Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Government By Obsession

When it comes to looking into the economic future, the Harper government's  record is nothing to brag about. And, in election years, the Harperite crystal ball is thoroughly unreliable. Consider, Scott Clark and Peter Devries write, what happened in 2008:

The November 2008 Economic and Fiscal Update forecast annual surpluses as far as the eye could see. Two months later this forecast was thrown into the trash. In response to the crisis Harper and Flaherty quickly discarded their Conservative orthodoxy and became temporary Keynesians. They introduced the largest stimulus budget ever, in an effort to increase economic activity. After that, deficits were recorded for seven consecutive years until, in this year’s April budget, Finance Minister Joe Oliver declared the government would finally register a surplus in 2015-16.

It's worth remembering that Harper and Flaherty became temporary Keynesians because they were a political minority. Who knows what they would have done if they had won a majority? Now fast forward to 2015:

The elimination of the deficit never had anything to do with good economic policy. The Conservative government’s sole economic policy objective has always been the elimination of the deficit. This is the only criterion it uses to judge its economic record; nothing else has mattered — not stronger economic growth, not increased job creation, not improved productivity, not saving the environment, not greater tax efficiency and tax fairness, and not strengthening federal-provincial and Aboriginal relations. The primary objective of the Harper government has always been to diminish the role of the federal government in economic policy. Eliminating the deficit no matter how small was critical to achieving that objective. 

Stephen Harper is obsessed with diminishing the role of the federal government. Period. Circumstances have nothing to do with what role the government should play. Therefore, economic data are meaningless to him:

Statistics Canada has reported that economic growth has declined for four months in a row (January to April). Private sector economists have now revised down their forecasts of real GDP growth for 2015 by about 0.6 per cent. Earlier this month, the IMF also cut its forecast for economic growth in Canada for 2015 from 2.2 per cent to just 1.5 per cent. Shortly thereafter the Bank of Canada cut its forecast for economic growth for this year to 1 per cent, while declaring the economy had contracted in the second quarter. That means Canada was in a “technical” recession in the first six months of the year.

Never mind that the latest data differ significantly from the data the April budget was built on. Besides, that budget was built on false premises to begin with:

The April budget was built on smoke and mirrors: overly optimistic economic growth and oil price assumptions; cutting the contingency reserve by two-thirds; selling shares in GM at fire sale prices; raiding EI revenues; and even booking “savings” from unilateral changes to federal employees’ sick leave benefits. Without these tricks the government could not have paid for the income tax cuts it announced last October and still have balanced the budget.

The facts don't matter. They have never mattered. It's called Government By Obsession.


Lorne said...

"Ideology all the time" would be an apt motto for this dysfunctional and dystopian government, Owen.

Owen Gray said...

Precisely, Lorne. What you see before you is the Closing of (Certain) Canadian Minds.

Unknown said...

Harpers constant rhetoric about being against deficits, while posting 7 deficits in a row and now in 2015 it looks like there will be 8 is like a thief who goes around lecturing people that stealing is wrong. Even one of their attack ads accuses Trudeau of not being concerned with deficits. Is this blatant lying or is Harper delusional? He thinks he can say whatever, regardless of the reality. I think this is just the tip of the iceberg regarding things that he's lying about. I like your quote today.

Owen Gray said...

My hunch is that Stephen Harper will never see a majority government again, Pam. I'm not sure, though, how long it will take to clean up the damage he's done.

Anonymous said...

this is where we must unite as canadians from coast to coast to coast and southern border and demand the disassembling of harper's reign of terror...

Anonymous said...

I don't think Harper really cares about balancing the books from the point of view of good fiscal management. The guy apparently has no qualms wasting public money either to benefit himself, his cronies or his wealthy base. A good fiscal manager of public money would obviously not have done the latter.

I think the balanced budget was simply a narrative that he thought he could use to fool enough people into believing that he is a good fiscal manager. And a balanced budget could always be claimed by cooking the books, if all else fails.

And with the NDP and Libs feuding and splitting the anti /Cons votes, Harper only has to fool a small number of people to gain another electoral victory. Besides, some people can be fooled all of the time.

The only way to know if the books had been cooked would be after a new government has taken over and audits the books. Which was how we in Ontario had found out that Flaherty/ Eve/ Harris had left a deficit of $6B while claiming that they had balanced the books.

However, by the time we subject the federal books to an audit, Harper would have been long gone. Like Harris and Eves in Ontario when we found out they had lied.

Owen Gray said...

The balanced budget was always a ruse, Anon -- a simple solution for simple minds. And, yes, unless we band together, he'll do us all in.

The Mound of Sound said...

Remember the term so popular in the 60s and 70s, Owen, "reactionary." Harper is a classic reactionary. He brings inconsistent ideological responses to problems that are almost always ineffective. There is no clear vision, just incoherence. Harper has never evolved past the petit fonctionnaire, larval stage. If you can't present coherent policy, you cannot govern for that is premised on informed consent of the electorate. You're left to merely rule them by manipulation and deceit. Apparently plenty of Canadians can't distinguish being ruled from being governed and they have no sense of the damage that inflicts on our democracy.

From what I've seen of him I think Mulcair won't be all that much different. As for Trudeau, I don't have a clue what, if anything, lies behind the messaging of his handlers.

Owen Gray said...

I have to confess that I'm not very hopeful, either, Mound. Harper has his list of enemies. He's willing to tear up the constitution in pursuit of them. But I hear no clarion calls from either Mulcair or Trudeau.

They say that the times have a way of producing the leaders we need. At the moment, I don't see them.

Scotian said...


I agree. The main reason the Libs are my preferred choice in the list of bad choices this year is that I believe they are the ones most likely to be able to do some of the needed process repair work thanks to their institutional and caucus members experience when it comes to running a federal government. This has been a case of believing more in the team than the leader himself, although I am not as convinced Trudeau is as much the sock puppet basket case that some appear to believe. As I have noted many times before when you have a bunch of bad choices you look for the least damaging and in this case of the big three who are clearly going to make up the next government (sorry MoS, your Greens are nowhere near that level yet and this election needs to be at least as much about the government replacing Harper as anything else IMHO) the Libs seem to me to be the ones best suited and prepared to deal with the absolute horror show we will see once Harper's Cone of Silence on the federal government is released.

Not to mention they have been the only party unlike the NDP to have made warning and informing us about the dangers of the Harper governing style and substance their consistent primary message since they last held government. That also counts for something with me, unlike the NDP who still spent more focus on beating on the Libs AFTER (2008,2011) they lost power instead of going after the current governing party despite that party being the much greater threat to their much self vaunted principles and values. Dippers like to say give us a chance we will be pure and good with power because we have no track record to show otherwise, yet their actions and decision over the past decade as first third party and then Official Opposition actually provides such a basis for judgment and evaluation and shows a very questionable track record on the judgment and management of power fronts.

Like you I wish I saw the leaders the times should be producing, but as I have said so many times before we deal with the reality we actually have, not what we wish we had.

Owen Gray said...

Some of the reforms Trudeau is suggesting are long overdue, Scotian. The Liberals have clearly chosen to go after old Progressive Conservatives. I'm not sure, however, that there are a lot of Progressive Conservatives left -- which speaks volumes about what Harper has done to a once proud party.

Scotian said...


It depends on how many that had stuck with Harper (especially in 2011 thanks to Ignatief) because they saw no better choice have realized that as bad as any of the prior Lib leaders may have been from their perspective the horse they backed turned out to be far worse. I think that is more where Trudeau is aiming, rather than finding the former PCPCers who just dropped out for a time. I am still convinced that centrists make up the largest plurality of our voting base, the question really is how many of them have finally seen the reality of where and who the centrists really are in the current context, and that I would have to argue is the Libs, even with their faults and issues.

Especially if as it is increasingly sounding like we have a 2 and a half month election cycle this time out it will be interesting to see whether Mulcair and the NDP peaked at the right time for them, or too early, and Trudeau having peaked and then taken his knocks becomes a comeback kid or not. A lot of what both Harper/CPC and Mulcair/NDP have been using to try and trash Trudeau/Libs with may also over time really resound with those centrists trying to finalize a decision. A lot of his "complicated" ideas and answers to fall into the more traditional centrist pragmatist way of thinking that used to be prevalent in our politics not so long ago, and I have to wonder how much it may end holding appeal, especially for disenchanted CPCers who are also uncomfortable with either Mulcair himself or elements of his party (the Quebec nationalist element for one, I don't imagine many older PCPCers like feeling they are repeating the Mulroney experiment in this again after how that went, and of course the old distrust on NDP economic and foreign policy grounds too).

The Libs still have a real chance here, and I am less than convinced that Mulcair and his NDP team can not only go this long a distance without making serious errors/openings for attack, but also whether they can withstand the higher specific policy scrutiny that inevitably comes within an election campaign when you are seen as a credible governing alternative which this time they will get in ways they never have before. They have gotten away with a lot of comforting sloganeering and the expensive promises, but given the current Canadian economic realities that could well come back to haunt them. Which also shows the Lib wisdom in not committing too much on the policy front until the election campaign so as to match promises with what is the current reality to increase fiscal respo0nsibility credibility, not a bad call at all seeing where things currently appear to sit.

I left a three part comment over at Kirbycairo's blog in his thread "The Conservative Party of Canada...(Really??)", and in it I go into a bit more of my current concerns with what the modern NDP is and the questions I have for them as a government that I suspect would also cross the minds of more than a few centrists trying to figure out where to go. I mention this because it has more than my usual rage on their choices of the past but also why I worry for them as a future government, so rather than repeat here I thought I'd point it out for you if you should so choose.

Steve said...

all Trudeau has to do is be credible and likeableand it will be a liberal landslide. Blue tories are angry.

Owen Gray said...

At the moment, the polls indicate that no party can form a majority, Scotian, and campaigns matter. I make no predictions this time around. All I know for sure is that, if Justin is going to blow his trumpet, now is the time. And time -- even in this long campaign -- is getting short.

Owen Gray said...

It will be interesting to see, Steve, if some of those blue Tories will follow their Alberta brethren and vote NDP.