Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Rob Mitchell: A Liberal Budget in all but name.

This is from the Star.

This is one of many articles and blog entries that see the Harper budget as a sign that Harper has abandoned Conservative ideals. Certainly Harper has never been one to worry about principle when there is a choice between principles and power. However this is hardly a character trait reserved for Conservatives. It is characteristic of the vast majority of successful politicians.
Harper showed his conservative stripes in the economic update and he rightly saw that it almost cost him power. It is not surprising that he should bend somewhat to placate the Liberals. Also, most conservatives now see the need for a stimulus and government bailouts. Even George Bush the US arch conservative brought in bailout programmes.
There are still conservative elements in the budget. A good example is the plan to sell off Crown assets, a provision that was also in the economic update. The large deficits in upcoming years will give conservatives a prime excuse for cutting back the social safety net and other govt. programs that they dislike.

A Liberal budget in all but name
Feb 03, 2009 04:30 AM
Rob Mitchell
Call it a Conservative budget in name only. To be kind, it represents pragmatism over principle. To be blunt, it's the consequence of parliamentary blackmail perpetrated by the Liberals bearing a dagger called the coalition. An $85 billion ransom note paid to Michael Ignatieff by Stephen Harper. The price to stay in power.
This is a budget Ralph Goodale could have delivered in the dying days of Paul Martin's government when the Liberals were throwing money at anything and everything in a desperate bid to keep office. Now the Tories are in a similar fix employing the same tactics, this time to appease the opposition Liberals, as much as assuage the fears of an electorate under siege in a recession.
Everything has come unhinged, the consequence of a grievous error in judgment when the government sought to strip political parties of their $1.90-per-vote electoral subsidy. Such a small sum of money set in motion a series of events that has translated into a spending spree of unprecedented proportions. Yes, it's about the economy, but the subtext says so much more about its reckless composition.
Jim Flaherty may hold the purse strings, but the tourist who would be king is declaring he now calls the shots. With ceremony befitting the levee du roi of Louis XIV, Michael Ignatieff ascended the stage of the National Press Theatre to pass judgment on the fate of the Harper government. Reporters played behaved like courtiers as the unelected leader offered a stay of execution to the Prime Minister. The Star ran a five-column picture of the Russian prince as he strode across Parliament Hill for his date with destiny. He deserves praise for his masterful manipulation of the media and the sense of "event" he brought to the occasion.
How big of Ignatieff then to put the Prime Minister on "probation." He would determine, in the months to come, based on a series of "report cards," whether the Conservatives can continue to govern or he will force a confidence vote. His language and demeanour were in keeping with one who has not strayed far from the Harvard lectern.
Credit Ignatieff for at least reading the budget. NDP Leader Jack Layton denounced the document before it was even tabled and Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe, not surprisingly, condemned it for not doing enough for Quebec. If only a trip to Woodbine was so predictable.
Given the talk of co-operation and resolve to relieve the myriad dilemmas plaguing our economy, the rhetoric of the opposition leaders seems profoundly insincere and self-serving. Sadly, when the economy demands that our politicians put partisan brinksmanship aside and work co-operatively, there's little evidence it will happen. The NDP has even launched attack ads against the Liberals.
For all the sabre-rattling leading up to the budget, Ignatieff beat an opportunistic retreat at the 11th hour. He offered nothing of substance at his news conference. "We will be watching like hawks to make sure the investments Canadians need reach them." The cat salivating outside the mouse hole, waiting to pounce when the polls are right.
Instead, Ignatieff laid out a blueprint for a series of quarterly mini fiscal updates he will impose on the government starting in March. Markers in the sand where we will go through this pins-and-needles exercise all over again. Another election seems inevitable, likely next fall.
Ignatieff has accused the Conservatives of being "reckless, arrogant and short-sighted." Perhaps he should look in the mirror and actually put the interests of Canadians ahead of his own political ambitions. He won't: He's had his first taste of power.
Rob Mitchell was a senior aide to former premier Ernie Eves. His column appears every other week.

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