It’s not your fault


Not to pick on Ted Menzies, who seems like a nice enough guy and is at least brave enough, if memory serves, to wear a pink tie in public, but he repeated on Monday an assessment of our current situation that never fails to seem at least debatable. 

Here is the relevant part of his response to a question from Liberal John McCallum.

“As much as members of the opposition would like to suggest that they knew what was coming, they knew nothing more about what was coming than anybody did. This was no fault of Canada, but we have been proactively getting Canadians prepared for these challenges.”

Set aside the question of who didn’t know what and when. Note the first six words that follow—”This was no fault of Canada.”

There are perhaps two possible responses to this statement.

(A) This is true. Canada, Canadians and our government bear no responsibility for the current state of our economic system and corresponding culture.
(B) This is not true. While obviously influenced by events elsewhere, Canada, Canadians and our government have contributed to the deterioration of our economic situation.

If B, how do we account for Mr. Menzies refusal to acknowledge as much publicly?

(A) He and the government to which he belongs wish to avoid blame.
(B) He and the government to which he belongs do not believe they can speak frankly with us about our individual responsibilities in situations such as this.

If B, who does this reflect most poorly upon?

(A) Him.
(B) Us.


It’s not your fault

  1. Seems to me one can criticise the Conservatives for a bunch of stuff, not least blowing the $12 billion surplus on beer & popcorn, but I don’t see how the hubris of foreign moneylenders is their fault. They might well have joined enthusiastically in loosening our mortgage regulations if they’d had the chance back in 2001-2003, but they didn’t. Perhaps all our governments are culpable for globalising our economy and thus exposing us to the indirect effects of the meltdown, but again I don’t see how that could be laid at Harper’s door.

    • No, you’re correct, except that the govt is sorta trying to have it all ways. While on the one hand they’re saying: ” no way is this our fault, neither we nor anyone else saw this coming”. And on the other Harper bizarrely claming credit for preparing the economy for this down- turn by taking action prior to the fiscal update, which clearly showed that they thought it was clear sailing and even time for a string of surpluses. I can buy that they were being prudent prior to their wacky FU, but that’s not the same at all. It wouldn’t be such a big deal, except that Harper always seems to find a way to make it one.

      • Yeah, no, the one thing their rhetoric shows is a total failure to see this coming. But then, nobody seems to have seen this coming (except for Wayne and his gold investments). It’s bizarre that they’re trying to take credit for our relatively sound economic situation, since they haven’t done anything one way or the other to affect it since they took office. If Canada’s in relatively good shape now, we have Jean Chrétien and FM Paul Martin to thank for it.

  2. So was Harper’s preparation for our soft landing including the decision to open up the mortgage business for 40-year, 0-down amortization deals, or the fact that after implementing it, they cancelled it?
    And was part of the spending the surplus and emptying the coffers kind of their idea of opening the burning barn to let the horses go, which would seem funny since they deny the barn was burning.

  3. There is a logical fallacy called “false dichotomy” which you seem to be exploring here.

    The first question is flawed because option ‘A’ is presented unreasonably in absolute terms. You are essentially saying:

    1. Either Canadians have zero influence on their own economy, or the government bears some of the responsibility for the deteriorating economy.

    The second question is not actually a binary (yes/no) question, but there are only two choices presented. In other words:

    2. If you concede that the government has any degree of influence whatsoever on the economy, then by not blaming themselves for the recession they are either A) covering their asses or B) lying to Canadians.

  4. On a separate note, I doubt this is a sound rhetorical strategy on Harper’s part. “We saw this coming and prepared” might be reassuring in the short-term, but if we do end up in a global depression it’s not going to cut much ice with voters. “Oh, it would be way worse if we hadn’t prepared” will then seem like pretty thin gruel.

    • Exactly.

      We can wax opinion all we want about who saw what coming when and who “prepared”.

      But any action that our government, with its limited resources, can take probably amounts to little more than pouring a glass of water on a blazing inferno. Like taking medicine when you are sick, it may suppress a few of the symptoms for a little while but I have zero belief that the Canadian stimulus package, or any stimulus package, will be any kind of long term solution. It’s all about the optics of “doing something” at this point. Some things just need to work their course, and sometimes the side effects of some medicines are worse than the problem they are meant to address.

      • I generally agree re: the Canadian economy, though I’d add that if Canada agrees with other developed economies to spend some % of its GDP on “stimulus” it would be rather vile of us not to do so, regardless of whether it works or not. One thing is certain: we should be praying (five times a day, ideally) that the US recession is short.

  5. Dion wasright to state again and again during the campaign that Harper did not prepare Canada well for this recession. We all know that this recession will eventually pass but that somewhere down the line there will be another one. The point is preparedness – for individuals as well as governments. I am not hallucinating – I do recall that even before the election call, newspapers and commentors talked of an impending downturn and possible recession coming and cited this as a reason for Harper wanting to call an election.

    Before the downturn, the governement had increased spending by nearly 25% over three years while slashing its GST revenue. Far from preparing Canada for a recession, the Conservatives weakened Canada .

  6. Let’s disregard the “false dichotomy” for now and imagine this — you give your child matches, then avoid blame when he burns your house down.

    Let’s go on to assuming you maintained your child match-free. Your neighbour, unfortunately, equipped his child with matches and the child proceeded to burn his own house down. You were so busy with your piano playing that you failed to notice the fire.

    Even worse, you neglected to replace the batteries on your smoke alarm (prudently supplied by the previous owner of your house). Your own house catches fire. Too late, nothing you can do.

    But it’s not your fault — you couldn’t have seen it coming.

    • This is a different fallacy. It’s called false analogy. ;-)

    • I’d add that in this case one’s neighbour had five or six big-ass propane tanks randomly strewn about his house, plus a fair-sized ammo dump in his garage, so that it didn’t really matter if one’s own smoke alarm was working or not.

  7. I don’t blame the Harpies for anything much except blowing the surplus and lying to Canadians during the last six months of 2008, including the election, which was a travesty.

    That’s bad enough.

    • It’s hard to overstate the stupidity of blowing the surplus though…

      • Indeed. That GST cut did little good for the economy, and could have prevented us from a net increase in debt over the 2006 – 2012 time frame (earlier surpluses offsetting the inevitable deficit this year). I’m rather worried for our fiscal health as a country. As Coyne likes to harp on about, we are rapidly approaching a fiscal time bomb in terms of boomer retirement and health care. Taxes will have to rise, and I don’t think that is all that fair. It seems to me that we should have a fund similar to the CPP to fund future health care obligations, balanced actuarially over a fairly long time horizon. Of course, it’s already too late–we should have done it in the late ’90s, and funded it with those mammoth surpluses.

  8. This is what happens when you look for nuance and specificity in six words. It was a toss away line spoken in very general terms by a parliamentary secretary, not a doctoral dissertation on the causes of the economic crisis in Canada. I wouldn’t bother with the rigorous parsing and peer review.

    • I have a theory for why Wherry sometimes tries too hard to find meaning in random toss-away lines by politicians.

      Wherry is a very talented writer, but he tries to deconstruct political speech (where words are often meaningless) in the same way that an English major would deconstruct a literary text (where words are everything).

      • Are you saying that our pols have nothing to say really, so why report on them?

        • I’m just saying that there is a lot of documented political speech out there (parliamentary and press gallery transcripts, interviews, press releases, throw-away comments…) Not all of it is significant, so you need to exercise judgment to determine what is important.

          For example, if Stephen Harper says: “Canada will never return to deficit”, that is very significant, so go to town in terms of analysis and criticism. If some parliamentary secretary mutters six words in QP or a scrum, then it may not be productive to read too much into it.

          • But then Harper will do as he’s done, which is avoid interviews/scrums/significant moments where he may face a question, leaving the media to only talk to the mumbling pap-spewing foot soldier MPs, giving the media only that to go on.
            Or we can return to 1134 when people stared at the castle, waiting and waiting for a sign of something…

          • I agree. However the goat’s got to be fed apparantly. Presumably by both the pols and the media. I wonder who’s really creating the demand? And is the supply often crappy because the quality supply is limitted anyway, or because the demand is so voracious? And if we all went back to hunting and trapping for a living, no-one would care or have the time to! What would those pols and scribblers do, continue asking questions and avoiding and or mangling them regardless; and does a tree make a sound…i think i’ll make some more java, yes i will?

      • The better thus to foster an appreciation of words, and an appetite for meaning, in the reading public?

        • Is it Aaron’s fault if he assumes meaning where there really aught to be meaning?

          • Indeed not, as you imply. Nothing could be better, in my view, than an extended journalistic critique of the meaninglessness of much public discourse. Perhaps Aaron could save a few of these tidbits each week and do a “This Month in Meaninglessness” feature in the print magazine? Anything to lower our tolerance for empty wind.

          • I’m not sure the Maclean’s editors would be too keen about spending precious ink and paper on a “This Month in Meaninglessness” feature that serves only to illustrate the emptiness and vacuity of political discourse. I’m sure quite a few Maclean’s subscribers would also be perplexed.

          • I’m not sure the Maclean’s editors would be too keen about spending precious ink and paper on a “This Month in Meaninglessness” feature that serves only to illustrate the emptiness and vacuity of political discourse

            I don’t see why not. It’s a great idea. If journalists are still not brave enough to call our elite liars, the next best thing is to point out, lavishly and relentlessly, how very little they say despite the amount of energy they put into saying it.

            Of course, Barbara Amiel might have a problem with that…

        • Wherry is a very talented writer, but he tries to deconstruct political speech (where words are often meaningless) in the same way that an English major would deconstruct a literary text (where words are everything).

          Maybe, but I’m not sure. Maybe he’s just posting these things because he has to. I’m not sure how much one’s faith in the value of deconstruction persists after one leaves university.

          • What bothers me about “deconstruction,” as an activity in itself, is its lack of specificity. Somehow it all ends up as “learning about the deconstruction process.” But when it’s applied to real stuff it’s just another, worse word for savage satire.

            Have you ever read this guy Karl Kraus, Viennese pamphleteer c. 1910? I never have, but what I’ve read about him makes me wish I read German better. Supposedly his prose was ultra-sharp, his appetite for satirising hypocrisy limitless . . .

          • I’m not sure how much one’s faith in the value of deconstruction persists after one leaves university.

            Maybe not, but when one’s favourite tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

          • When everything is a nail, i reach for my hammer!

          • What bothers me about “deconstruction,” as an activity in itself, is its lack of specificity.

            Well, that’s its intellectual underpinnings; the very real conviction that since truth and knowledge are constructs, there’s really no point in actually worrying about those sorts of pedestrian considerations. The process itself is what’s important.

            It’s awful and it’s one of the few points of agreement I have with conservative academics.

          • Maybe the guy is just a bad orator.

  9. I don’t really understand the “blowing the surplus” bit. Harper’s government reduced taxes, spent what they had, and essentially balanced the books in a loosish sense. How was keeping the “surplus” a good thing, since a stimulus – more spending – is now also considered the cure for our current ills?

    Wouldn’t it make more sense economically for a government to decide what to spend and collect enough taxes to cover it. If they have a surplus, they can spend it or reduce taxes the following year.

    If we now want to increase spending, we will need to increase taxes, either now, or in the future. Either way, on surplus.

    Am I missing something?

    • Actually Bill, I was just in the process of writing something similar. One could argue,however, that the surplus could be used to pay down debt, which then is available to draw down further when needed (ie when running deficits.)

      Still, in the grand scheme of things, I doubt it makes much difference, or is as significant as some make it out to be. I believe the “well regarded” Gordon Brown cut Britain’s VAT (equivalent to our GST) just last November as part of his emergency stimulus package, so obviously there is more than one way of looking at this.

      • Back to the main point, I think that Harper would have a better argument in this respect if he had stuck to his economic plan, which did not include this wretched stimulus. By agreeing to the stimulus, he has implicitly accepted the government’s role in the economy, and thus left himself open to criticism on his recent handling of it.

        By the way, the market reaction to Obama’s stimulus plan is a pretty stunning response. So far, the two major meddlers in their economies – Brown and Obama – have not only not improved the situation, they appear to be making it worse!

        If only Harper had held out a bit longer, he could be looking pretty smart right now…

        • Well, AC would certainly have had less to write about if he had held out longer…

        • If only Harper had held out a bit longer, he could be looking pretty smart right now…

          Well if that’s the case, too bad for him that he and his gang have acted like jerks for the last three years, with uncritical support from the rank-and-file, I might add.

    • I don’t really understand the “blowing the surplus” bit.

      Well, it’s hard to understand if you buy the government’s line that this situation was not foreseeable. I can’t claim any prescience with regard to how the financial meltdown in the US would affect Canada, but I do know Americans in the non-mainstream media have been talking about the housing bubble and odd financial transactions with increasing alarm since about 2005. And of course, the insolvency of the US has been known for a long time.

      I’m not convinced that what the surplus was spent on was of any real benefit either and it’s probably way too premature to suggest that how the Conservatives have transacted Canada’s finances in the last three years have had any real economic impact, since a lot more time has to pass before that can be assessed properly.

      I don’t actually believe the surplus would have meant anything right now, so hanging that on the Conservatives is even more partisan than I can muster. My condemnation of them relates to the all the lying and the stupid shenanigans they’ve been engaging in during the last three years.

      • Agreed, but taking aside all the lying etc., if we accept that the melt-down was predictable,what should the government have done? It has two basic tools: taxing and spending. Which way should they have gone to have mitigated this crisis for Canadians?

        My preference is to have reduced both and to have maintained this course over the last few months. I appear to be in a minority on this, but I don’t see the logic behind increasing spending, foregoing tax cuts etc., so I am disinclined to blame Harper for what transpired economically up to the first financial statement that set this political mess off.

        I do blame him for changing course since then based on weak political leadership.

        • if we accept that the melt-down was predictable,what should the government have done?

          Nothing. The consequences of globalisation have been known for a long time. I can’t get past the lying because the lying has been central to many of the myths we’ve accepted when it comes to prosperity, economic sovereignty and trade. And it’s not just the Conservatives who’ve been colluding in this All governments since the 80’s, academics, economists, financiers, the media, corporations have all had a role to play. Quite possibly unwittingly when they’re in the throws of irrational exuberance or when they’re addressing issues they refuse to admit they don’t really understand.

          • Wow. What a rant. And you call us wingnuts.

          • Wow. What a rant. And you call us wingnuts.

            What makes one a wingnut is the degree of conceit one has in believing one knows anything with absolutely certainty.

            I know I know nothing, nothing at all, but I’m very observant. The problems we’re seeing now are the consequences of a complex system set up decades in the past that has been robbed of the information (particularly with respect to how the system refuses to accommodate critical examination) it requires to run smoothly. That’s the point I’ve been trying to make, and it’s not exactly one that’s particularly novel. People who specialise in various complex systems talk about this kind of thing all the time, apparently with no lasting impact.

            I’m not convinced that this is the fundamental state of civilisation, but it may very well be. It’s a little hard to believe that, given how information can and does flow far more freely now that at any other time in human history.

          • I think we’re in a much more serious bind then most of us realise. In a nutshell loony spending and credit illiteracy/ institutional greed has got us into this particular mess. We’re told that more of these bad habits [ i say mindless] minus presumably the bad debt part, will see us through. But through to what. Many of our citizens think shop until you drop is a charter right. More importantly or ominously, our elites seem to share this view. In a sense we have been encouraged for many years now to live and act braindead, and now what. More of this will see us through and indeed must because we’ve built our whole house of cards on a fallacy of the stupider the better, and by the way its this very stupidity that caused all this. I don’t know about you but i think that’s a fair definition of braindead. Oh but wait, we need that don’t we to get out of this mess…forget it then!

          • Well, that’s a thread killer. Soon as that word “globalisation” is out there, rational discussion tails off fast!

            See ya.

          • Soon as that word “globalisation” is out there, rational discussion tails off fast!

            Why? I’m not some loony lefty who generally rails about the evils of globalisation, you know; I am in fact a big supporter of market economies, trade and capitalism in general. I just think these things deserve more critical examination. And you’ve demonstrated why that’s generally not possible with your loutish, out-of-hand dismissal and the implication that just mentioning the word is “irrational.”

            Way to go.

    • I don’t think Harper “blew” the surplus. What he did was render the probability of future surplus to be , well , improbable.

      The Chretien/Martin regime “blew” the surplus in the sense that their program called for a contingency of $3B with the remaining unspent surplus to go to debt reduction.
      And, as I recall, the $3B was not cumulative. If it , in whole or in part, was not used then it too was allocated to debt reduction.

      The real difference , I think , is that Chretien/Martin retained the probability of continuing surplus. Or, at least until the current situation washed ashore where the difference would be one of degree rather than kind.

  10. Er…typo…”Either way, NO surplus”.

    • Oh please.

      Brazeau is right on the money. If Brazeau had been a Liberal appointee this story about 3 instances of being late on child support payments, with totals of less than $100 each time, would never have seen the light of day.

      • Yeah that sounds like gotcha journalism to me. Unfortunately for Brazeau there’re more substantial critics within his own community. Not that i know much of anything about it.

  11. More refugees from the Garth Turner /Brent Fullard blogsite.

    • This is an example of what I mean when we’re talking about a system that refuses to accommodate critical examination.

      The hostility with which some people react to dissent and challenges directed at the elite, almost as if it’s a personal attack, is bizarre and all too common these days.

      • You talking about me? I’m not the only one here.

        Assuming you are, I’ve read all of this CAITI propoganda for two plus years now. As I mentioned in an earlier exchange with you re the Turner site, this is patently false: “how he destroyed $35 billion in Canadian Investor market value in the fall of 2006.” Go look at the TSX indexes.

        • Oh, it’s about that again.

          Never mind. Consider it a more generalised observation, which still stands.

          • Well then, keep me on the periphery of your Venn diagram.

          • I’m going to have to agree with Dot that the CAITI folks are by far the most annoying people on the internet. They manage to be both spell-bindingly ridiculous and mind-numbingly tedious at once. It’s quite the feat.

          • Or in other words: It’s my way , or the highway.

          • I’m going to have to agree with Dot that the CAITI folks are by far the most annoying people on the internet.

            Shorter Olaf: “Attention Heathers: From this day forth, we all hate her!”

          • CAITI is also generally correct in their assumptions about how badly the CONservatives have mangled the Canadian economy within a few months of taking power in 2006.

            “CAITI is also”? Like, in addition to being spell-bindingly ridiculous and mind-numbingly tedious at once?

            And Ti-guy, I don’t get the joke (I think the “Heathers” part through me off). But since I’m sure it’s as funny as ever, I’ll force myself to laugh a little bit inside.

          • I didn’t either. Pretty obtuse. Coles Notes came up short. Wiki helped.

          • I got the reference immediately; I’m so proud. It’s from some teen movie I vaguely remember watching where the “Heathers” are a group of high school girls who mercilessly mock the less popular girls. Ti-Guy, you never cease to surprise me.

          • Ti-Guy bought a ticket, thinking it was about gardening.

          • Too difficult to comprehend all that financial mumbo-jumbo-gibberish in the previous link? Don’t be embarrassed by your deer-in-the-headlights lack of comprehension. Its the boring and tedious stuff that will bite you in the behind when an incompetent Irish dwarf from WO gets more power than he really has any right to have.

            ITs were one of those issues that was supposed to die in 6 months. Sorry about that.

            Here’s something that is more plain and within your grasp…

            The CONservative explanation of their decision on why Income Trusts should be double taxed…

            Why isn’t the dwarf more forthcoming with the facts to backup his blunder?

      • An experience that ended up proving invaluable 20 years later

        Quit being bashful about your age. Everyone knows you’re 46.

    • Ti-Guy, you never cease to surprise me.

      I was high school president. That’s how I learned politics. An experience that ended up proving invaluable 20 years later, when all of a sudden, life became high school all over again.

  12. Que Sera, Sera

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