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Santa Harper’s candy cane economics

Canadians like ‘strong’ leadership in a troubled world, pollsters report. That means standing up to tyrants, autocrats, and bullies (except when on an important trade mission, of course.)

GATINEAU, QUE.—Prime Minister Stephen Harper is enjoying a mild resurgence in the polls, spurred, apparently, by his resolute response to global threats and his reputation for economic competence.
Canadians like “strong” leadership in a troubled world, pollsters report. That means standing up to tyrants, autocrats, bullies (except when on an important trade mission, of course.) It means shaking Vladimir Putin’s hand, but reluctantly, while ordering the flinty Russian imperialist to get his troops out of Ukraine.
It means scolding the colourfully-perverse human rights abusers of La Francophonie with an impassioned speech opposing forced marriages for girls. It means championing maternal and newborn health in Third World countries— important work and, like all global challenges, easier, somehow, than remedying the poverty afflicting many First Nations mothers and children in Canada.
The Harper foreign doctrine—the Responsibility to Object—also means sending a handful of outdated warplanes to help fight ISIS in Iraq. If need be, we could rent some boats and send naval assistance, too. And, of course, it means facing down those climate change nags at the United Nations, and growing world opinion, by refusing to restrict greenhouse gas emissions from the tarsands. That’s tough, bold leadership; it takes real focus to ignore the steady drip-drip of melting icecaps.
But elections are not won or lost on foreign issues. It is Harper’s masterful handling of the economy that has his opponents grinding their teeth and voters taking a second look.
Say this: he hasn’t bankrupted the country in his eight years in office—although, his belligerent advocacy on behalf of the tarsands isn’t getting pipelines built or oil flowing to Asia. And, oddly, not a dollar of a $200-million federal program to help Ontario’s devastated manufacturing sector has been spent, two years after the announcement. This is becoming a pattern: budgeted spending that, somehow, vaporizes before it reaches anyone’s wallet. Harper’s version of frugality?
He has also rescued us from deficits, albeit his own. After presiding over six, including the largest in our history, we are tantalizingly close to surplus, give or take a few unneeded tax breaks for the upper middle class (notably the $3-billion Family Tax Credit, that will benefit a mere 15 per cent of tax filers.)  
Harper’s policies alone didn’t cause deficits, of course; they were a response to the 2008 recession and external factors. He just made them worse with his pre-recession spending spree, compounded by welcome job-creating infrastructure projects (not counting that unwelcome gazebo in Tony Clement’s riding.)
Deficits are of greater concern to pundits, professors and politicians than to normal people, so they occupy an exaggerated importance in public discourse. If veterans services have to be slashed, 20,000 public servants laid off, coast guard stations closed and—this just in—federal funding for health research withdrawn, it is the price we pay for our profligacy. The price some of us pay.
The unemployment rate—something normal people do care about—is no better than when Conservatives took office. Youth unemployment averages 13 per cent, much higher in some places. Part-time work is the new norm, good jobs with liveable salaries and benefits—public service, anyone?—are disappearing.
Voters are best to trust their instincts, and check their basements, for a true picture of this government’s job creation record. It isn’t pretty—not that debt-ridden, unemployed university grads, or their parents, or the working poor, would be inclined to vote Conservative anyway.
In fact, who does belong to Harper’s phantom army?
The winners are financially comfortable, and complacent, including those who have benefited from the government’s wasteful, random, boutique tax credits for everything from public transit, to tools, to textbooks, to volunteer firefighting. Even then, the individual saving is trivial—too small to influence behaviour—and skewed towards those who can afford to pay tax advisors to sort through the complexity. Yet, overall, these credits drain the treasury of money that could be used in targeted, equitable and effective ways.
The sharpest critics tend to be conservatives—the C.D. Howe Institute, John Manley of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, bank executives—who argue that these credits clutter the system and reduce fairness.
Finance Minister Joe Oliver couldn’t care less what his old friends—or, his own finance department—say. His new Small Business Tax Credit will cost $550-million over two years and, far from creating jobs, could actually cost 9,000, according to the independent assessment of the Parliamentary budget officer.
“We don’t do analysis on every expenditure,” Oliver explained, adding that the Canadian Federal of Independent Business had already concluded this credit would be a “good news story” for small business.
So maybe the polls aren’t so mystifying. Maybe “competent” management doesn’t mean what it used to: careful stewardship of the money we send Ottawa, targeted spending to advance the public good. Maybe it means throwing small bags of loot to your friends, like candy canes from a Christmas float.
Susan Riley is a veteran political columnist.
sriley@magma.ca
news@hilltimes.com
The Hill Times

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Santa Harper’s candy cane economics

Canadians like ‘strong’ leadership in a troubled world, pollsters report. That means standing up to tyrants, autocrats, and bullies (except when on an important trade mission, of course.)

GATINEAU, QUE.—Prime Minister Stephen Harper is enjoying a mild resurgence in the polls, spurred, apparently, by his resolute response to global threats and his reputation for economic competence.
Canadians like “strong” leadership in a troubled world, pollsters report. That means standing up to tyrants, autocrats, bullies (except when on an important trade mission, of course.) It means shaking Vladimir Putin’s hand, but reluctantly, while ordering the flinty Russian imperialist to get his troops out of Ukraine.
It means scolding the colourfully-perverse human rights abusers of La Francophonie with an impassioned speech opposing forced marriages for girls. It means championing maternal and newborn health in Third World countries— important work and, like all global challenges, easier, somehow, than remedying the poverty afflicting many First Nations mothers and children in Canada.
The Harper foreign doctrine—the Responsibility to Object—also means sending a handful of outdated warplanes to help fight ISIS in Iraq. If need be, we could rent some boats and send naval assistance, too. And, of course, it means facing down those climate change nags at the United Nations, and growing world opinion, by refusing to restrict greenhouse gas emissions from the tarsands. That’s tough, bold leadership; it takes real focus to ignore the steady drip-drip of melting icecaps.
But elections are not won or lost on foreign issues. It is Harper’s masterful handling of the economy that has his opponents grinding their teeth and voters taking a second look.
Say this: he hasn’t bankrupted the country in his eight years in office—although, his belligerent advocacy on behalf of the tarsands isn’t getting pipelines built or oil flowing to Asia. And, oddly, not a dollar of a $200-million federal program to help Ontario’s devastated manufacturing sector has been spent, two years after the announcement. This is becoming a pattern: budgeted spending that, somehow, vaporizes before it reaches anyone’s wallet. Harper’s version of frugality?
He has also rescued us from deficits, albeit his own. After presiding over six, including the largest in our history, we are tantalizingly close to surplus, give or take a few unneeded tax breaks for the upper middle class (notably the $3-billion Family Tax Credit, that will benefit a mere 15 per cent of tax filers.)  
Harper’s policies alone didn’t cause deficits, of course; they were a response to the 2008 recession and external factors. He just made them worse with his pre-recession spending spree, compounded by welcome job-creating infrastructure projects (not counting that unwelcome gazebo in Tony Clement’s riding.)
Deficits are of greater concern to pundits, professors and politicians than to normal people, so they occupy an exaggerated importance in public discourse. If veterans services have to be slashed, 20,000 public servants laid off, coast guard stations closed and—this just in—federal funding for health research withdrawn, it is the price we pay for our profligacy. The price some of us pay.
The unemployment rate—something normal people do care about—is no better than when Conservatives took office. Youth unemployment averages 13 per cent, much higher in some places. Part-time work is the new norm, good jobs with liveable salaries and benefits—public service, anyone?—are disappearing.
Voters are best to trust their instincts, and check their basements, for a true picture of this government’s job creation record. It isn’t pretty—not that debt-ridden, unemployed university grads, or their parents, or the working poor, would be inclined to vote Conservative anyway.
In fact, who does belong to Harper’s phantom army?
The winners are financially comfortable, and complacent, including those who have benefited from the government’s wasteful, random, boutique tax credits for everything from public transit, to tools, to textbooks, to volunteer firefighting. Even then, the individual saving is trivial—too small to influence behaviour—and skewed towards those who can afford to pay tax advisors to sort through the complexity. Yet, overall, these credits drain the treasury of money that could be used in targeted, equitable and effective ways.
The sharpest critics tend to be conservatives—the C.D. Howe Institute, John Manley of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, bank executives—who argue that these credits clutter the system and reduce fairness.
Finance Minister Joe Oliver couldn’t care less what his old friends—or, his own finance department—say. His new Small Business Tax Credit will cost $550-million over two years and, far from creating jobs, could actually cost 9,000, according to the independent assessment of the Parliamentary budget officer.
“We don’t do analysis on every expenditure,” Oliver explained, adding that the Canadian Federal of Independent Business had already concluded this credit would be a “good news story” for small business.
So maybe the polls aren’t so mystifying. Maybe “competent” management doesn’t mean what it used to: careful stewardship of the money we send Ottawa, targeted spending to advance the public good. Maybe it means throwing small bags of loot to your friends, like candy canes from a Christmas float.
Susan Riley is a veteran political columnist.
sriley@magma.ca
news@hilltimes.com
The Hill Times

  

Parliamentary Calendar
Sunday, December 21, 2014
HILL LIFE & PEOPLE SLIDESHOWS
Maher, Den Tandt's Barrack Hill Balladeers perform at Tunes for Ottawa Food Bank shindig at D'Arcy's, Dec. 17 Dec. 18, 2014

Photograph courtesy of Dylan Robertson
D'Arcy McGees was packed on Wednesday night as Hill journalists, staffers. GR and PR folks came out to raise money for the Ottawa Food Bank.
Photograph courtesy of Mark Bourrie
Stephen Maher and Michael Den Tant performing alongside fellow Barrack Hill Balladeers at D'Arcy's Wednesday night.
Photograph courtesy of Stephen Maher
Mark Fraser and Bobby Watt start off the evening with Irish folk song Carrickfergus.
Embassy News Photograph courtesy of Laura Beaulne-Stuebing
Mark Fraser, Stephen Maher, Michael Den Tant and Celeste Côté.
The Hill Times photograph by Rachel Aiello
The Barrack Hill Balladeers had been practising for a while before their performance, said Stephen Maher. The crowd enjoyed them.

MICHAEL DE ADDER'S TAKE