Stability is the new nothing


On the other hand, there’s Canada. Here’s Stephen Harper, campaigning in Ajax, Ontario yesterday.

Friends, the GTA doesn’t need higher taxes. The GTA doesn’t need a carbon tax. And the GTA doesn’t want this country to go back to deficits. Instead, it needs the kind of prudent investments our government is making to help the economy grow. 

Investments like the bridge on Sandy Beach Road south of Parkham Crescent in Pickering.

Investments like a new passport office here in Ajax.

Investments like the federal Gas Tax Fund, that by 2010 will have invested over 800 million dollars in the GTA.

And then, in case anyone didn’t get the hint,

Friends, our government is delivering for the GTA. But there’s more to be done. And we need a strong team of Conservative MPs from the GTA in Ottawa to make it happen. 

You need Conservative MPs to make what happen? To ensure that “more” is done in the way of “delivering” for the GTA. Want more passport offices and bridges? Vote Conservative.

This is the Prime Minister of Canada talking, you understand. The candidates for President of the United States debate the shape of the financial system and whether it is strategically wiser to focus on Iraq or Afghanistan. The Prime Minister of Canada — a Conservative Prime Minister — devotes himself to delivering passport offices to Ajax.

This is what is left of conservatism in Canada. This is what our politics have become, or reverted to — trawling for votes with hooks baited with other people’s money, like any 1940s ward-heeler. It’s the same old game, telling voters in every riding that they can make off at the expense of all the others, that the LIberals played for years. Only I remember a time when there was a party, and a leader, that said they’d put a stop to it.

MORE: Honestly, has there ever been a campaign as vapid as the Conservatives are running? I’ve no idea whether they’ll ever favour us with a platform, but if so it will be a ridiculously thin volume, full of microscopic silly-clever baubles (cracking down on flavoured cigarettes, banning text-message fees) or clever-silly policiettes that, however well they may test with the focus groups, fly in the face of either sense or evidence (cutting the diesel tax, jailing 14-year-olds).

I can understand why the Tories would not be anxious to make too many promises: after the pile of broken pledges they have racked up, up to and including the election call, who would believe them? And doing nothing is certainly a better alternative than the raft of pointless busywork the Liberals have on offer, to say nothing of the NDP’s giddy spendathon. But it is a bit much for the Tories to attempt to rebrand what would appear to be near-total policy inertia as “stability.” (And don’t tell me they can’t do more because there’s nothing left in the till. Balanced budgets are supposed to be the norm. Yes, without a surplus to draw down, any tax cuts would have to be financed with spending cuts. Cutting spending rom the all-time record high levels to which the Tories have pushed it would not seem too much to ask — or at least, that’s what Conservatives used to believe.)

When they are not pandering or flip-flopping, they’re launching the crudest sorts of attacks on their opponents: accusing Dion of “cheering” for a recession, for example, as earlier they had labeled critics of their Afghanistan policy “pro-Taliban.” (It’s not the attacks I mind so much — it’s the obviousness. Somewhere it is written that Canadian politics must always be conducted at the dumbest possible level, with arguments that would get you laughed out of any respectable bar-room brawl. Every day I read the press releases from the war rooms — they don’t even try to persuade. There’s no sense, and no shame: opponents’ statements are ripped wildly out of context, subjected to the most plainly tendentious interpretations, in a way that any normal person would realize can only be to their own discredit.)

Again, I don’t want to say the Conservatives are the only guilty party. They well remember the attacks they endured in the past from the Liberals (and endure: the canard that Jim Flaherty was “attacking Ontario” for suggesting its tax rates are too high comes to mind). Clearly, the Tories learned from their example, the same lesson the Liberals will absorb from their defeat: we just weren’t cynical and empty enough.

So Canadian politics sinks, election after election, ever deeper into the mire.


Stability is the new nothing

  1. I sense your pain as an ultra right wing conservative purist, Andrew. Unfortunately, not all Canadians share your strict view of what conservatism means in Canada and, more importantly, it’s quite impossible to effect ANY change if you aren’t elected the government.

    Which certainly would be the case if an ulta right platform was advanced by the CPC, or any other party for that matter.

  2. I’m surprised the Conservatives didn’t offer the death penalty for 14 year olds (16 in Quebec).

    Are the Conservatives saying that if we vote for them, they’ll give us more pork (or religious alternative)? The people of Toronto voted for the Liberals from 1993 to 2005. We didn’t see any extra pork when Chrétien and Martin were Prime Ministers. They just took us Torontonians for granted and sent our pork elsewhere.

  3. This morning I spent a couple of hours comparing each party’s approach to student debt. The Liberal platform, on this topic at least, did not in any way appear to be “the raft of pointless busywork” that you call it. They proposed excellent changes, I was surprised I didn’t have to try to spin their effort to be satisfied.

    – $5000 loans for all students, regardless of family income
    – Interest-free periods extended from 6 months to 2 years
    – Interest rates decreased from prime+3% to prime+0.5%
    – Incremental debt-relief for healthcare professionals working in under-serviced areas.
    – Bursaries for low-income and under-represented

    Cost over three years: $1.15 billion.

  4. …none of which addresses Andrew’s point. But it’s kind of stunning to see someone claim the federal Liberals didn’t apply substantial doses of largesse to keep Toronto Liberal.

  5. Friends, the GTA doesn’t need higher taxes…. Instead, it needs higher spending.


  6. Chris, if you can make sense of the Liberals’ plan to borrow billions to pay for those student loans, I would genuinely like to hear it.

  7. The one student debt research took long enough, thanks Mr. Wells.

    My point is that the Liberal platform got it right on student loans. The fixes to re-payment and interest alone are the most important. They cost little and hugely affect a graduates first five years of employment income and life decisions.

  8. Been thinking about this one, Paul.. the Libs borrowing for an endowment for student funding.

    Doesn’t make a lot of sense, because you have to borrow at a lower rate than you’re receiving on the investments in order for it to work, and of course, anybody that lends at a lower rate than they could get in returns isn’t running very competitively.

    Of course, one place that doesn’t need to run competitively is the government. So now I’m wondering, is Dion planning some sort of accounting play, whereby the money comes out of federal funds, but because it is “borrowed” at a non-existant rate of interest and is expected to be paid back, the government can then write it off the books immediately? ie, what they give the student funding program is recorded as both an accounts payable and an accounts receivable at the same time. So it increases spending, while keeping a balanced budget.

    Given even modest investment returns on the fund then, it could eventually “pay back” the government while having established a sizable chunk for itself.

    At least, that’s the only way I can think of it working. It’s an odd one, to say the least.

  9. “My point is that the Liberal platform got it right on student loans.”

    How? By making the people who don’t go to university subsidize those who do. Heaven forbid that you should have to pay for an education that will ultimately increase your earning power later in life. It’s like it’s an investment or something.

  10. Life must be hell in the Coyne household.

    Andrew: Honey, what did you spend $3.99 on yesterday?

    Mrs. C: I bought some toilet paper.

    Andrew: Good god woman. You just bought 12 rolls of toilet paper six months ago. I’ve had it with your reckless spending. That’s it, no more toilet paper. From now on everyone is going to have to wait for the free market to come and clean their backside.

  11. Thanks you, Robert. We count on you to elevate the tone of the conversation.

  12. “It’s like it’s an investment or something.”

    Indeed, post-secondary education is an investment by our society in its own future. There is no question that student loans should be re-payed, (though free university education, as in Ireland, has been a boon to many economies). The question is what serves society best in terms of re-payment?

    When a student graduates, especially from professional schools, such as law, medicine, engineering and other professional trades, they often are required to do apprenticeships, where they are worked hard for low pay (and perhaps lower responsibility). It is also a time when they have to move to a job, maybe buy a car to get to work and perhaps start a family. Not the best time for society to come knocking at the door with crippling interest payments.

    Should we not allow a reasonable, fair time. I would like to meet the graduate who was able to start paying off his loan principle within 6 months of graduating.

    The NDP state the average student loan is $25,000. The interest payments at the current rate (4.75%+3%) are $161 per month.

  13. Anrew Coyne:
    Frankly, I see the passport office comment as someting promising, because it’s honest. He’s not peddling a lie about building a giant megaplex that will generate 10000 jobs. Or giving bundles of money to Ford to build another plant (although McGuinty is).

    He’s peddling honest-to-goodness passports and bridges, both of which I am sure he will deliver, and both of which are things that are things that federal governments should do (actually, maybe bridges should be a provincial matter).

    As far as the financial system, the presidents of the US don’t have the slightest idea what they are talking about – and it’s fortunate that Canada does not have the same financial system as the US.

    Regarding Iraq or Afghanistan, it’s simply a matter of reality that Canada’s military is small, and therefore there is less that we can do out there, but the Conservatives are trying to build it back up to respectable levels.

    I don’t know why there is not more debate about Afghanistan, however.

    The lack of a platform is all about Harper’s and the Conservatives agenda: incremental change. Change too much and they lost this election and the next. Make small positive changes and the train keeps in moving.

    I have to agree about your comments about the constant attacks. It seems to be a feature of our politics, but if any party did not play the game they would be hammered, and the media play as much of this game as anyone else, cheerleading for their parties (Maclean’s excepted of course).

    Regarding the obviousness of these attacks, I think that’s just a reflection of the target audience. These are not targeted towards followers of politics, many of which already have decided their vote. They are targeted towards the majority of people who pay no attention to politics and are looking for sound-bites to decide their votes. They do not want nuanced arguments.

  14. Stephen Lyon Mackenzie Harper doesn’t do platforms.

  15. sbt: I agree. And with the system the way it is now, many people take student loans without any intention of paying them back, in part because the government is so forgiving. Reminds me of a certain financial crisis going on right now down south, that had something to do with easy money for a good cause handed out without any regard for whether the money would ever be repaid.

  16. This is Canada, Andrew. Anything other than a solidly leftist, Trudeaupian platform is seen as not just right wing, but “ultra right”.

    Freedom isn’t popular. To most Canadians it sounds like too much work. Planning for the future. Saving money. Not being able to foist your kids off on someone else. Why not just let someone else worry about all that boring stuff?

    The back room strategists who advise Stephen Harper what to say have judged that the Canadians who vote think that the government has a gigantic wealth machine somewhere and that any problems with government are only due to politicians failing to pump the spigot of wealth with sufficient vigor. “Vote Harper in ’08, and you will not only get your passport on time to visit Cuba this winter, but you may even get a job in this shiny, new government building. And when it comes to centrally planning the extraction of oil from Albertan bitumen and dictating to you how much corn alcohol you will put in your car, it’s as plain as day that Stephane Dion is NOT A REAL LEADER.” Here is your election in a nutshell.

    It is a wealth machine, I admit. What the voters are confused about is that they think the wealth moves from the government to them.

  17. sf: “many people take student loans without any intention of paying them back”

    Is this true? How do they do it? How many do this?

    If post-secondary education is important to invest in, maybe we should lower or not charge tuition. Would that be a better system? Indeed, the Greens and NDP talk about lowering tuition.

  18. “When a student graduates, especially from professional schools, such as law, medicine, engineering and other professional trades, they often are required to do apprenticeships, where they are worked hard for low pay (and perhaps lower responsibility).”

    I think the doctors, lawyers and engineers will end up doing just fine without being subsidized by those who couldn’t go to university.

    “Not the best time for society to come knocking at the door with crippling interest payments.”

    And when is a good time for that? You borrow money, you pay it back. That’s the way the world works. Better to learn the lesson young.

    “I would like to meet the graduate who was able to start paying off his loan principle within 6 months of graduating.”

    There’s a lot of them out there. It’s not like everyone amasses a $40,000 debt after undergrad.

  19. comment by sf on Sunday, September 28, 2008 at 4:26 He’s peddling honest-to-goodness
    Regarding Iraq or Afghanistan, it’s simply a matter of reality that Canada’s military is small, and therefore there is less that we can do out there, but the Conservatives are trying to build it back up to respectable levels.

    I don’t know why there is not more debate about Afghanistan, however.

    The lack of a platform is all about Harper’s and the Conservatives agenda: incremental change. Change too much and they lost this election and the next. Make small positive changes and the train keeps in moving.

    David Akin , Canwest News Service
    Published: Wednesday, August 06, 2008

    According to the most recent NATO scorecard on defence spending, Canada ranked sixth among NATO members in 2007, spending a combined $18.5 billion on defence. But when spending is compared to the size of each NATO member’s national economy, Canada ranked 18th out of 26 members, spending just 1.3 per cent of GDP on defence in 2007. The NATO average is 1.8 per cent.

    The Senate committee says that, under the current Conservative plan, Canadian defence spending soon will be less than one per cent of GDP.

    “We’ll be ranking after Luxembourg and Iceland, for heaven’s sakes!” said Kenny.

    ?????????? mackay tell us just the facts ?

  20. Or giving bundles of money to Ford to build another plant (although McGuinty is).

    No. That’s GM and investing in the
    development of more fuel efficient V8 engines.

    That’s “green investing”, the CPC way…and no technically not an election promise, but how contemptible to believe otherwise..


  21. I share Andrew Coyne’s dismay at the general tone of political discourse in this country.

    Maybe it’s the absence of any unifying bogeyman in recent years: Quebec separation, Free Trade, national debt… something we could all get good and angst-ridden about.

    What’s scary is that in the current vacuum of national concerns (and don’t ask me why Afghanistan, the end of oil/global warming, and the financial meltdown aren’t qualifying), the idea of Canada as a nation with a shared vision, direction, or even essence to protect seems to have disappeared.

    I see (and sometimes contribute) a lot of sniping on these boards, some of it partisan nonsense and some of it debating events of relatively minor importance in the grand scheme. But I don’t get the sense that Canada – in a larger symbolic and national sense – represents much of anything to many folks.

    No wonder it’s so easy to go around leveraging votes by tossing money at parochial interests. There doesn’t seem to be any other interests competing.

    In the absence of at least some sense that “Canada” is, or means something, perhaps it’s no surpise that we’re left to sift through the varyingly cynical, daft and obfuscating policies of our national parties.

    We’re often quick to note the excesses of American patriotism, and its blinding inclinations, but at least it provided a context for McCain and Obama to debate the greater good of their nation.

    I just don’t see evidence of that level of vision here.

  22. People have not been paying back student loans for decades. I remember graduates in the 60’s and 70’s particularly ignoring it and walking away. Which they were able to do because they weren’t tracked as well as people are today. I can’t imagine how anyone gets away with that in today’s world. If they do try, that’s pretty stupid and it ruins the program for all those who do make payments.

    As to the complaint about having to pay $161 per month…..jeez. When I graduated, interest rates were 20+%. My loans were consolidated at 16%! Minimum payment of $200+ per month. Which is really nothing. We all have to pay back what we borrow. The fact that they’re student loans vs. any other type of loan is irrelevant. I agree with a longer grace period than 6 months, but 1 year should be more than enough. As to starting a family, buying a car etc. … those with enormous debt DON’T until they are more financially stable. That’s called taking time to build your career, grow up and be financially responsible. The world – Canada – is not going to hand you a fully paid life. You do have to work. And the jobs mentioned – lawyers, doctors etc. – pardon me but everyone else has to work their butt off in every field working at entry level positions. Why should doctors or lawyers be treated any different? Particularly given that the future earnings of those professions far exceed the future income hopes of anything else pretty much.

  23. Andrew, regardless of whether anyone agrees with it or not, the fundamental change, for better or for worse, that is the Green Shift, can hardly be called just ‘busywork’.

    Though the quality of the debate that follows whether in the reponse of the CPC or the media is pretty vacuous with some notable, though not overly sustained, exceptions (e.g., see Aiken etc).

  24. Thanks you, Robert. We count on you to elevate the tone of the conversation.

    Meeeoooowww! People certainly become humourless during a campaign.

    Ok, let’s elevate the tone of the conversation.

    This is what is left of conservatism in Canada.

    Your definition of conservatism is faulty. Conservatism has never been about small government/less spending. All throughout history conservatives in every nation have increased the size of government and bought off voters with their own money just as much as the other ideologies have.

    So Canadian politics sinks, election after election, ever deeper into the mire.

    There never was a golden era of political campaigns. Today’s campaigns are just as empty as they’ve always been. Your lament shouldn’t be directed at empty campaigns but at the majority of voters who pay too much attention to them and not enough attention between them.

  25. For me those quotes by Harper (and others I have read from this election so far) are basically saying “you need to elect Conservative MPs in your area in order to get anything done by a Conservative government”. I believe he said the same thing with regards to Toronto proper yesterday.

    It may already be the case, but that kind of rationalization is extremely depressing, namely you don’t get anything unless your represented by a member of the sitting government. What’s the point of electing anyone if your riding instantly gets bumped to the bottom of the list if you happen to elect an NDP, Lib, BQ, or Green MP this time around?

    Cynicism, right from the top…

  26. If Harper started talking about what I suspect he really wanted for Canada, he’d drop 15 points in the polls.

    The Liberal plan for loan repayment is a step in the right direction, but I would like to see loans made income contingent as well. I also don’t see the need for the Federal government to borrow money, they should just pass laws that state “any chartered bank will lend money to a qualifying student on the following terms”. It might direct some banking funds away from even more lucrative business opportunities, but overall I think it makes the most sense.

    And while some student loans will always go uncollected (although I bet my eye teeth it’s fewer than regular loans) it’s hard to get away with non-repayment.

  27. Sean S “In the absence of at least some sense that “Canada” is, or means something, perhaps it’s no surpise that we’re left to sift through the varyingly cynical, daft and obfuscating policies of our national parties.

    I just don’t see evidence of that level of vision here.”

    Frankly, Canada has some great things, and most of them have nothing to do with government. The best things in life have nothing to do with government. I don’t think Canadians need a grand unifying vision from our government – that strikes me as a socialist concept, a la “The Great Leap Forward”. What I want from goverment is a government that maximizes our potential, and in many cases a grand unifying vision diminishes our potential, by pigeon-holing everyone to the same visionary ideal.

    For instance, I believe the best medicare system is not provided by a grand unifying vision. I do not think a system that excludes people from spending their own money to improve their care, and relegates people to waiting lists with no alternatives is the best system, and I think the best way to improve it is to involve more people (at all levels of decision-making) that are not part of the government.

    Chris: regarding my comment: “many people take student loans without any intention of paying them back”
    To be specific, many student take on vast amounts of debt without consideration for their ability to pay it back, either because they live for the moment or they cannot do the math or for other reasons. Students take on vast debt (eg 40 thousand) and then study in fields for which the average salary is 30 thousand, and they have at most 2 thousand per year in disposable income to pay the debt, leaving them in debt for 30 years. They either go bankrupt or have their loans forgiven eventually.

    Every time student loan conditions are loosened, or tuition becomes less expensive, the problem worsens. If you give something for free, then people take advantage. In fact, you end up devaluing that very same thing. With cheap tuition, Canada has become a place where a Bachelor’s degree is required to get many jobs, regardless of whether it is needed. People are not impressed by a BA anymore, and people expect nothing from it, and in many cases people use less than an ounce of what they learned in university during their careers.

    I don’t believe in abolishing student loans, but I do think that students should be responsible to pay for the majority of their education costs, either through loans or tuition.

  28. Harper has no plan.

  29. David Akin has good column today about conservatives disenchanted with Conservative party. If Cons get a majority in a couple of weeks, there better be a lot of bringing centre to Cons and a lot less Cons moving to centre or I think there’s going to be big problems for party.

    I first started to get really worried about Conservatives/Harper when they decided to ban ‘inefficient’ light bulbs last year. And that led to panic when the Cons decided to do nothing about HRC’s Sec. 13 clause.

    Can a Conservative government really be considered conservative if it meddles in markets, doesn’t protect free speech and thinks tammany hall is something to emulate?

  30. cms:

    Fool! Haven’t you been paying attention? He has a plan. Harper’s plan is to have no plan. And his plan is proceeding brilliantly, in that he continues to not have one.


    Sadly, it’s all too apparent that the people like Clark and Dion who let principle get in the way of political expediency are exactly the kind who get trounced by people like Chretien and Harper who have no such handicap. It’s going to get worse before it gets better.

  31. Mr. Hicks, it’s a sad day when a politician can play Canadians so expertly, giving lip service to the monumental challenges facing us and in the same breath insulting those who dare talk about policy and ideas.

  32. I don’t disagree. It’s truly sad state of affairs, but certainly not a new development.

  33. How about going to Ajax and announcing a corporate tax cut, for example? You know, the kind that might make Hyundai buy the plant & fix it up. Or whatever, something substantial and policy-driven. A passport office? Can the good citizens of Ajax really be bought for so little?

  34. Ajax has the 34th-highest second-generation immigrant population of any riding in Canada. (What?) Which means it has a moderately high proportion of residents who are the children of immigrants. The kind of people who need passports to visit the old country. Not a defense of the policy, but an explanation for why it might have been thought handy.


  35. Honestly, has there ever been a campaign as vapid as the Conservatives are running?

    How about the 1980 Liberal campaign?

    *sigh* I guess I really am that old…

  36. [T]he NDP’s giddy spendathon

    The spending bit is not the issue here. It’s the way-beyond-stupid corporate tax increase that’s supposed to finance it. If the spending had been accompanied by a commitment to increase the GST, the NDP would have leapfrogged its way into first place in the category of ‘Most credible economic platform.’ As it is, it’s fighting for third place with the Greens.

  37. There is no Santa Claus and I don’t believe in magic, yet all of you in this thread, from burpnrun at 3:05 pm to Ben Hicks at 6:47 pm have given me new faith in the Canadian identity. There IS such a thing as us, and we are a breed apart.

    We are Canadian, even when we disagree.

    Public apology to follow.

  38. Paul – it’s not just immigrants and their kids who go overseas, and not just people who go overseas who need passports. Anyone who visits the US needs one now. And your pundit page suggests Ajax-Pickering is growing pretty significantly (17% since the last census?). So, Coyne, again, making with the devastating points. How hideous that a so-called Conservative government is investing in infrastructure to service rapidly growing regions. And imagine, a PM who talks about regional issues when campaigning in that region. It’s unacceptable for a party leader in Westminster system campaign differently than one in a presidential system! When will Harper listen to you and quit his compromisin’ and gettin’ elected ways and finally take on the coal miners. I know you want Harper to do something major about something – but until you give us a hint about what he should do, or even the topic he should address – we should assume you want a replay of the Margaret Thatcher you know and love from Action Adventure Comics for Lazy Pundits…And hope Robert keeps re-posting variations on the toilet paper conversation…

  39. Style:

    That was “the rant of all the glorious rants” and I congratulate your originality. So are you the “white face” Reverend Wright of Canadian politics?

  40. Stephen Gordon – Its not a tax increase, it merely stops the tax cuts put in place by the Cons (Supported by the Libs) that are set to kick in next year….in other words the tax rate won’t change…so not exactly an increase.

  41. Sean S. AND Stephen Gordon;

    Increase schmincrease. Open your wallets either way. We all pay.

    Question is, what the f**k are we paying for?

    Shite.. suddenly I remember something we used to say back in the day; “It’s like a bridge.”

    We meant–“it’s going nowhere.”

    We all knew the answer–we were simply too ____ to agree. You fill in the blank.

  42. So where is that extra money going to come from?

    If you cancel a planned tax cut then the budget surpluses in future years will be larger than planned. C’mon Stephen, I can accept that you think canceling the tax cut is a bad idea but I can’t accept that you can’t figure out that simple bit of economics.

  43. Again: huh? What budget surpluses in future years? Have you not been paying attention to the Harper govt tax cuts? Those surpluses are gone. Dead. Pushing up the daisies. Joined the choir invisible.

    New spending requires new tax revenues. And corporate taxes are the absolutely worst way of generating them.

  44. Stephen – canceling a planned tax cut means there is more government revenue than previously planned. That’s not even economics, that’s arithmetic.

    Why are the planned corporate tax cuts necessary? If I get a vote, I would rather hear you answer that than see you argue about whether canceling a planned tax cut should count as a tax increase. I think your answer would be interesting and helpful, particularly if you spent a couple of lines on the policy/economic reasons for having a mix of taxes rather than relying exclusively on consumption taxes.

  45. The federal gummint is currently in surplus.
    But so what?

    And it should come as no shock that Gerry Nichols of the famed NCC is singing in the same choir as Mr. Coyne.

  46. Its not a tax increase, it merely stops the tax cuts put in place by the Cons (Supported by the Libs) that are set to kick in next year

    Actually, Sean, that is only partially correct. It also rolls back the tax cuts that took affect in January of this year. So it raises corporate taxes (from 19.5% to 22.12%) as well as cancels future tax cuts.

  47. Style: Why are the planned corporate tax cuts necessary?

    I invite you to read Andrew Coyne’s recent column. It summarises pretty well the reasoning behind the case for corporate tax cuts. What I would add is that no-one has yet figured out the theory of how a welfare state can be built on high corporate tax rates, and we don’t have an example of how a country has managed to pull off all three of the following elements:

    1) Being rich
    2) Having high levels of social spending
    3) Having high corporate tax rates.

    The US has chosen 1) and 3). The Nordic countries have chosen 2) and 3). As long as we’re all agreed that Canada would do better to stay in the ‘rich country’ category, then my vote would be for the Nordic model.

  48. Oh, crap. Make that

    “The Nordic countries have chosen 1) and 2).”

  49. Well, it’s nice to learn it’s productivity or “standard of living” Coyne wants Harper to have big ideas about. I would love to see a higher standard of living in Canada, and believe raising productivity is a good idea whether the baby boomers live past retirement or not. But corporations must consider more than tax rates when investing – if only because tax rates can change faster than you can move your investment. What isn’t coming through is why countries use corporate taxes at all. Isn’t the debate over the right balance between various forms of taxation? How does the tax mix in the US and Nordics compare to Canada’s? There must be an OECD study of this…

  50. Stephen Gordon – “as long as we’re all agreed”

    When did that happen ? I thought that was what contending philosophies and elections were all about….. well, maybe not elections.

  51. At almost every campaign stop, if not every, so far, Harper has dropped local pork-barrel promises into his speeches.

    They don’t end up on the Tory website for some reason. Surely the national reporters on the plane have noticed, though.

    Haven’t they?

    Have there been a series of Rapid Reaction Battalions for All announcements this time around? Or just for Bagotville this time? And did he make that one in both official languages, or just one?

  52. And the only reaction to his bitumen revelation is in Alberta. And one brief mention of the NAFTA implications.

  53. “Harper has no plan.”

    Oh, he has a plan alright. It’s a tried and true one. Win one or two solid majorities. Pack the civil service with friends and cronies, as a reward for helping to get elected. Retire and quadruple-dip or quintuple-dip with MP’s pension, party leader pension, and 2 or 3 really good retirement jobs consulting, lobbying, speechmaking, getting UN gigs, being a figurehead at a lawfirm, etc. Sign as many long-term, multi-billion-dollar, sweetheart contracts as possible with the dark lords of the sith who even more than your friends and cronies, helped you to gain power. Make sure that enough hacks from the other parties are participating in the contracts, so they won’t torpedo them when you’re booted from power (just up the dollar amount to keep everyone happy, and hint that it was necessary to keep “foreign interests” from winning the bidding). A very simple plan, and extremely effective.

    “What isn’t coming through is why countries use corporate taxes at all.”

    Easy. Corporate taxes make it virtually impossible to operate any large-scale business profitably, unless you manage to qualify for special tax breaks, subsidies and regulatory protection. How does one qualify for these? By kowtowing to the political establishment and showering millions of dollars on lobbyists who belong to the major parties’ inner circles. No need for the pols to actually nationalize industry and kill the golden goose. Just threaten to tax it out of existence. By using the tax/subsidies/protection racket they get greater subservience from the industrialists and a *lot* more dough rolling in to themselves. Every major industry in Canada, from energy to mining to manufacturing to hi-tech to media to pharmaceuticals operates on this basis.

    “Isn’t the debate over the right balance between various forms of taxation?”

    Er, no, at least, not in the way that you think. The government could take as much money as they want, from anyone they want, at any time that they want. They can print as much money as they want. The debate – to which you’re not invited – is the internal one that takes place in the political establishment over the best way to maximize their rakeoff and minimize any chance of you evading their clutches or getting uppity ideas of liberty. Income taxes are downright silly, grabbing money right off your paycheque before you’ve even seen it. Why do it? Because this allows them to insert themselves into every single corporate finance department and bank account (and every private bank account). To catch “evaders”. Do you ever sometimes feel like a runaway slave?

    Taxes on investment income are also silly, but the point is for it to be impossible to make any after-tax, after-inflation profit on investments. The goal is partly to kill private savings (because people with private savings are not meekly dependent on government handouts), and partly so that they can set up tightly-controlled “registered” savings plans, in which you are only allowed to invest your money for specific reasons which they define, and for which you can only place your money with their cronies who run banks and brokerages. Who kowtow to them for reasons of corporate taxation, as discussed above.

    Clear enough?

  54. The Turning the Screws development process has benchmarked a $65 per tonne credit levy by 2016.

    any reason Steve is leaving that part out?

    any reason he’s not being challenged on it?

  55. There seems to be some confusion in this thread over how Layton is “financing” his spend, spend, spend platform. The NDP web site, in one of its “fact checks”, lays out a table showing the 2008 – 13 tax reductions of $50.2B. Incidentally, it includes the small business reductions, as well as the reduction in diesel fuel tax, so Jack’s taking that away too.

    Canada’s job -creating and investment-making businesses aren’t going to see $50.2B, period, if Jack has his way. I will leave it to your good minds to figure out what this will mean to Canada in terms of:
    – job creation;
    – capital investment;
    – competitiveness;
    – prices increases (Jack’s hidden tax) to you and me;
    – ability to stay in business; and/or
    – future taxes paid.

    Now I’m a (modern day, in AC’s definition) small-c conservative, and I kind of appreciate Dion taking the initiative to call Layton’s socialist plan an onslaught on job creation and economic growth in our business sector. I suspect the CPC will add to this, and to reinforce the point in the debates. Because that’s what it is. To the socialists like Jack, though, you count on fooling most of the people all the eime.

    Moving on, I wonder where Andrew will put his vote on Oct 14th. If the CPC is too “wild” for his conservative principles, where does that leave any other party in Canada, in his mind? As I intimated in the first comment of this post, theory and idealism (AC’s “conservativism”) are fine, but then there’s reality. And if (Andrew’s) strict conservativism principles won’t get you elected, then what’s the point? It isn’t the will of the people.

    The CPC/Harper approach, of showing folks there is another (slower) way to address fiscal conservativism, is the best way to accomplish the goal. Paul Well’s article on the web site indicates how the CPC might be implementing this.

  56. burpnrun

    Depending on where Andrew lives, he might be able to vote Libertarian party. I am small ‘c’ conservative and think the best that can be said about Harper/Cons is that they are slightly less socialist than the other parties. I am fortunate enough to live in riding with Libertarian candidate and he will be getting my vote.

  57. We have only ourselves to blame. The most detailed, forward-looking policy platform I’ve ever seen was the Canadian Alliance platform in 2000. They won two seats west of Manitoba. Granted, they suffered from Dion-like leadership at the time, but would Preston Manning (who Andrew Coyne referred to a few years back as the best Prime Minister never had) have faired much better? I doubt it. The electorate, and most of the media, have rejected any pretense of wanting an eletion based on actual policy choices, with honest analysis of the various options. One can garner far more “earned media” by pointing out a “racist” comment one’s opponent made 6 years ago.

  58. I agree with Robert McClelland, for probably the first and last time ever, when he says this:

    There never was a golden era of political campaigns. Today’s campaigns are just as empty as they’ve always been. Your lament shouldn’t be directed at empty campaigns but at the majority of voters who pay too much attention to them and not enough attention between them.

    In fact, that’s pretty much what I said above. We cry about the lack of substantive policy discussions. Yet voters have proven repeatedly that they’d rather think about anything but. Most people come about their opinions via an emotive, knee-jerk reaction to something they don’t like. They interpret things in a way that fits their preconcieved notions about how things are, then go back to listening to celebrity gossip and reading about Lindsay Lohen’s girlfriend. It’s human nature, and it doesn’t lend itself to high-level political debate.

  59. “We cry about the lack of substantive policy discussions. Yet voters have proven repeatedly that they’d rather think about anything but.”

    The “substantive policies” which are under discussion are totally irrelevant to 99 percent of the people who you expect to vote on them. On purpose. Why should anyone in the Gaspé care about how Albertan bitumen or Saskatchewan wheat gets sold? What is the point of making western farmers listen to and judge a debate about whether GM or Bombardier should get subsidies or a financial bailout? Why should they have to pay for any of this? Are people in the GTA supposed to figure out how to fix the problem of fetal alcohol syndrome on native reserves? Name a single person in Canada who is qualified to say whether it’s better for all of Afghanistan, or for the world as a whole, if that country is governed by a corrupt and militarily weak gang of narco-lords who don’t represent the largest ethnic group in the country, or by a militarily strong group of religious fanatics who do represent the largest tribe. Do you really expect anyone to seriously follow such a debate?

    So elections are fought over irrelevant issues, things which the government has no business sticking its nose into. Their purpose is to bamboozle people by scaring them with imaginary problems, or with problems that are none of their business, present them with bogus choices and then pick their pockets while they’re scratching their heads trying to figure out who is the least evil of the would-be “leaders”. A mug’s game.

  60. I don’t really understand what’s crawled into Andrew Coyne.

    I must agree with oompus boompus that Harper really has no choice. It is not so much that certain politicians aren’t qualified for turning this country around (I believe Harper could be one of them), it is the voter at large who isn’t weathered enough for taking on reality or taking a joke for that matter. The two actually go hand in hand; when good jokes can be laughed at, it means the concept has been understood.

    Politics in the Netherlands, for instance, is much more hard nosed, for the politician and voting public alike. Mainly because the Dutch aren’t so paranoid, or gullible. Take your pick.

  61. On the off chance that anyone else desperately wanted to see an OECD study on tax composition: http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/45/6/39495382.pdf

    Big take-away: OECD countries get less of their tax revenue from consumption taxes now than ever before. The report sees no clear benefit for economic growth or competitiveness/productivity from cutting corporate and income taxes and raising consumption taxes.

  62. It’s pretty depressing that Harper has become so blatant in threatening Canadians: ‘Don’t vote Conservative; don’t expect any pork’.

  63. It’s a plan about not having a plan. It’s gold, Gerry, I tell ya it’s gold.

  64. Libertarian? For real? Ok, smaller government is one thing, but come on. Check out this one little nugget of policy:
    “National Parks
    There is no reason for the government to subsidize the leisure activities of some of its citizens at the expense of others. We call for the operation of all National Parks on a self-sufficient basis, pending their sale to private interests.”

    It reminds me of the old joke, “How many Libertarians does it take to log a National Park?”

    That would be one quick way to get rid of wilderness and habitat that the planet will never get back.

    While Libertarian’s agree that a government should not interfere with the people, do they consider that it takes only a few Free men to irrevocably interfere with the rest of their compatriots? Take west coast salmon farming, for instance. What do you get when you add up a Libertarian government, a few Free men that don’t believe in science, and a few more salmon farms?

    At least social anarchists would likely offer some protection for the planet.

    My apologies if I misunderstood what Libertarians are about.

  65. Depressing, yes, at times I feel completely depressed when I hear people like Scott Reid spout nonsense on national tv, or read Magaret Atwood’s complete incoherent nonsense, in a national newspaper no less.

    as for the policy debates: “jailing 14 year olds”

    The way I read the policy proposal is that the Conservatives are proposing for the judges to have longer maximum sentences at their disposal if they so deem necessary. The proposed policy doesn’t state that all 14 year olds need to be receiving that longer sentence, but that the judges will have this at their disposal if needed.

    I wouldn’t blame Harper for confusing us on the issue, or taking us for fools, but I would leave that up to Duceppe because he has done his best to discredit this new maximum sentence proposal.

    And the other proposal, the one of naming dangerous juvenile offenders, is a welcome thing, I think.

    Look at it this way: when a child comes home with a report card, either with good marks or bad ones, does that report card not have a name on it? Have you ever seen a report card without a name attached to it?

    Doesn’t anybody believe that humans 14 yrs young/old should at least understand that THEY are responsible for the offense committed? Nameless offenses??? Where does that sort of nonsense find a proper home?

    These are proposed party policies under discussion.

  66. And about the US financial crisis: of course it is also about greed, but not just greed coming from wall street but also from the ordinary American.

    Why would the average American, or Canadian for that matter, believe that one can take on a mortgage without having the ability to pay it back? Did the ordinary citizen not ask more questions regarding the interest rates going up after two years, I believe. What about that sort of greed: believing that finances will work out regardless!

    As if.

  67. “How many Libertarians does it take to log a National Park?”

    Would the private owners of a valuable parklike tourist attraction, such as a sugar bush, a salmon stream or the Capilano Bridge clearcut their own land? Hardly, unless maybe property taxes are driving them to ruin.

    A private landowner might log his own land or mine it, but he’s unlikely to clearcut it, ruin the fishing streams, let the topsoil wash away, and never replant it. That would be wasting a valuable resource for which he paid cold hard cash, or on which he might have a big mortgage. And only a fool would log or stripmine a property that has more value as a tourist attraction than as lumber and ore.

    Governments are often very happy to allow a valuable piece of land to be ruined for short term gain, for example by selling someone the right to clearcut it. They do this all the time in order to raise cash to pay off welfare recipients (of both the individual and corporate kind) and cronies, in order to help win elections. A politician’s timeframe is far shorter than a landowner’s. A landowner typically wants to get good use out of his land for his entire life, and then bequeath the land to his heirs so they can live off it for their entire lives. A politician has to win an election in order to make any money, which he usually does by promising public money to the most desperate and unscrupulous people – an advance auction of stolen goods (h/t H. L. Mencken). Once they elect him, he must stripmine the countryside, as it were, to pay off the people whose votes he bought. When he retires in 5-10 years he will be on an indexed pension and and has no pecuniary interest whatsoever in the property he exploited unscrupulously. (see: Commons Tragedy; and Democracy: The God that Failed)

    And it gets even worse than that: ruining the economy is actually in the best interest of the political and bureaucratic class, because they own a monopoly on the reconstruction. If they wrecked, say, an entire industry through criminal mismanagement – let’s take a wild, outrageous, hypothetical example and say that a bunch of politicians and bureaucrats somehow destroyed the Atlantic cod fishery, one of the world’s greatest and most abundant resources (I know, highly unlikely you say, but let’s just pretend). If they did, the tremendous outcry to “save us” after such a disaster would give them the perfect excuse to ratchet up spending in order to fix the problems that they themselves caused. Everything from new welfare programs to job retraining to scientific research and university funding. The more money the government spends the more of their cronies they can hire, the more contracts they can give out and the more control they would exert in the community (since the locals are far more dependent on government than they were before their former livelihood was destroyed). And the more government money which is being spent the more potential for bribery, kickbacks, rigged contracts, etc. Thick brown envelopes bulging with cash, dontchaknow. For, ah, consulting. Hypothetically of course.

  68. It isn’t Canadians that are STUPID ,it’s the CONS in Canada that are Stupid. At least most American Republicans are waking up to the Fact that Bush Republicans has destroyed thier Country,but the CONS like Lapdog Hacks the Likes of Wells and Coyne still spout the FAR Right Wing propaganda that even the Lapdogs in the USA MSM have given up on. It’s the Lapdog Hacks in the MSM that helped Bush Republicans destroy the USA. The Republican shills in the USA like Armstrong Williams at least didn’t Sell thier ‘journalistic intergrity’ as cheap as the Sreet walkers Coyne and Wells,Williams was more the High priced Call girl charging $250,000 to Catupult the Propaganda for Bush’s “No Child Left Behind”.It’s the Lapdogs Hacks in the Corp owned Cdn MSM that has Sold out the Canadian Public and Canada. Wells and Coyne don’t “Speak Truth to Power” they willing shill for thier party of Choice and they care less for the Good of the Canadian public,just like thier Lapdog cronies shilled for Bush. Harper is allowed to Screw Canada because that’s what the Corp Owned Media wants. Coyne and Wells and all the Lapdog “Free” Press deserve more scorn than any of the Politicans in Ottawa for they disgrace real Journalists that have risked Prison or death to have what these bastards Abuse the Right to FREE Speech and a FREE Press. The only thing the Lapdog Hacks like Coyne and Wells Risk is the Loss of a Well PAID Cushy Job,They don’t do much reseach all they do is spout the CON Party Line and the biggest Risk of All is Access to ‘Dear Leader’. Harper hasn’t disappointed me for he is excatly what I thought he was and the reason I didn’t vote for the Fat Lying prick.The Biggest disapointmeent is the way the Canadian “journalists” has failed to inform the Canadians and just shill for the CONS. So the CONS in Canada and the CON Lapdog Hacks are more STUPID than Republican Americans for after watching the Bush Neo CONS destroy the USA they are Cheering & Shilling for the HarperCONS to do the smae here. Nay, Canadians aren’t Stupid any more than the poor CONNED Americans that were Sold the Bush ‘Bill of Goods’by the Corp Owned Lapdog Journalists in the MSM were Stupid, they were misinformed by the Willing MSM like the Corp Owned Cdn MSM is putting ‘Lipstick on the Harper PIG’ and trying to Sell the Canadian “A Pig in a Poke”. Mulroney should have said “There’s No Media Whore like a CON Media Whore”.

  69. On the other hand, I would timidly recommend Linda Diebel’s recent posting on her blog.

  70. “Instead, it needs the kind of prudent investments our government is making to help the economy grow.”

    Like letting your buddies buy Technology Fund credits on the cheap so they can pawn them off later when the market value goes through the roof?

    Turning the Corner is a scam.

  71. I agree with Geiseric. When politicians are responsible for something – your kids’ education, your job, your retirement savings, your health care, technology investment, or whatever – they will ALWAYS make decisions based on political concerns. Hardly ever will they make the decision based on what’s good for you, and they will NEVER decide based on what is best for you in the long term. They are looking after THEIR long term interests. The extreme scale and complexity of the policies which they formulate is the means by which they are able to trick people into not rebelling against their self-interested confidence scams. By turning little problems into huge national and international problems they intimidate ordinary people into thinking that they couldn’t cope with it on their own.

    It is not a moral or intellectual shortcoming of politicians that they work this way. Their morals and intellect are about average. The problem is that since the political class enjoys a monopoly power over whatever they do in government, they have nearly complete freedom to tilt the system in their own benefit.

    Private producers and service providers would also be motivated to act in their own interests instead of in his customers’ interests, but not enjoying a monopoly (unless of course the government *gives* them monopoly power), these private entities cannot rip off or exploit the people they deal with. If they did, they would be quickly dumped, fired, sued and replaced.

    But when firing or replacing a public entity you have to wait four years for an election, in which case the issues will be so many and so complex that voting down any particular scam is impossible. That is why you still have a GST, sponsorship program, gn registry, a pointless war in Afstan, etc. And it is why you are about to get Kyoto-inspired carbon reductions rammed down your throat, despite voting in the party which claimed to be against it.

  72. oompus: Microsoft disagrees with your thesis. It took government and legal action to impede that monopoly enough that other entities were given some chance to continue, and that’s an industry with almost zero barriers to entry.

    A monopoly is an incredibly powerful thing. It doesn’t die just because some little upstart comes up and tries to give consumers a fair price. Economies of scale can allow the monopoly to operate more cheaply than any competition, and after wiping out two or three upstarts, the market usually concludes it’s not worth trying, leaving the monopoly free to exploit all it wants.

  73. The microsoft near-monopoly exists because of government intervention in the form of intellectual property laws. These exist for the purpose of allowing governments to award and maintain monopolies. They are a device for controlling markets. Even if you could make a case for the existence of intellectual property in natural law, which is bunk, the fact is that once government intervenes it is the litigants with the highest-paid lawyers and lobbyists who will rule the day, not the ones with the best claim on precedence or originality.

    The U.S. courts did not impede MS in any way. They settled for a “punishment” in which MS donated million$ of their stuff to government schools, the purpose of which was to grow their market share even more.

    If a true monopoly did ever exist, i.e. if it came into being without any help from someone’s police force and army, it would not last long. While large companies have economies of scale, they quickly become deaf to the needs of individual customers. Their products become monolithic, bloated compromises which do nothing particularly well. The organization can no longer feel or respond to the real needs of the market.

    This inevitable failure of large, monopolistic companies is what creates the opportunity for smaller, more nimble, more humble and less greedy companies to take over market share.

    Anyone who has bought MS Vista knows exactly what I am talking about.

  74. “I agree with Geiseric. When politicians are responsible for something – your kids’ education, your job, your retirement savings, your health care, technology investment, or whatever – they will ALWAYS make decisions based on political concerns…”

    But I’m not talking about in general. I’ve been running the financials on the two plans and the Conservative’s Turning the Corner has oil wealth written all over it. Every trip through the books turns up something new.

    for instance, today I finally noticed the stated efficiency-based targets are bogus. The moment sector growth falls off 1.5% per annum the absolute targets snap like a twig.

    Its designed to fail and the first to the winner’s circle will be the companies with the brains and the capital to snap up the Technology Fund credits while they’re going for a quarter on the dollar putting them in for over $40B waiting for the credit market to heat up. Talk about a disincentive to success.

  75. Dear Mr. Coyne,
    Whenever Stephen Harper steps down as leader of the Conservative Party…

    (and for the record, I hope thats not anytime soon. Because, unlike you, I still hold onto some hope that given a majority, Harper will show some sort of vision, something substansive that excites me again. Here me out.. My real hope is that after a year of a majority, he decides he will step down as leader before the next election. This would FINALLY get him out of constant election mode and allow him think about some legacy project’s. Maybe like repealing gag laws and funding political parties, doing something about section 13, cutting spending, and getting away from agricultural supply management, I could go on and on… I know im reaching here but it could happen. but whether it does or not…)

    will you please run to replace him as Conservative leader? You already have my vote. You are the most intellegent and refreshing voice in Canada today.

    Sort of like Stephen Harper used to be…

  76. oompus: I realize that’s the libertarian playbook and you’ve obviously bought into it enough that you don’t want the cognitive dissonance, but the facts of Microsoft’s history are completely opposite of what you suggest. MS achieved it’s monopoly by having reasonable products combined with zero ethics. Their rise to a monopoly had them on the defending end of IP law far more often than they used it, they just had a solid legal team to protect them, and no shame about using any trick in the book to hamper any sort of competition that might arise. It was only once they achieved monopoly status and the public started looking at their tactics more closely (such as the European courts examination of their media player bundling tactics) that they eased off on that and some competition started to rise.

    But, your paragraph about a true monopoly is wishful thinking, not fact. Yeah, I’m sure we all hope that a monopoly will get lazy and complacent and just allow competition to arise without trying to crush it, but there’s nothing that guarantees that.

Sign in to comment.