OPINION

Canadian Politics: Conservatives Sing The Same Old Song - Election Coming?

November 25, 2006
Richard Marcus

My goodness! You'd think after all these years conservative politicians would find something new to try and sell people. But they've been singing the same refrain since the early eighties, no matter how many times it's been proven to have a detrimental effect on society. Then again maybe they understand human nature and selfishness better than liberals give them credit for.

More then twenty years since it was first introduced the good old trickle down effect still remains the popular economic theory among politicians of the right. Cut taxes and watch the economy grow as those with more spend it and encourage job growth.

Cut taxes and regulations for corporations and watch them create more jobs to hire more people to spend more money to keep making the economy grow, which will create more jobs. At the same time use government's revenues, which somehow still exist in spite of tax cuts, to pay down the nasty budget deficit.

Paying down the deficit, the theory goes will reduce the amount it costs the government to do business, and decrease the need for revenues. Why the heck does that result in another round of glorious tax cuts? Because the government won't need your hard earned dollars to pay off its debt.

It all sounds great doesn't it? and in the past it has proven popular with the economic pundits; bankers and business men, who have, of course, no vested interest in this type of budget. They in turn can be counted on to make statements to the press about "new economic realities", "global competition", and other dire sounding proclamations predicting doom and gloom if we don't "take our medicine now"

When that stick is combined with the carrot of tax cuts it usually ends up being a pretty fair vote getter, especially when the editorial boards of newspapers can usually be guaranteed to go along for the ride. It's become so good that even parties closer to the centre of things politically have been forced to adopt these "sensible" economic practices or worry about not being competitive where it counts, at the polls.

So it shouldn't really come as any surprise when the Conservative Party of Canada released it's fiscal update outlining that exact program. For those of you not familiar with how Canadian politics work, a fiscal update is sort of like a budget, but it's not. It's doesn't say anything of substance - like how anything is going to be paid for, how much anything will be cut by, what will replace the tax revenues, or any other trying thing that could resemble detailed plans.

They really have very little in common with a budget except for two things; one it is introduced to parliament and must be voted on like a budget as it is considered the financial blueprint for the country's economy, and two the vote taken on the update is always deemed a "vote of confidence". The latter is only important if the government is, like the current one, in a minority position where if they lose the vote they will have to call an election.

So, if in the past couple of years these updates have read quite a bit like election promises, or the opening salvos in campaigns it's because they have been. Last year at around this time the Liberal government barely survived the release of their update by giving the New Democratic Party assurances that instead of corporate tax credits in the millions of dollars the statement would outline how that money would be spent on social issues like housing, health care, and education.

The fact that the government went down to defeat shortly after, and very few of the measures in the update were enacted before the election which saw the change in government, meant it was all for nought anyway. But the Liberal party would probably have lost that election no matter what they had promised in their "update" so the document never ended up being of much relevance.

That's a major difference this time around. If the government goes down to defeat in the house on this issue (and that's a very real possibility with the Bloc Quebecois threatening to withhold support unless 4 billion dollars is earmarked specifically for use by Quebec, which has as much a likelihood of happening as ice skating in Hades) it will become a defining plank of the Conservative Party's election platform.

The Conservative Party has already shown it cut programming with the best of them, not only have they reneged on the Kyoto Accord but they have taken steps to eliminate almost every program associated with reducing green house gases. In one of the nastier moves I've ever seen, they are actually have people write reports detailing what saving will be realized by having the program they work for cancelled.

The majority of the programs affected are educational ones like teaching householders how to conserve energy, teaching farmers how to dispose of manures safely and cheaply so it doesn't impact the water table, and other things where the results won't be seen immediately, but will pay dividends in the long term. But all these guys can see is the short term, which means cutting costs today and to hell with tomorrow.

Of course the Conservative Party of Canada isn't alone in that thinking and they are counting on that. They are also counting on the fact that people won't remember what happened when they've lived under governments that practiced this style of economics before. Not only did social services like health care, housing, and education suffer; that more money ended up the hands of the people who already had lots while everybody else stayed in pretty much the same boat; and that somehow or other the debt kept rising.

As it stands right now I can't see any of the other three political parties being able to support this financial update that the Minister of Revenue has just issued. It flies too far in the face of the principles of both the Liberal party and the New Democratic Party, and it contains nothing special for Quebec, which will put the Bloc Quebecois in the opposition as well.

What it will come down now to is timing. The Liberal party is without a permanent leader and their convention is scheduled for January. The Conservatives can risk introducing the legislation now, force the vote, and try to catch the Liberals in disarray coming off a convention with a new leader either in the middle of an ongoing campaign or right at the start.

But the opposite side of that is the amount of publicity that person will have because of the convention. The "bounce" the Liberals receive in the polls could be enough to not only defeat the Conservatives, but also return them to a majority. In fact the worst thing that could happen for the Conservatives would be for a Liberal candidate to join the campaign a week or so late.

The New Democrats and the Bloc would be spending that time hammering away at the Conservatives, not having to worry about defending their plans to govern because neither of them will be have a hope of doing so, and weakening them in Ontario and Quebec where the Conservatives need to retain seats to keep their minority and gain quite a few to win a majority.

When the Liberal candidate joins the campaign, he will come across as a strong alternative to the Conservatives without even opening his mouth because they will have been on the defensive for the previous week In fact he may be able to get away with saying very little of substance his first week or so, as he focuses on introducing himself and slamming the Government.

By that time the campaign will be half over so when he introduce the Liberal, policies no matter how much the opposition chip away at it, they won't be able to erase his bounce unless he breaks the cardinal rule of politics and is found in bed with a dead human or a live animal.

Conservative insistence on playing the same tune over and over again, without even changing the lyrics that much, is beginning to become risky as people start to realize that the savings have to come from somewhere. They have already seen the quality of the Health Care system be eroded, public education be trivialized, and the Welfare Act of Canada be ignored or twisted.

While the federal government can talk all they want about those being provincial responsibilities, the majority of the money to pay for anything in this country still comes from federal coffers. The next election will most likely be fought over if not the direct terms of this financial update, than at least the philosophy behind it.

The Conservatives will play to everyone's baser instinct of more money in their pockets, while the remaining parties will work to remind them of how much that money actually costs. This should be a much more interesting election than last year's foregone conclusion of a Conservative minority. It may well decide the future of Canada for a good long time to come.

Richard Marcus is a long - haired Canadian iconoclast who writes reviews and opines on the world as he sees it at Leap In The Dark and Blogcritics
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Canadian Politics: Conservatives Sing The Same Old Song - Election Coming?

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