Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty showed up last week at the Economic Club of Toronto and waxed lyrical about Canada's economic outlook. Actually, he didn't spend much time talking about the future. Instead, he launched into an attack on the opposition Liberals. His speech left his former colleague, Garth Turner, furious. "In the most partisan speech I have ever heard a finance minister give," Turner wrote in his blog, "the guy said -- flat out -- that the Liberals would raise the GST, usher in a massive increase in the gas tax and max out the country's credit card."
To be fair, Flaherty has not yet put this year's bills on plastic. However, as he is fond of reminding his audiences, the cupboard is now bare. Earlier this year, when he was engaged in a rhetorical battle with Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty, Jeffrey Simpson wrote in The Globe and Mail: "In the war of words between the Harper Conservatives in Ottawa and the McGuinty Liberals in Toronto, please remember one salient fact: The Harper government and finance minister Jim Flaherty inherited a wonderful surplus and a declining debt from the outgoing federal Liberals; the McGuinty government inherited a big deficit from Conservative Ernie Eves and his finance minister, Mr. Flaherty." We have been down this road before.
If Flaherty's speech illustrated anything, it's simply that he likes to ignore salient facts. As Les Whittington reported in The Toronto Star, the Bank of Canada has concluded that "the economy is barely limping along in the April to June period and will grow by a weak 1.4% for the year as a whole." But Flaherty refused to acknowledge that things were less than bright. He "stressed that no one is predicting a decline of output in Canada." Once again, he ignored the news from the province whose finances he used to steward -- even as General Motors was about to announce the closing of an engine plant in Windsor, with the attendant loss of 1,400 jobs.
Flaherty has known considerable success in his life. A native of Montreal, he graduated from Princeton and Osgoode Hall, where -- after receiving his law degree -- he became a personal injury attorney. But often the price of success is that, as one rises up the ladder, one spends less and less time with the common folk -- the kind of people who sat high up in the cheap seats at the old Montreal Forum, where Mr. Flaherty used to watch his hometown Canadiens play hockey.
He clings to a vision which has long since been discredited. His solution for all economic problems is to cut taxes. The consequences of such a simplistic policy are all around us. The fools (who have an aversion to facts) have been in charge for sometime now -- a phenomenon Mr. Flaherty fails to appreciate. He appears to enjoy the company of fools more than the company of the folks in the cheap seats.