Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Harper charts Conservative course for ship of state.

Ivison could have mentioned that Harper also wanted to get rid of all the pesk parliamentary committees that caused him to issue directives on how to sabotage them. Also, the great helmsman who wants an elected Senate wants to pack it with Conservative appointees before the next session. Harper wil have to squeeze the civil service and wreck their pensions, do away with entitlements in the name of reducing the deficit. This will all have to be done while producing the least fuss possible. We will have to wait and see how much Harper is willing to cut. Certainly he will need to keep his eye on the polls or perhaps he will just do his duty and collect his reward after he is defeated with some nice job or jobs in the private sector.

Harper charts conservative course
PM preparing his government for fiscal prudence

John Ivison, National Post

Stephen Harper sees nothing wrong with power, as long as he is the one wielding it. He once said governments that avoid dissent rapidly lose their moral authority to govern. He doesn't think that any more.

He'd clearly prefer not to have to defend himself against accusations of war crimes from opposition MPs over the Afghan detainee issue while the world is watching the Vancouver Olympics. But that doesn't mean he is dissembling when he says the main reason he prorogued Parliament was the need to "recalibrate" the government's agenda.

The Cabinet shuffle Mr. Harper announced yesterday adds weight to the idea that the government is using the extended parliamentary break to gird itself for the period of fiscal restraint to come.

The mandate letters circulated to ministers by Mr. Harper before Christmas make clear that this time should be used to come up with low-cost policies to address the government's outstanding commitments.

The Treasury Board has traditionally been seen as backwater and the job of president a form of purgatory for errant ministers. In reality it is an incredibly powerful Cabinet committee that controls the public service and, consequently, the government of Canada. Since the Prime Minister has already ruled out tax increases and cuts to provincial transfers, the public sector is going to be the source of future cost savings. This explains why one of the government's most senior and highly regarded ministers, Stockwell Day, has been handed the spending reins. Officials were at pains to point out that the former Alberta treasurer has not been demoted.
With nearly one-third of his Cabinet in new jobs, Mr. Harper was smart to give ministers six weeks to master their new briefs before they face enemy fire in Question Period.

As we approach Saturday's fourth anniversary of Mr. Harper's 2006 election victory, he has now put in place his first truly conservative government -- that is a ministry that has been told to limit spending increases to a rate lower than its Liberal predecessor. The Conservatives will spend $50-billion more this year than they did when they entered government. Program spending has risen at an annual average clip of 5.9%, even if this year's exceptional stimulus package is removed from the equation, compared to the Liberal average of 2.9% through the Chretien-Martin years.

Stephen Harper has been accused of trampling democracy, of eroding democratic accountability and avoiding troublesome issues in the House of Commons. There's no doubt that his views on the primacy of Parliament have evolved since he became Prime Minister -- he now seems to think that Guy Fawkes was on the right track.

But the Afghan detainees issue wasn't hurting his government badly enough to risk the backlash against prorogation. Rather, the Prime Minister should be taken at his word when he says he is preparing his government to confront unequivocally the fiscal anxieties of the age. There will be blood.


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