Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Mr. Harper Moves Left -- Sort Of

The Harper government's budget surprised just about everyone -- not the least of whom were those who think of themselves as conservatives. Writing in The National Post, Andrew Coyne claims that he and his confreres have been conned. "In less than two years of this 'conservative' government, spending has climbed a historic $25 billion. Bear in mind: that's on top of the wild rise in spending during the Liberals' last term. The Tories have taken all of that fat, all of that waste and all of those hundreds of priorities -- and added to them."

Writing in The Globe and Mail, John Ibbitson declares that this is "a budget so Liberal, the Grits should sue." But, as usual, Jeffrey Simpson, also writing in The Globe, sees through the spin and knows to whom Harper is pitching. "The Harper Party [Simpson has not referred to them as conservatives for some time now] is not for everyone. It targets perhaps 40 percent of the electorate. It isn't interested in the regular CBC listeners and watchers, self defined urban elites, most media commentators, whining interest groups, Suzukians, big business, civil servants, or anyone keenly interested in foreign affairs." No, their target audience consists of farmers, retirees, "middle income families living in suburban or exurban areas" and Quebec nationalists "who don't want secession or who might want secession but not now." It is a narrow and inherently unstable coalition.

Simpson is not the only commentator to define Harper's people as roughly 40 percent of the population. Writing in The Toronto Star, Armine Yalnizyan (whose report was the centerpiece of my post of March 7th) puts that number in a different context. She reminds her readers that, "Most Canadian tax filers --59 percent -- report incomes of less than $30,000." That means that, "Most of them will not be eligible for this budget's billions in tax credits." For, besides the financial transfers to the provinces, there were no tax cuts in this budget. Instead, the Harper government offered Canadians tax credits. And, those 59 percent of Canadians pay no taxes. Thus, tax credits do nothing for them. The only people in this category who benefit at all from this budget are individuals who earn between $3000 and $9000 or families who earn up to $14,500 a year. For them the government offers a $500 benefit -- if they are working. In other words, the working poor will get an extra $1.37 a day.

Yalnizyan writes, "This budget may be celebrated as a masterful spin document, but in terms of substance, its biggest failure is that it refuses to address, head on, one of the most pressing issues of our era: growing inequities in an era of incredible affluence." The Harper government is spending liberally; but, despite the cries of betrayal on the right, they are no liberals. Their policies are aimed at a distinct minority of Canadians. But there may be just enough of them to vote for a Conservative majority -- and that is the purpose of the exercise.

However, Harper's rather transparent strategy could backfire. Jeffrey Simpson has a much better sense of history than the Harperites do. "Every time in Canadian political history that the Conservative Party tried to woo these voters, the effort eventually ended in heartbreak. Either it produced a backlash elsewhere in Canada and/or the nationalists were never very interested in Canada, except as the milch cow for money. And, of course, once the milch cow stopped giving at the expected rate, even for a while, resentment grew in Quebec."

This time the resentment is starting on native reserves. Canada's native people have watched as Mr Harper and his team have torn up the Kelowna Accord and then left them out of the money. It is striking how many Conservatives -- in many countries -- lack a sense of history. They believe in that old adage that God helps those who help themselves. But, while God in his mercy may smile upon the helpless, it is not the job of government to do so. Inevitably, those who have been left out -- a distinct majority -- will storm the fortress of the fortunate. Then we will all pay a price for such wilful ignorance.

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