Monday, 29 December 2008

THE Christmas Present for Canada

The Christmas present that Canada needs this year -- and needs desperately -- is a Parliament that works. It would be a Parliament which deals with the real needs of real people in a difficult time.

That depends on Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He’s the guy from Toronto who is part egghead economist and part ideological pit bull. I admire and respect a person of strong convictions, who stands by his convictions. My admiration disappears when those convictions begin to hurt people. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister is so full of what’s (ideologically) right that sometimes he doesn’t understand what’s good, necessary, practical, and helpful.

After applying his ideology to disrupt our 39th Parliament, he went to the Governor General asking for a federal election, because Parliament had become “dysfunctional.” In October’s election, the non-progressive Conservatives got about 170,000 fewer votes than in January, 2006. They enjoy the support of only one voter out of five.

During that election, the Prime Minister kept arguing the fundamentals for Canada’s economy are strong. But by election time, the Toronto stock market had fallen from its high of 15,156 in June to 9,955. That’s a drop of 34 per cent. Now, he’s “very worried” about Canada’s economy. That's quite the switch.

After the election, Harper told a Tory policy convention that the party would have to be less ideological and more practical. Yet the financial update the new Parliament received was really not practical -- it didn’t do much to solve Canadian’s problems. And it was extremely ideological. Probably the most ideological item was the plan to cut off federal funding to political parties. It was an attempt to undercut the opposition. But more important, it was an attempt to limit public discussion of important national issues. The move created a huge political backlash, which could have ended Harper’s government, had the Governor General not bailed him out.

Now Harper and his helpers are consulting people. The Finance helper, Jim Flaherty, is asking for time to put something together, though most other world governments have already taken strong action. The time for consulting, Mr. Flaherty, was in September and October -- the time your boss was wasting on an election.

Mr. Flaherty needs to develop a wide-ranging proposal to help stabilize our economy. And the proposal must help to stabilize peoples’ lives, too. There must support for some major sectors -- manufacturing (including automobiles), forestry, fisheries, agriculture, mining, though the support will depend on the specific needs of the sector, and the companies in it. That aid must be dependent on keeping people employed. There must be help for small business owners, who also employ many people, and who are getting caught in a credit crunch. There must be lower taxes in the lowest tax bracket. And there must be help for individuals who lose their jobs -- in terms of longer and stronger unemployment benefits. These are necessary even if there has to be a budget deficit. This is the nature of a moral economy.

If Mr. Harper can get past his ideology and do the practical thing, we may have a workable solution which everyone in Parliament can support.

(These thoughts were originally published in The Western Producer, in a slightly different form.)

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