued with little to no long term benefit for the Canadian economy, our infrastructure and our environment.

I think it is shocking that Iggy is taking the Liberals down this path of surrender.

I agree that the Coalition was a tough sell in the fall but we had a shot at changing that mind set. Polls were starting to show that the biggest issue with the Coalition was Dion's leadership. Iggy grabbed power because of this perceived weakness and instead of backing the Coalition as soon as he got power and getting to work with the Opposition parties to re-frame the debate, he went home and wrote a book for a month and than hit the road on his listening tour.

He heard all about how Canadians were hurting under Tory rule and came back to Ottawa to prop them up.

It is shameful.

Kyle said...

I mentioned groups within Canada who were bigger losers than the Conservatives because, and you're correct, Canadians will ultimately lose.

I can't say I'm happy with Iggy's amendment. It's too weak when there was an opportunity for leadership. That leadership would have been noticed by Canadians.

It's not that I think the coalition would have been a hard sell to Canadians. I don't think the GG would have granted the coalition an opportunity to govern. We would have been in an election and I'm not sure the parties, within a formal coalition, would have worked out as well as the proposed formation would have. Too much can happen during a campaign.

Cicely said...

I have to disagree with you on the GG. There was no real precedent for what Harper did (prorogue under threat of defeat) so she had to go with the usual prorogation precedent which is to grant it when the PM requests it.

There is both federal and provincial precedent for the GG to offer the opposition the opportunity to govern should a minority government fall.

I would argue that it was better than 50/50 and had the Liberals under Iggy been willing to work with the NDP to frame the debate. To get out and promote not only the Coalition but to have an Coalition alternate budget at the ready to contrast with the pathetic budget thrown together by the Cons we would have stood an excellent chance to win over many of the pundits who were doubtful in the fall. That would have helped increase the support for the Coalition.

Shouldn't progressives (of whether red, orange or somewhere in between) at the very least be willing to fight this fight? The IMF says things are going to be worse for Canada than are current govt and Bank of Canada folks are willing to admit and because of this denial it could be worse still. Letting this budget pass could mean a generational loss.

Japan wasn't aggressive and smart enough at the beginning of their last recession and they had a decade of stagnation in terms of their economy. Now they have to face this Made in the USA economic tsunami.

If the LPC is willing to take the risk to defend Canadians than they shouldn't be in the game. This isn't rhetoric anymore, this is time for serious folk to act now! Triangulating in the hopes of a possible win one or two years from now...Lots of pain for everyone in these intervening times.

(You won't be able to count on the cooperation of the Bloc to vote down the Tories anytime soon after the stunt Iggy pulled)

Cicely said...

Oops I meant to say:

If the LPC is UNwilling to take the risk and defend Canadians than they shouldn't be in the game

Quotes from people smarter than me...

"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich" ~ JFK

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. " ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. " ~ Benjamin Franklin

"First it is necessary to stand on your own two feet. But the minute a man finds himself in that position, the next thing he should do is reach out his arms. " ~ Kristin Hunter

"When you're a mayor and you have a problem you blame the provincial government. If you are provincial government and you have a problem you blame the federal government. We don't blame the Queen any more, so once in a while we might blame the Americans." ~ Jean Chretien

"Which is ideology? Which not? You shall know them by their assertion of truth, their contempt for considered reflection, and their fear of debate." ~ John Ralston Saul

"It is undoubtedly easier to believe in absolutes, follow blindly, mouth received wisdom. But that is self-betrayal." ~ John Ralston Saul

"Everybody dies, Tracey. Someone's carrying a bullet for you right now, doesn't even know it. The trick is to die of old age before it finds you." ~ Cpt. Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly, Episode 12)