Government right to wait, but wrong to play politics

Ottawa - "Énoncé économique" et crise politique

There may be good reasons to end the $1.95-per-vote subsidy taxpayers give to our federal political parties. But in trying to abolish the subsidy at a time like this, the Conservative government was guilty this week of mere bullying. Now the whole country may have to pay a high price for their mistake.
Their bluff called by the opposition, the Conservatives yesterday postponed the measure - and may abandon it. But now the other parties, scenting blood in the water, are talking about toppling the Conservatives and forming some kind of coalition. We can imagine few worse ideas.
The over-caffeinated opposition seems eager to subject us to weeks of political tumult and improvisation - in the name of economic stability. We hope Prime Minister Stephen Harper's comments last night have deflated the opposition's balloon; this hare-brained notion should be abandoned.

Even if the Conservatives do weather this self-inflicted crisis, it has pulverized the daydream of all-party co-operation, and revealed the ruthless self-interest of all parties. There's no denying that the Conservatives brought this upon themselves. They didn't mention the change in party funding in the campaign. Why is it so urgent now?
The opposition parties, who need the money more than the Conservatives do, responded by putting their finances ahead of the national interest. And they sank to laughable over-reaction: Jack Layton cited an "attack (on) democracy." Liberal Denis Coderre called the measure a "denial of democracy." What self-important nonsense.
The opposition seemed more energized by the fate of their own annual bailout from taxpayers than by the rest of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's financial statement. They should at least have had the decency to make more fuss about the planned pre-emptive temporary ban on public-service strikes, a wholly unnecessary measure.
As advertised, Flaherty offered no major new spending. But he did signal that when the downturn really reaches Canada, he will run a deficit, trying to spend his way out of the doldrums. The opposition grumbled - Layton demanded "an immediate stimulus package to attack the recession" - but Flaherty is right to wait, for two reasons:
First, our economy is so intertwined with the Americans' that until we know what measures will follow Barack Obama's inauguration, it's silly for us to act alone. Industry Minister Tony Clement went to Washington to co-ordinate a trans-border auto-sector bailout; he was told to call back later.
Second, and more importantly, Canada at present has no real economic crisis. Storm clouds can't be denied, but right now there's not much that demands fixing. Our banks are stable and actually increasing their lending. Federal tax cuts and higher payouts to the provinces have already provided permanent stimulus. Sales by wholesalers actually went up in September, the last period measured. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development says our jobless toll will hit 7.5 per cent by 2010, worse than the current 6.2 per cent - but lower than any year in the 1990s.
Nobody doubts that economic trouble is coming, but firing blindly at an unseen enemy will only waste ammunition. Until we have a better sense of the depth and the nature of the inevitable slowdown here, how can Ottawa respond to it?

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