By macleans.ca - Friday, June 3, 2011 - 26 Comments
“I’ll take substance with nastiness over civil emptiness, anytime…”
By Colby Cosh - Tuesday, April 12, 2011 at 8:37 AM - 21 Comments
I’ve been catching up with the various party platforms, and doing my best to use one of the pet heuristics I developed in my columnist days: looking for the most positive thing I could possibly say about those whose overall philosophies I strongly oppose. In this election, that is pretty well everybody. But I started with the Greens and the New Democrats, because that is where the task of being sympathetic is hardest for a gun-crazed oil-drunk Albertan.
The contrast between the parties’ platforms is interesting: the Green ideas induce slightly more sheer nausea of the “literally everything in here is eye-slashingly horrible” kind, but at the same time there is a consoling breath of radicalism pervading Vision Green, a redeeming Small Is Beautiful spirit. At least, one feels, their nonsense is addressed to the individual. A typical laissez-faire economist would probably like the Green platform the least of the four on offer from national parties, but the Greens may be the strongest of all in advocating the core precept that prices are signals. At one point, denouncing market distortions created by corporate welfare, Vision Green approvingly quotes the maxim “Governments are not adept at picking winners, but losers are adept at picking governments.” (The saying is attributed to a 2006 book by Mark Milke of the Fraser Institute, but a gentleman named Paul Martin Jr. had uttered a version of it as early as 2000.)
The New Democratic platform is more adult and serious than the Greens’ overall, which comes as no surprise. But it occurs to me, not for the first time this year, how much some folks love “trickle-down politics” when they are not busy denouncing “trickle-down economics”. How does Jack Layton hope to remedy the plight of the Canadian Indian? By “building a new relationship” with his politicians and band chiefs. How does he propose to improve the lot of artists? By flooding movie and TV producers, and funding agencies, with money and tax credits. He’ll help parents by giving money to day care entrepreneurs; he’ll sweeten the pot for “women’s groups” and “civil society groups”. One detects, perhaps mostly from prejudice, a suffocating sense of system-building, of unskeptical passion for bureaucracy, of disrespect for the sheer power of middlemen to make value disappear.
There is one specific difference between the platforms that leaps out when they are read together: Vision Green has a section on “Ending the war on drugs.”
In 2008, according to the Treasury Board, Canada spent $61.3 million targeting illicit drugs, with a majority of that money going to law enforcement. Most of that was for the “war” against cannabis (marijuana). Marijuana prohibition is also prohibitively costly in other ways, including criminalizing youth and fostering organized crime. Cannabis prohibition, which has gone on for decades, has utterly failed and has not led to reduced drug use in Canada.
Green MPs, we are promised, would remove marijuana from the schedule of illegal drugs outright. It’s the “legalize and tax” approach, presented mostly without the usual cowardly conditions—though, being Greens, they can’t resist stipulating that regulations should confine production to “small, independent growers”. (There is no earthly reason giant industrial concerns shouldn’t be allowed to get in the game if they want to.)
The NDP platform is silent on the drug war and on marijuana. Jack Layton used to be the favourite son of the single-issue stoners, and decriminalization appeared in past platforms. Now we see the mustachioed one repeating “potent pot” fairy stories on the campaign trail and calling for an “adult conversation”, instead of for policies that treat adults as adults. Note that when the Star‘s reporter asked a follow-up question, Layton immediately started cracking wise; someone should explain to him that “adult conversation” about drug policy does not involve dropping smirking hints about the personal predilections of participants.
It would not be quite so extraordinary for Layton to play the smug ass, of course, were he not a cancer survivor currently reaping a hard-earned harvest of sympathy. As he knows—as some kindly professional has perhaps told him—many people in his plight find marijuana a useful part of their therapeutic regimen, particularly in overcoming the effects of chemical and radiation treatments. I don’t suppose he will have any trouble obtaining marijuana if he decides he should want it; maybe he already has. But what about the less privileged? Have they been altogether forgotten by their social-democratic tribune?
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, April 11, 2011 at 8:51 AM - 2 Comments
Jack Layton tabled the NDP platform yesterday morning.
I promise you this: the morning after the election, I will get down to work on your practical key priorities. As Prime Minister, I will work with others to get Ottawa working for you. And I will deliver results in the first 100 days. You can hold me to it.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, April 8, 2011 at 2:51 PM - 15 Comments
In Chapter 5 of last month’s budget, the Harper government outlined its “comprehensive one-year Strategic and Operating Review.” It is to be completed in time for next year’s budget, but the government projected its findings as so.
In total, Budget 2011 savings measures amount to $6.2 billion in savings over five years.Combined with the targeted savings from the Strategic and Operating Review, total savings could be as much as $17.2 billion over five years.
Apparently between that budget being tabled and today’s platform being written, could became will. As the Conservative platform now puts it: “Through accelerated reductions in government spending, a reelected Stephen Harper Government will eliminate the deficit by 2014-15…”
Budget 2011 promises $6.2-billion in cuts. The Conservative platform now promises another $11-billion in cuts. The goal is apparently to achieve annual savings of 5% from an envelope of $80-billion in “direct program spending.”
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, April 8, 2011 at 12:03 PM - 137 Comments
In October 2008, Stephen Harper promised his government would “never” go into deficit. In November 2008, the Harper government projected budget surpluses through 2013-2014. In January 2009, the Harper government projected deficits through 2012-2013 and a surplus in 2013-2014. In October 2010, the Harper government projected deficits through 2014-2015 and a surplus in 2015-2016.
Two weeks ago, the Harper government projected a $300-million deficit in 2014-2015 and a surplus of $4.2-billion in 2015-2016.
Today, the Harper government projects a $3.7-billion surplus in 2014-2015 and an $8.2-billion surplus in 2015-2016.
Update 2:51pm… A kind of explanation is here.
Update 4:22pm… Jim Flaherty’s previous explanation is here.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, April 8, 2011 at 11:45 AM - 85 Comments
Surrounded by an enthusiastic studio audience, Stephen Harper tabled the Conservative party election platform in Mississauga this morning.
We will provide the steady hand needed to keep protecting and creating jobs and to complete our recovery from the global recession. We will eliminate the deficit and return to balanced budgets, without cutting transfer payments to individuals or to the provinces. And we will take the next steps to secure our borders and keep our cities and communities safe.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 4:32 PM - 30 Comments
In this platform you will find a vision for a modern, smart economy that reduces the deficit, creates new jobs that won’t be gone tomorrow, and doesn’t rely on generating pollution to generate energy. We see a future Canada with vibrant, well-educated and motivated citizens, living in healthy communities, eating safe and healthy food, and enjoying a life-giving, healthy natural world.
Meanwhile, the Conservatives are set to present their platform tomorrow. The NDP will follow on Sunday.
By Andrew Coyne - Sunday, April 3, 2011 at 11:50 PM - 174 Comments
The Liberal platform is a remarkable document. It has the feel of catharsis to it: a party that was unsure of what it believed, or unwilling to say, finally finding a sense of direction and boldly declaring where it wants to take the country. And where it wants to take the country is back to the 1970s.
After all those dreary years under Chretien and Martin of cutting spending and cutting taxes and cutting deficits, and that brief, uncertain lunge under Stephane Dion into the ideological heterodoxy of the green shift, the Liberals are back where one senses they feel most comfortable: raising spending, raising taxes (but only on corporations!), and deficits take the hindmost. Oh, and imposing stricter controls on foreign investment, steering the economy into certain preferred “champion” sectors, regulating wages according to their “value,” and so on. As I said, it’s a remarkable document. It’s as if the last thirty years never happened.
To be sure, there’s an air of play-acting at the same time, a tentative trying-on of ideas that have long been out of fashion. The pump-priming, industrial-strategy dirigistes of Trudeau’s era would scoff at the relatively small sums involved: an increase in spending of roughly $6-billion annually, matched by a $7-billion increase in taxes, works out to less than 3% of today’s budget. Mind you, the actual increase in tax revenues is likely to be much less than that: economists who’ve looked at the question don’t believe the 3 percentage points the Liberals would tack onto corporate taxes, reversing the cuts the Tories are in the process of enacting, would raise anything like the $5- to $6-billion the Liberals are claiming.
Which means even the laughable show of concern for the deficit the Liberals manage — they would “reduce” the deficit to 1% of GDP in two years, when it’s at 1.7% of GDP now — rather overstates matters. If they follow through on their spending plans, they will almost certainly increase the deficit, though again by relatively small sums: perhaps $2- or 3-billion. They seem almost to be doing it for the sake of doing it, because that is what makes us Liberals, rather than out of any great conviction it will accomplish much.
Reading the document, I had the same feeling. The foreign investment chapter sounded appropriately hostile, but the follow-through in actual policy terms was unconvincing, and would probably change little. The “Canadian champions” silliness will be an excuse to waste a lot of money on pet Liberal projects, but in the end the economy will go its own way, as it always does. Even the hike in corporate taxes is hardly likely to be apocalyptic. The Grits, after all, would only raise the rate back to 18%, which is where it was four months ago.
Still, it’s the wrong direction to go. People in politics are inclined to depict every disagreement in the direst terms, but the fact that issues are rarely as stark as they paint them should not lead us to believe there are not real differences in approaches, or that one way is not preferable to another. The Grits would not send us to poorhouse overnight. But their economic policies are not the kind that would tend to enhance our prospects either. And over the longer term, as the population ages and a massive increase in costs meets a shrinking labour force, we are going to need those sorts of policies, desperately. The only way the next generation will be able to afford this generation’s dotage is if they are much wealthier than we are. And the only way that will happen is if we start now to generate much faster rates of annual productivity growth, and go on doing so, year after year, for the next several decades.
Measured against that benchmark, the Liberal platform starts to look more alarming. The Family Pack of social benefits, for students, pensioners, caregivers and so on, may be delightful ideas in themselves. But they come unaccompanied by any comparable concern with producing the wealth to pay for them. .
The document reveals throughout a vision of the economy as a thing, a lump of clay to be pushed, prodded, and massaged to the designs of its government makers — not an interconnected network of millions of individuals, each with their own agendas, values and interests, connected by prices and disciplined by competition, and vastly unknowable to any planner or architect. The latter view would tend to see the productivity question as a matter of allowing individuals greater freedom to innovate, by lowering taxes on investment, and giving them no option but to do so, by lowering barriers to competition. The Liberal approach is rather to offer up yet another program, an Innovation and Productivity Tax Credit, on the theory that a) we don’t have nearly enough of those already, and b) innovation comes from the Canada Revenue Agency.
We shall see where all this leads. The NDP have yet to release their platform, but will presumably feel compelled, in view of this overt attempt by the Liberals to poach their voters, to top them. And when, after the election, these two parties came to negotiating the terms on which the one would support the other, we may hazard a guess the resulting document will not be more pro-growth than this one.
By Aaron Wherry - Sunday, April 3, 2011 at 11:19 AM - 74 Comments
The Liberals have now released—and are currently presenting for television and online audiences—their election platform.
That’s our election pledge to you: a government that respects our democracy and strengthens equal opportunity for every man, woman and child in this incredible country. When each of us gets a chance to succeed, we all succeed together.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 12:26 PM - 15 Comments
The Liberals made note this morning of the similarity between the title of today’s Throne Speech and the title of former Australian prime minister John Howard’s election platform in 2004. That similarity perhaps being noteworthy because of this. And this.
All of which might make it worth actually reading Howard’s 2004 platform, then comparing and contrasting with what we hear these next two days. So here that is. Continue…
By Andrew Coyne - Wednesday, October 8, 2008 at 12:17 AM - 36 Comments
The Conservative platform is mostly a damp squib, more or less by design. Or at any rate they’re trapped: if they were to put more in it at this late date, they open themselves to charges of panicking, making it up as they go along etc. — the very thing they’re trying to hang on the opposition.
Much of it is old news, having been unveiled already in the course of the campaign (or indeed announced in previous budgets). Some of it is wildly wrong — adding yet another regional development agency, pouring yet more subsidies into the auto and aerospace sinkholes, banning bulk water exports — and lots else is just unspeakably trivial: banning fees for unsolicited text messages, cracking down on tampering with gas pumps, and of course, “setting a minimum package size for cigarillos.”
But amidst all the familiar micro-promises and useless chaff, there are a couple of gems. I love the pledge to abolish tariffs on imported machinery and equipment — timely, useful and a much more market-friendly way to help manufacturers than subsidies. And naturally I’m excited about this:
A re-elected Conservative Government led by Stephen Harper will work to eliminate barriers that restrict or impair trade, investment or labour mobility between provinces and territories by 2010. In 2007, the government announced that it was prepared to use the federal trade and commerce power to strengthen the Canadian economic union. Since that time, we have seen progress among the provinces and territories in strengthening the existing Agreement on Internal Trade. We hope to see further progress, but are prepared to intervene by exercising federal authority if barriers to trade, investment and mobility remain by 2010. [Emphasis added.]
I have not seen them attach a deadline to this promise before. This makes concrete and real what had previously only been a statement of intent. It’s the single most significant thing in the platform, and if acted upon, could be the Harper government’s most important legacy. Continue…