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Thursday, January 25, 2007

New Conservative Slogan: "A Promise Made is a Promise Broken"

Saskatchewan Finance Minister, Andrew Thomson was recently quoted saying the “federal government appears to be using western oil money to buy votes in Quebec”. To that I’d like to say that the current government is also using eastern oil money to finance the same morally reprehensible purchase.

For two election campaigns in a row Steven Harper promised Canadians a modified equalization formula that excluded non-renewable resource revenues. He signed a letter saying exactly that and sent it to the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador. He made the same promise to the premier of Saskatchewan and he even said it a third time in correspondence with former Alberta premier Ralph Klein. (Is three strikes and you’re out a legal argument? Maybe it should be.)

In a trial balloon floated by his government last week Harper said good-bye to yet another election promise (remember income trusts?). Now, for your voting pleasure we unveil the new Stephen Harper, a man who hopes to win the hearts of Quebec voters by embarking on a vote buying spree. Promise or no promise, it looks like non-renewable resource revenue is back in the equalization mix. Rather than live up to his written promises to the provincial leaders, and more importantly the voters, Harper has taken a long look at his poll numbers and realized he needs to shore up support in Quebec. Essentially the rest of the Country can go straight to hell.

For months the premiers of Ontario and Quebec have been screaming that non-renewable resource revenues (which they have few of) are no different than revenues from manufacturing and other industries (which they have a plenty of) and as such those revenues should be included in the formula. Not true and no matter how long they chant that mantra it doesn’t make it any truer.

There is a big difference between the two types of revenue and I’ll tell you what it is. We hear all the time about the oil “industry” or the gas “industry” or the mining “industry” but these terms are misleading. Yes, technically they are industrial sectors but they aren’t really the same as other industries because they’re very limited in how long they provide any real benefit. That’s the crux of the problem for resource based economies and it’s a difference some premiers don’t want to admit.

For example, while the auto or textile industries of Ontario and Quebec can potentially provide revenues forever and a day, once an oil well or mineral deposit is tapped out so is the revenue it generated and the jobs it created. This means that resource based economies, like that of Newfoundland and Labrador, have a very small window of opportunity to capitalize on the money generated by those resources. They have to use as much of that revenue as possible, while it’s available, in order to diversify their economy and pay down debts. Once the resources are gone, or if Ottawa claws back those revenues through equalization, what future is there for the people of that province and, by extension, what future is there for Canada as a successful nation?

Think about it. The prosperity of Canada isn’t generated by Ottawa. Success is based on the value of the combined economies of the provinces and territories. If a province prospers so does the nation as a whole, but if a province is denied its best and perhaps only opportunity to grow, the entire nation suffers as a result because it has to continue to help support that province. Don’t we all want to see every province in Canada build strong diversified economies that allow them to add to the overall strength of the Country?

The concept is not a new one and apparently Stephen Harper is quite familiar with it or he wouldn’t have made the promise he did. The approach has been proven in places like Ireland where, not so long ago, the economy was essentially in the toilet. Unemployment soared and out migration was the only thing keeping local airlines in business. Now, thanks to funds made available through a lengthy “holiday” from equalization claw backs (or at least their version of the scheme) Ireland’s economy is one of the brightest lights in Europe and growing at an amazing rate.

I can’t even imagine the balls it must take to put a promise in writing to the leaders of at least 3 provinces, promote it to voters for years, know full well it’s in the best interests of the nation, yet go ahead and sell the Country down the river anyway for a few votes. It’s amazing Harper can even keep a straight face, but if it’s any consolation I doubt it’ll work for him.

As much as the government of Quebec may be on side with this and as much as Stephen Harper believes the people of Quebec will fall in line as well, I don’t think they’re that dumb. I predict Quebec voters will see through this scheme to buy them off in the same way Harper’s “nationhood” motion was meant to do the same thing. I predict that in the end Harper’s Conservatives will actually capture fewer seats in Quebec than they did in the last election.

Adding to Harper’s election woes, all of his own doing by the way, is the fact that after the equalization scam and income trust lies, he can no longer claim, that “A promise made is a promise kept”. Cracks are starting to appear in his traditional western support base and the cross Country campaign by Saskatchewan’s Lorne Calvert and Newfoundland and Labrador’s Danny Williams to “spread the truth about the lies” may all combine to mean a very short future for this Conservative government.

The reality is such that Harper and his Conservatives might even fall when they introduce the budget containing their newly revamped equalization plan. I doubt it though, since most of the MPs on the Hill are from Ontario and Quebec, two provinces that eagerly support inclusion of non-renewable resource revenues. If the plan passes some provinces will be hurt and the nation itself will have to live with the consequences but if it fails to pass the result may be as bad. Failure to implement a revamped equalization plan now will likely mean the people of Canada will have to once again sit back and watch the governments of Ontario and Quebec, along with their federal MPs, do their best to pick the carcass of the Country even cleaner than anyone could ever have imagined possible. Nice legacy Steve.


Anonymous said...

It the Conservative party of canada, or at least the version led by harper is finding out how the game is played. Make promises to get elected, then once elected break promises when it is to your advantage (ie. when those adversly affected command a less than significant number of seats). Harper is the same guy felt that Atlantic Canada had a culture of defeat, or words to that effect. I guess he see's no problem with adding fuel to that particular fire now that he is the Prime Minister.

Actually, to be fair, Harper hasn't done anything to counteract the Atlantic accord agreement to this point. We shall see how this all plays out in the very near future.

Artfull Dodger

Anonymous said...

You're right "Artful". Harper hasn't done it yet and reports say he may not. It's beginning to look like he blinked on the non-renewable issue. Maybe now that NL, Sask, BC and Alberta are all on side Harper is starting to worry.

RE: the culture of defeat comment he made, a lot of people crapped on him for that but he wasn't completely off base. The full story though is that any defeatest attitude or apathy (and it does exist) stems from years of being beaten down by the Canadian wolf. You can only get knocked down so many times before you begin to think it isn't worth getting up any more.

Anonymous said...

I read a news report saying the same thing. Harper may have blinked. I hope so. He wants votes in Quebec but a handful of new seats in Quebec are not much good if he loses them in AB, Sask, NL and BC.

Anonymous said...

The thing is, other than places like NL and Sask the public doesn't really know or care much about equalization formulas. That means using equalization to win over Quebec voters isn't a good route. They have other priorities. On the other hand it's a great way to piss off voters in the NL and out west.

Anonymous said...

Well, the interesting thing about all of this, is that we see how Harper truely thinks. The fact is, Harper is reigned in a little because he heads up a minority government, he has to watch his step, and he has to be carefull not to upset his base. Should he get in next time with a majority, we could see an unbridled/emboldened Harper, and that could have interesting consequences for us all!

Artfull Dodger

Anonymous said...

Promises in Canada are only kept on a per capita basis.