Monday, June 15, 2009

Pull the plug, Iggy

I can't figure it out to be quite honest. Why is it taking so long for the Liberals to trigger an election, even though it would be the fourth one that we've had in the last five years? Stephen Harper has given his enemies all the reasons they need, and now that the Liberals are out of debt and actually have something of a war chest to play with, they have one more reason to demonstrate that it is the Grits who are the party of fiscal responsibility.

Ballooning the deficit to over fifty billion and just blaming it on the world economy is not good enough.
Michael Ignatieff has laid out four conditions for his party to support the "Blue Book," that is the discretionary appropriations, this coming Friday.
Here's how I see the issues.
1. Reforming EI
I personally think that working just 45 days in a non-seasonal work environment to qualify for unemployment benefits is ridiculous, but even crazier are the multiple rules that exist in different regions across the country. This leads to uncertainty, and justifiable accusations that the system is unfair for many if not most.
Ignatieff says he's willing to be flexible on the number, but there should be a reasonable offer from Harper to indicate that EI reform is going to be taken seriously. Of course, since the exhaustion of benefits leads necessarily to going on welfare, the provinces and territories need to be at the table. In many respects, the system is still designed for the 1940s when the sub national jurisdictions ceded unemployment insurance to the federal level -- and World War II ended 64 years ago.
2. More information about stimulus spending
Last week's publicity stunt with Conservative journalistic shill turned Senator Mike Duffy about how the stimulus money is being spent was inexcusable. Equally revolting is the claim that 85% of the stimuli have been spent. Many cities are saying they haven't seen any money, and that a lot of it is tied up in the usual red tape that the Cons promised they would eliminate.
We do need clarity on this. In particular, there are a lot of shovel-ready projects ready to go but the money must be made available. Otherwise, where is all that money going? Photo ops aren't going to do it. For example, dedicated transit lanes are being proposed for K-W and York Region, and new express streetcar lines for Hamilton, Ontario. There is no date certain for these projects to begin.
Incidentally, the Cons' claim that the money would dry up if there was a forced election is simply untrue. They can buy votes during an election using Governor General's Warrants, a reserve power of the Crown intended for emergency situations but which can be used during a prorogation or dissolution of a Parliament. Of course, it can backfire, but without such warrants the government would simply have to shut down all together -- tolerable in a presidential system like the US but intolerable in a parliamentary system where there must always be some kind of government operations.
3. Details on how to contain the deficit
During the 1990s, the Finance Department under Paul Martin had a plan to get the annual deficit down to 3% of GDP with an additional goal of getting the debt to below 60% of the GDP. The rationale was, once one got the debt below 60%, the economy would grow faster than the debt and we would be seen as prudent managers. Of course, the goal was more than met but only because of massive off-loading of programs to the provinces and territories which caused problems of their own. Still, something was done and the feds were lauded, as well as they should have been. While the targets set in retrospect seem weasel like, they were reasonable worst case scenarios in case the bottom fell out; this prudence was proven when the horror of 9/11 happened and we had a cushion to pay for security improvements as well as income tax cuts.
The Conservatives raised income taxes (before lowering them back to Liberal levels) and irresponsibly cut the consumption tax two percentage points, money that could have been used to fight the recession instead of having to go back to borrowings. In just one year, all the gains of the last several will have been lost and we'll be basically back to pre 9/11.
It's also worth pointing out the Conservatives under their rule have increased spending 25% percent and this was before the recession began to take hold last fall. No wonder they broke their own law and timed the election for when they did. Even Preston Manning sounded the alarm last week things are getting out of control. (Mr. Re-fooooom, who created the cause of eliminating deficits in the first place and made it a mainstream principle!)
Canadians don't want pie in the sky figures. They want a plan to get back into surplus as soon as possible. Nothing should be left off the table -- including tax increases, tax points or the various forms of revenue sharing; while respecting existing agreements that the Cons seems so willing to tear up.
4. The isotope shortage
This was a problem coming on for years, but the improvements being made to the reactors in Hamilton and Winnipeg won't even begin to cover the shortage. Now, Harper wants the feds to get out of the business all together, hoping Belgium and South Africa will pick up the slack.
That is simply unacceptable. While we have nuclear weapons capability and the isotopes for nukes as well as armored vehicles spiked up with depleted uranium can last for decades, the kinds used by medical facilities have a much shorter shelf life -- in some cases less than 10 hours. The alternates that are available, such as from the Hamilton facility, cost ten times as much even when available.
The reactor should have been replaced long ago, in fact should have been done when the Liberals were in power. That's no excuse, however, to just throw in the towel. We Canadians practically invented the nuclear business as we know it today; we should be using our ingenuity to solve the problem and build a new reactor that will be relatively low in cost and relatively goof-proof over its life.
I could see Harper giving way on EI, but there seems to be no movement at all regarding the last three. As weary as Canadians may be of elections, there may be no better time to get rid of Harper than now. My advice to Iggy: Pull the plug now.

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Anonymous said...

I think timing is the key. Ignatieff MUST provoke an election BEFORE September this year.

Why? That advertising guy who was just found guilty of fraud and was involved with AdScam is why.

His court date for sentancing is in September. His lawyer has said he is going to negotiate his client providing the names of the Liberals who accepted the AdScam cash in exchange for his client not having to serve jail time.

There were 11 Liberal candidates, some who are now MPs who were the recipients of AdScam money. Estimates were 40 million dollars. The party paid back only 1 million and the names of the candidates were never released.

When this happens in September the BLOC will clean up in Quebec UNLESS there is an election first, the Liberals take over power and then use this power to squash the advertising guy from naming names.

The old boy Liberals like Chretien know this. That is why they say Go NOW.

What do you think?

BlastFurnace said...

I'd have to agree on that one, Anon. Trouble is, the law only requires a minimum 35 day campaign, it does not say it has to be exactly 35 days.

Harper can ask the GG to set the date for Labour Day, which would give them plenty of time to mobilize and take advantage of the very issue you've brought up.

A defeat of the gov't on Friday should mean, by right, a July 27 election. Bring it on -- there's no better time than NOW.