Why the PM must persist

Coalition BQ-NPD-PLC

Terence Corcoran, National Post - The Tories and the Prime Minister must seize the moment. It is a rare opportunity that could be the road to a Tory majority. More importantly, they must do so for the good of the Canadian economy.
Let me explain. Into the grand fable of their attempt to take control of Ottawa, the opposition coalition and its backers have woven an imaginary tale of Tory economic negligence. They were at it again yesterday in the House of Commons and last night in Liberal leader Stephane Dion's address to the nation, repeating claims that the Harper government's economic plan leaves Canada's economy sailing rudderless into an economic hurricane.
There is no substance to the Dion coalition's alleged reasons for existence, no basis for its false claims of looming economic peril and job losses due to Conservative policy. Nor is there much truth in the media's caricature of Stephen Harper as an arrogant strategic dolt whose monumental economic and political blunder has plunged his government, the country and the economy into a crisis.
The whole production is a page from the work of the greatest academic authority on the subject, Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt, author of the 2005 best-seller, On Bullshit. Liars, says Prof. Frankfurt, need to know the truth. Bullshitters, interested solely in advancing their own agenda, have no use for the truth. They just make things up to win over their audience.
For the "truth," here, we need to look to the actual content of the Tory plan, the vilified fiscal and economic update unveiled last week by the Finance Minister.
It is a political fiction and an ideological gambit to claim that Jim Flaherty's update was an empty effort in the face of crisis.
Nobody much reads fiscal updates, and Mr. Flaherty's effort may well be the least read document in Canadian financial history. It fell to the floor and was trampled into oblivion by the hysterical misrepresentations of Mr. Dion, Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe.
It may not be the big-spending interventionist document preferred by the Opposition.
But it most certainly can be seen as a solid and appropriate economic statement, a reasonable pre-budget agenda that shows Ottawa has a steady and systematic approach to policy.
The Flaherty update contained ideas on taxes, spending, infrastructure, deficits and government waste that are sound conservative policy options. It was reasonably based on actual economic forecasts rather than the calamitous and opportunistic speculations of opposition politicians who are looking for a new excuse to bring back massive government spending.
Let's review some examples: The claim that the Conservatives have ignored infrastructure is plainly false. Thegovernment has increased infrastrucure transfers to the provinces to more than $6-billion this year (see graph at right), and promised more to come, but based on projects that warrant immediate attention and can be started up on short notice.
The update reinforced the government's plan, already negotiated with the largest federal union of civil servants, to keep wages under control. Government spending would continue to be overseen with an eye to reducing costs. Savings of $2-billion from improved management of spending, and sales of government assets, would increase economic opportunities.
As for deficits, Mr. Flaherty was careful, and appropriately so: "To the extent that budget actions to protect the economy or a further deterioration in economic circumstances lead to a deficit, the government will ensure that the deficit is temporary." Here's are some notes on what the update said, not what the opposition coalition says it said: Infrastructure "The federal government will work with provinces and territories to expedite infrastructure projects and accelerate the uptake of federal infrastructure funding."
Equalization "Equalization is being put on a sustainable growth path. The Canada Health Transfer and the Canada Social Transfer will remain unchanged and continue to grow as before." Asset sales "In some cases, the most efficient use of taxpayers' resources may be to sell the asset to a private sector entity that is better placed to create economic value. The government would also consider the sale of real property when this would result in important economic development."
These are not the words and ideas of a government that is neglecting its economic and fiscal obligations. The update, if anybody would take the time to look at it, is as reasonable a fiscal document as any government could produce in the face of rapidly changing economic circumstances.
Good policy, however, may not be good politics in this case. It is easy to distort and sensationalize the looming economic challenges. The coalition has managed brilliantly to portray its own varied and extreme policy agendas as urgent and essential. But it is not what Canada needs at this moment, and it is certainly not what Canadian conservatives would want.
Mr. Harper should play the rise of the coalition as an opportunity to achieve what he never managed to do through the election: galvanize the conservative base of his party. In an election, he would also reap the votes of millions of Canadians who, while not Conservatives, know what they want in sound fiscal and economic policy.

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