About those taxes (IV)

by Aaron Wherry

Meet John K. Bell. He’s the Cambridge businessman who asked Michael Ignatieff a question yesterday that prompted an answer that may or may not be the single most controversial thing any Canadian politician in recorded history has ever said.

John and I chatted this afternoon. Our conversation after the jump.

Bell: Let me just talk you through it, the way I recall this whole thing. He gave a speech which was half tight and good, which I was impressed with, and then half pretty scrappy and very political … But one of the things he said [was] that he was thinking the big picture and the long term. And from that I thought, oh boy, this is good. So mine was a very honest question. I was looking for a strategic vision, because he was talking strategically, big picture. So I framed the question as I’m going to ask this on behalf of my children and… well, there was no vision and there was no answer and certainly he had no strategy or good answer. So I was very disappointed, he was really scrambling for a response, and I think the other people in the room were somewhat disappointed as well. So what started as being impressive was not so when it ended.

Me: So, just to clarify, what exactly was your question?

Bell: My question was, with the massive deficits that are piling up … how do you intend to deal with the debt and is this going to burden future generations, are you going to burden future generations? And the way I said that is that I’m asking that on behalf of my children. And that’s why, further in his response, he said he did not intend to burden our children with that responsibility. But he didn’t say how.

Me: So this was a fairly long answer?

Bell: Yes, it was a long answer. It wasn’t crisp and clear and articulate. He didn’t articulate a strategy or a vision, so it appears that he doesn’t have one, or the Liberal party doesn’t have one. And I was honestly hoping for an answer. I wasn’t there to trick him. Because I’m very worried about this.

Me: So at the end of this he spits out this line about possibly raising taxes?

Bell: Yes. He said, I certainly wouldn’t rule that out.

Me: Was it qualified, as in if X doesn’t work or Y doesn’t work, then we may have to raise taxes?

Bell: No, he was not definitive. At that stage of the response, he was scrambling to say something, so he spit it out, I think a couple of times.

Me: So how do you feel about that?

Bell: I’m disappointed. I’m concerned and I’m disappointed. I’d like our political leaders to have an answer for this big spending that they are currently on. And if he’s a future leader, then I would sure like him to come in with an answer. Obviously I haven’t asked Mr. Harper the same question, haven’t had the opportunity.

Me: If the options are spending cuts or tax increases, do you have an opinion on that?

Bell: I like small government and I think that we do not have to be spending at this rate, and this much, for the infrastructure, just because it’s en vogue. I don’t see any clear plan for the infrastructure spending. And I would like us to know how we’re getting out of this before we get into it.

Me: I must ask, do you have any affiliation with any political party?

Bell: No, not strong. I’m an entrepreneur and I’ve had a degree of success in my life, so I would tend to be leaning to the Tory side.

Me: All right. So you come away not entirely impressed with him?

Bell: No, I was not impressed with him. In fact, I was disappointed, is probably the word.

Me: Just with that answer…

Bell: Well, with that answer, but overall. The first part of his speech, he came on very strong and talking big picture, talking leadership and then he got into scrappy, picayune points, attempting to pull little subjects out of context … trying to get a headline. Gary Goodyear is our member and who’s thought highly of in the community, I think highly of him. And to attempt to pull him down, I didn’t like that.

Me: He made reference to evolution? 

Bell: No, he didn’t make reference to the evolution thing. To scientific funding.

(John called back later to note that he’d run for the Ontario Liberals in 1990.)




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About those taxes (IV)

  1. Michael Ignatieff: not a politician

  2. He thinks highly of Gary Goodyear? The Goodyear who lost his temper dealing with science representatives, who thinks Canadians work for him instead of the other way around, and who refused to answer a science question in his role as Science Minister?

    • That the man thinks highly of Gary Goodyear is really all I need to know about him. Dismissed.

      • Luckily, Jenn rescues her at-risk reputation as a thinking person with an open mind just nine minutes later and a few posts lower. Fellow commenters, please keep an open mind about Jenn until you get there. You really need to know more about her than this 5:36PM post.

        • I quite agree with Jenn that anybody who thinks highly of Gary Goodyear is not an intelligent person.

          • Or, in light of CR’s endorsement below, that he hasn’t followed the Goodyear saga — the screaming, the thrown pencils, etc. — over the last few months. Which is rather more likely.

          • Luckily, Jack rescues his at-risk reputation as a thinking person with an open mind just one minute later.

          • Well, let me tell you, MYL, somebody who says “I’m an entrepreneur and I’ve had a degree of success in my life, so I would tend to be leaning to the Tory side” has a steep hill to climb back into my esteem.

          • He’s a very bright and very successful guy, and I don’t think he has a political ax to grind. I doubt he’s spent much time reading the partisan attacks on his MP. As a Tier III automotive supplier, he probably has more pressing matters to attend to.

          • Good for him for taking time out to attend a political event and not only ask a question but ask an important one.

            I’m very surprised Ignatieff didn’t have a script ready for this one, I have to say. The long-term vision thing is a lot easier to speak to than the short-term is; and these days, most of us would agree, the field is open.

          • test

          • Your comment is awaiting moderation.

            Huh?

  3. Somehow, I don’t think anything Ignatieff would have said would have impressed him. You should ask Bell if he would vote for Harper again, because his vision and honesty and forthrightness is stellar.

  4. He appears to be better dressed than Joe the Plumber.

  5. Thank you for posting this interview, a fair opportunity for Mr. Bell as a witness and participant to have a hearing. Before too many people attack this man simply for his politics (successful entrepreneur, fan of small government, leaning Tory), think for a moment: do you have any reason to believe his question was wacky? some sort of trap? Do you have any reason to doubt his description of Ignatieff’s floundering on the response?

    • Absolutely not. In fact, I thought it was a good question, and I too would prefer if Iggy had a well-thought-out plan to implement as soon as the situation allowed.

      But the problem once again is that, even if Ignatieff did have a stellar plan that would get us back in the black, he couldn’t very well TELL US WHAT IT IS! Because we don’t expect honesty from our politicians–or even want honesty anymore, it seems.

      Seriously, will it come as a shock to anyone on this board if I said the only way to get us out of deficit will be an increase in taxes and a cut in spending? I can say that because I’m a nobody, but let a politican utter what has to be obvious to all of us, and there goes his political career. No, what we want our politicians to do is come up with some innovative, novel way of making money apart from the tax system–say, invent a spaceship that can fly at 10 times the speed of light, find a planet or asteroid made of gold or some other precious thing, mine it and bring it back to sell in the name of Canada–all without any investment in research, a space program, etc.

      And so we, the electorate, will just keep waiting for that day, eh? I hope our children are smarter.

    • Mr. Bell’s suggestion that it was inappropriate to criticize Goodyear on issues related to science funding seemed off the wall. He also seemed to miss the relevance of the fact that he does not know what Harper’s plan is to get us out of deficit, even though Harper is supposed to be running the government. These two points made me wonder about Mr. Bell’s judgement.

      • What, you think Harper would permit an unvetted question?

      • If you would remove the blinders a shade, catherine…

        Obviously I haven’t asked Mr. Harper the same question, haven’t had the opportunity.

        This was a spontaneous declaration of Mr. Bell. Aaron had not planted a well-what-about-dem-other-bums question at all. Would you be prepared to consider that Bell’s sentence above is an admission that he is equally disappointed in Harper? Go ahead, re-read it as you try to consider that possibility.

        Missed the relevance? Maybe the man delivered the relevance right to you!

        • My point is that we should not each have to personally ask the Prime Minister what his plan is for getting us out of deficit. A fiscally responsible Prime Minister should have a plan when he starts the country on a path of deficits and he should communicate it.

          • Well, your point had to do with questioning Bell’s judgement for having missed relevance that he actually clearly and spontaneously articulated for you, but ok, whatever…

  6. I have met John K. Bell many times professionally (interesting how worlds sometimes collide). Not only is he a talented, savvy and energetic entrepreneur, he has also been an outstanding mentor to many young people in business and in science.

  7. That governments around the world will have to raise taxes in 10 years or so once we get out of this great recession is, I think, obvious. The neo-liberal idea of cutting government services, taxes and regulation is now shown to not work.

    You get what you pay for in taxes. While no government department is perfect, they do a pretty decent job most of the time. Even better then the private sector, at times, which should be obvious to anyone who has noticed this crisis.

    • Let us suppose that instead of being slow, extravagant, inefficient, wasteful, unadaptive, stupid, and at least by tendency corrupt, the State changes its character entirely and becomes infinitely wise, good, disinterested, efficient, so that anyone may run to it with any little two-penny problem and have it solved for him at once in the wisest and best way possible. Suppose the state close-herds the individual so far as to forestall every conceivable weakness, incompetence; suppose it confiscates all his energy and resources and employs them much more advantageously all around than he can employ them if left to himself. My question still remains – what sort of person is the individual likely to become under those circumstances?
      –Albert J Nock

      The neo-liberal idea of cutting government services, taxes and regulation is now shown to not work.
      –asp

      Got any actual concrete examples of reduced government, taxes and regulation?
      –myl

      • As opposed to the private sector, where waste & mismanagement are entirely unknown.

        • Oh, Jack you missed it by a hair. Well, maybe a tuft. Small toup, perhaps…

          As opposed to the private sector, where, if we would collectively have the guts to just let it happen, the wasteful and the poor managers and the dumb investors are suitably punished economically for their mistakes. Has a way of sharpening the focus.

          The market didn’t fail us. We have failed us. And we’re making it worse. And the “big government” fans will wander off to the john when the check reaches the table…

          • “the wasteful and the poor managers and the dumb investors are suitably punished economically for their mistakes.”

            Really, MYL, I had no idea you worked in the public sector.

          • Have you noticed how the bankers are running the government departments that are bailing out the banks? It’s not social democratic politicians making those decisions, it’s the “free market” corporate sector. The politicians are just in their pockets.

          • Sorry, that was pretty snarky of me. I mean to say that there’s waste & inefficiency in all sectors, including (especially) big corporations and large government departments. Something to do with scale. I would guess the most efficient companies are the medium-sized ones, which like small-sized ones face the bottom line all the time but have some room (unlike the small-sized ones) to bounce back & reform when inefficiency prevails. The real cause of government inefficiency is not the lack of a bottom line (departments and programs operate on limited budgets too) but rather PSAC.

          • I’d be all for what you are saying if it were actually true.

            The truth is the wasteful, poor managers get a thirteen million dollar bonus and are urged to try harder. The following year, when they waste and mismanage even more, they are given a twenty-eight million dollar bonus. And hey, when they eventually run the place into the ground they can retire with a very nice *package* of whatever was left. Investors? Yeah, they call them suckers.

            I’m not terribly investment-savvy, but am I the only one who thinks a MAJOR overhaul of public company rules, procedures and regulations is in order?

      • Somalia?

        They don’t have a functioning government at all anymore, do they?

        • Is that your final answer to providing a concrete example of asp’s “neo-liberal idea of cutting government services, taxes and regulation [...] now shown to not work” ? Somalia. Neo-liberal. Wow.

          I note asp won’t even answer, so I won’t hold it against you for trying.

          • Well, that’s the logic. Somalia just isn’t as rich as we are, but there’d be about as much social justice in Canada as there is in Somalia if we took the neo-liberal agenda seriously. Fortunately it’s no more than a smokescreen for selfishness so nobody does. Present company excepted, MYL.

  8. Maybe a good follow-up that Wherry missed was to ask this fan of small government what he thinks of the current government’s handling of the economic crisis? Perhaps he just believes Harper’s ‘evolving’ as a member of the small-government, flat-earth society…

    Personally, I think this John K Bell guy is really that Steve Whoozits from CTV Halifax, looking to fulfill his CON contract for pulling surprise verbal wedgies on unsuspecting Liberal leaders.

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