It’s little wonder the Conservatives are continually unhappy with oversight agencies, despite oft-repeated and never-delivered promises of transparency: most of what’s unearthed casts the Harper government in a negative light.
From Auditor General Sheila Fraser to Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, the prime minister has been waging a war on those who take him to task for the things his government does and does not do, despite promises and rules to the contrary.
Under scrutiny again right now is the so-called economic action plan. The stimulus spending on infrastructure has been more talk than action, but Harper still maintains he wants to wrap things up by next spring. That goes against the wisdom of many economists, including Nobel laureate Paul Krugman who spoke on this issue last week, who see the possibility of a double-dip recession.
Moreover, much of money promised to municipalities has yet to be seen, partly due to the long lead-time involved in getting shovels in the ground, yes, but also to a certain slowness in Ottawa.
It would come as no surprise to many that the government is hoping to promise much and deliver little.
You could call it election posturing – it is – but it also might have something of a placebo effect. The economy, we’re repeatedly told, is closely tied to confidence: perhaps it’s more important to be seen to be doing something than actually doing it.
At the very least, that convenient after-the-fact argument should help if the multibillion-dollar deficits are smaller than initially forecast, the result of not actually spending the money announced over and over again in Conservative-friendly photo ops.
To be sure, some of the cash is flowing. Woolwich and Wellesley townships have received millions for projects completed, now underway or soon to get going. And there’s no arguing the stimulus spending has been a boon as these and other municipalities tackle a growing infrastructure deficit.
But we should also look at what we’ll have when the economy picks up again: some new roads, bridges and facilities … and a massive deficit to remind us of what it cost.
Of course, we shouldn’t be surprised by the government’s choices. The last time Canadians saw record deficits was under a Conservative government, one that advanced trickle-down economics, cutting taxes to the wealthiest while boosting spending, often on pet projects and measures designed for political gain rather than the common good. Sound familiar? It’s precisely what has happened under Harper. This despite the fact that he’s championed the opposite course.
Such ill-advised moves as cutting the GST by two percentage points – the economic impact was negligible – and ramping up spending in an attempt to buy a majority left the economy in poor position to deal with the downturn.
The economy will recover, but government measures will not have been the factor they could have been.