The case for a Tory majority

2 mai 2011 - Harper majoritaire

Conservative leader Stephen Harper speaks during a campaign stop in Brampton, Ontario, Friday, April 29, 2011.
_ Photograph by: Aaron Lynett, National Post

This week Stephen Harper told supporters in Waterloo that what Canadians want is a strong economy, job creation and an affordable public service. Hear, hear. Is his party the one that can deliver on this straightforward goal? We believe so.
Harper's Conservatives have staked this campaign on their economic management, which has delivered the country through the most challenging times in a generation. They are running on a prudent platform that stresses deficit reduction and postpones promises until the budget returns to balance.
When the debt crisis of 2008 hit, the government acted. It made available $75 billion to purchase mortgage debt to keep the lending market moving, and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty met with G7 finance ministers to develop an action plan to preserve the global economy.
The government stumbled with its rosy fiscal update that fall, but after the sobering experience of near-death by coalition, it acted decisively. The federal stimulus program shovelled $45 billion into the economy with remarkable speed and transparency, impressing even Canada's stingy Auditor General, Sheila Fraser. Auto makers were bailed out in co-ordination with the Obama administration, and are now beginning to pay that money back.
The government facilitated the harmonization of consumption taxes with the provinces, introduced tax-free savings accounts, and tightened mortgage lending requirements. It has acted to get its own and our financial houses in order. Flaherty and his Bank of Canada governor, Mark Carney, have garnered international kudos for Canada's handling of the global recession.
The alternative to a Conservative majority government is murky at best. NDP Leader Jack Layton is running a very strong campaign. The latest poll has the party in a solid second place.
The NDP surge could be a mirage, but Layton would be a refreshing change as Opposition leader. To form the government? That's another matter. With an expensive platform and thin ranks in terms of experienced, cabinet-material members, Canadians should worry the New Democrats would be in over their heads, even with Liberal support.
Layton's suggestion Thursday that he would consider regulating the price of gasoline is just one example of the party's tenuous relationship with reality. He would attempt to cut greenhouse-gas emissions with a cap-and-trade regime but pretends his base of "working families" won't have to pay more for a fill-up, preferring to invoke the price-gouging bogeyman rather than acknowledge market forces.
As for the Liberals, they have clearly been rejected by voters in this election. Michael Ignatieff has run a mostly gaffe-free campaign, but if he has a vision for Canada, he has not impressed it upon the nation. The Liberals' "family pack" of programs hits a few of the right notes. Supporting home care and drug coverage, for example, could help take the load off hospitals. But the Liberal "education passport" is a costly handout.
The Liberal platform features tens of billions in new spending when cutting will be required to balance the budget. And hiking the corporate income tax rate as they propose is not the best way to raise revenue. Ignatieff hasn't exactly channelled the budget-balancing Paul Martin in the campaign.
The Conservatives' record on accountability is a serious sore point. Facing three left-of-centre parties in Parliament, Harper has chosen to bully his way through rather than negotiate. His relationships with armslength agencies and officers of Parliament have often been hostile. The decision to make the long-form census voluntary was plain dumb. The handling of CIDA funding for Kairos simply baffling. The confrontation with Parliament over Afghan detainees unnecessary. If Harper didn't want to give Kairos $7-million, he should have just said so. Only this government could get in such trouble not spending the taxpayers' money.
Should the Conservatives be rewarded for the failure of the last Parliament with an increased mandate? In an ideal world, perhaps not. But the punishment for contempt of Parliament was to lose the confidence of the House. Outside the parliamentary district, voters have had to assess it as one issue among many. Considering the Chrétien and Mulroney governments that preceded this one were plagued by scandal, voters must see little to be gained on that score by throwing over the Conservatives for yet another new government.
And there could be much to lose. The NDP surge should sharpen the decision in the election for voters. A coalition is certainly legitimate in our parliamentary system, but not ideal in the circumstances. Harper has committed to supporting employers and cutting the deficit. The economy is leading G7 nations in growth. While much of the recovery is due to factors out of the government's control, the things it can do it has done well.
A Conservative majority would avoid months or years of parliamentary drama and guide the country on a prudent fiscal path. While no individual can choose to vote for a majority, we can certainly endorse a return to political stability.

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