Sunday, January 25, 2009

Did You Double Check That With Michael, John? Or Even With Reality?

Liberal double-talk on the budget palpable

For the past 20 years in Canada, the Liberal party has made an art form of trying to have it both ways.

Accuse the opposition Reform party of plotting to devestate health care with deep cuts while slashing billions of dollars from health care.

Accuse the governing Conservative party of campaigning based on fear while airing some of the most vile fear-based campaign ads in the history of fear-based campaigning.

Now, the Liberals are adding another chapter to this sorry tale: insisting that they oppose middle class tax cuts, despite the fact that their leader previously endorsed them.

Speaking in advance of tomorrow's federal budget, Liberal finance critic John McCallum had some interesting things to say.

"If the permanent tax cuts were very large, we would be very concerned, partly because it would saddle future generations with a big debt and a permanent deficit," McCallum mused.

Despite Ignatieff's previous support for permanent middle class tax cuts -- as brilliantly explosed by National Post Full Comment's Kelly McParland -- McCallum insists that they are ill-advised.

McCallum insisted that the cuts would be ineffective to stimulate the economy because people will be more likely to save the tax cut than spend it.

But here's the problem: Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff himself recently pledged his support for middle class tax cuts. As far as stimulating the economy with tax cuts goes, the bigger the cuts are, the better. A large tax cut is much more likely to be spent than a small tax cut.

Sadly, the logic of this seems to be all but lost on an opposition that, despite the reported inclusion of some things they would otherwise support in this budget -- $2 billion for social housing, $1 billion for workers and $1.5 billion for job retraining -- has committed themselves to rejecting the budget sight unseen.

"If [the budget] doesn't cut it, our leader has made it perfectly clear that we vote against it -- and he is prepared to lead," McCallum crowed.

And all Michael Ignatieff needs to do is double-back on his own position and lie to the Canadian people in order to do it.

It's hard to excuse the base dishonesty of the Liberal position on matters economic these days. The Liberal party knows full well that Canada would be budgeting a deficit in the coming year regardless of who was in power. Despite this they accuse the Conservative party of blowing a surplus that they themselves planned to blow anyway -- again, a fact masterfully exposed by McParland.

Michael Ignatieff has previously insisted that he isn't trying to take a shortcut back to power.

Unfortunately, the truth is very different. He and his finance critic are trying to follow a road back to power that is all but paved with little white lies.


  1. I personally think the budget will pass, despite what McCallum is saying, if only because it would be political suicide to vote against it and make it fall-Harper, to his credit, has realized he has to play ball, and is offering initiatives that will make it easier for the opposition to support the budget, like the job retraining and social housing you mention. That's exactly the kind of compromise all the parties should be going for.

    I don't know, however, if what you're really discussing is a lie so much as it is simple incompetence on the part of McCallum in not double-checking with Ignatieff. The fact remains that Tom Flanagan was all gung-ho about "tightening the screws", and that Harper and the Tories apparently couldn't see the financial collapse coming. If the Liberals are lying, it's likely more in the fact that they wouldn't admit to the fact that their budget proposals were the same as many of the Tories'...and would the Tories be any more honest if the situation was reversed?

    On top of all this, I'm rather concerned about just how far all this tax-cutting is going. Successive Liberal and Conservative governments have cut taxes repeatedly-and don't get me wrong, tax cuts can certainly be a good thing.

    But at what point will you end up being unable to pay for the things most Canadians take for granted-the military and police, schools, roads, hospitals, Employment Insurances, etc.? Does this mean we have to eliminate a lot of the long-term programs that Canadians have come to expect over the years, shedding these functions permanently?

    Many small-government advocates might like this, of course, but the catch is that Canada has a population roughly equal to that of the state of California and a landmass roughly equal to that of the whole of Europe. Historically, both Liberal and Conservative governments have actively built the type of infrastructure we've needed to link the country together and keep it that way. Canadian conservatism is no exception, what with the Canadian Pacific Railway under Macdonald, the Bank of Canada and the CBC under R.B. Bennett, and the province-building initiatives of Conservative premiers like Robert Stanfield in the 1960s, Peter Lougheed in the 1970s and Danny Williams today.

    It seems to me that Canadians, including Albertans, will accept deep cuts to social spending and withdrawal of public services when it's necessary to get our finances in order, as occurred during the Chretien and Klein eras, but the ideas of someone like American activist Grover Norquist, who claims to want to reduce government to the point where it can be drowned in a bathtub, are not held even by most Albertans. From everything I've seen in this province, we certainly lean more to the right, but not to the extent that people like Norquist would prefer.

  2. Sadly, the people who most oppose the government are saying "it doesn't matter what's in the budget. People won't read it. People don't read the news, so they'll believe what we tell them."

    It's the same argument about the deficit. They insist that "people don't read the news. They don't know the numbers. They don't know that it's the crisis, not tax cuts, that have caused the deficit. They'll believe what we tell them."

    It's the kind of Machiavellian reasoning that lies at the root of the "noble lie" at the heart of Straussian neo-conservatism.

    They may bring the government down despite all the good things that are in this budget -- things they wanted -- because they think they'll get away with it.

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