Devon Black writes that the Harper government suffers from tunnel vision. It is focused on eliminating the deficit. Why? Because, these wise ones say, it will lead to lower taxes. But will it lead to a better Canada? And, to put that question in perspective, Black looks at the legacy of the recently departed everyman of Canadian politics, Ralph Klein:
One of Klein’s most striking successes was balancing the budget in 1995, a mere three years after he entered office as premier. In 1992, Alberta faced a $23 billion deficit. Klein oversaw major spending cuts, massive layoffs (including thousands of nurses) and substantial reductions in government services, all with the goal of eliminating that deficit.
He did put Alberta back in the black, and he did so two years earlier than promised. Still, it’s hard to see the elimination of the deficit as a legacy. Alberta is once again billions of dollars in the red, and is confronting the long-term consequences of Klein’s cuts.
Once the deficit was gone, it seemed that Klein didn’t have a grand vision of the Alberta that he hoped to create. Instead, his policies were sometimes reminiscent of the dog that, having caught a car, isn’t quite sure what to do next. Ralph bucks for everyone? Sure! After all, what else would we do with all that extra money?
Klein didn't have an answer to that question, and neither do his federal stepchildren:
Without an articulation of that vision, we’re reduced to watching a sort of “placeholder politics,” biding our time until the next election. Decisions are being made not in pursuit of a better Canada, but in pursuit of another election win. This leads to a degradation of both our politics and our policy.
Moreover, without an articulation of that vision, voters don’t have the opportunity to fully evaluate the options with which they are presented. What sort of Canada does abandoning the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, or eliminating the Experimental Lakes Area, or alienating First Nations people create? What is the Conservative vision for Canada, and are they achieving it?
Alberta is in worse shape today -- after Klein -- than it was before he became premier. And Canada will be in worse shape -- after Stephen Harper -- than it was before he arrived. The man can't see the forest for the trees.