Stephen Harper’s letter on the economy

Paul Wells on why we should expect cuts to programs that have no constituency within the Conservative party

by Paul Wells

Last night I posted the Prime Minister’s letter to Conservative MPs on the economy, which you may still not have seen because it received, judging from a quick Google News search, one-twentieth the coverage the election of Mike Crawley as Liberal party president got. Which makes sense, of course, because a sitting PM controls only $200 billion in program spending, whereas Mike Crawley beat Sheila Copps.

But onward. The timing of the Harper letter is obviously opportunistic: it’s designed to emphasize that Harper is Focused on the Economy—quick shot of the leader working late at the Langevin Block, pool of light from his single desk lamp his only defence against the gloom—whereas the Liberals want to legalize pot. The mise en scène is maybe a bit too obvious to be effective.

But there is also information in the letter, so let’s have a look. 

The next budget, he writes, will “focus on key areas that will lead to stronger growth and job creation such as:

1. Expanding trade and opening new market…

2. Investing in research and development…

3.  Contributing to skills training…

4.  Eliminating red tape…

5.  Keeping taxes low—to help families balance their budgets and to provide a competitive business environment that supports job-creating investment and expansion.

6. Controlling debt and deficits—to ensure Canada avoids the debt crisis plaguing many developed countries by gradually eliminating our deficit from now to 2015.”

I’ve added numbers to the bullet points for handy reference. The combination of points 5 and 6 will be familiar by now. Low taxes and concerted effort to pay off the deficit means continued pressure on program spending. This will mean cuts to programs and departments that have no constituency within the Conservative party, and a lack of new programs in most areas.

Point 1 anticipates some kind of decent conclusion to negotiations on Canada-EU trade, and continues to signal the government’s desire to get the Northern Gateway pipeline built. The “research and development” bit…will have to wait for details. The feds have a heap of evidence that the weakness in Canadian R&D is in the private sector and that the most generous tax credits in the world aren’t helping. Perhaps they are even starting to listen.

Discuss the rest of these points among yourselves. Harper continues by calling on ministers to consult with Canadians on these issues and to repeat, as he has in recent interviews, that “tough, important choices” lie ahead. “We must make those choices – choices that will lead to greater prosperity – but we must make them together with the Canadian people.”

I’ll bite. What are the choices?




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Stephen Harper’s letter on the economy

  1. I think Harper has already clearly signalled he’s willing to sacrifice the future for the present: the environment for the economy (or at least that part of the economy that generates profits for Big Oil).  So we can expect to see cutbacks in funding for environmental monitoring and enforcement, National Parks, and climate change research.

  2. So I guess Mr. Flaherty’s vaunted pre-budget consultations are worth a
    warm bucket of spit ? And they were such a Catholic effort … Catholic in
    the sense that having other people suffer so that you don’t have to has a
    slightly expansive effect on the needle’s eye.

  3. Well these are all great things, and I agree with them….although I’d expand greatly on 3…skills training, and stop worrying about 6…deficits and debt……but none of them are new or innovative.  It’s the kind of standard boiler plate that most countries promote.

    And as you say, the weakness in R&D is in the private sector….in fact it’s embedded in our national corporate culture, and unlikely to change.  Canadians are big on ‘prudent’ and safety….not known as risk-takers.

    Harper has claimed consultancy on the budget for years now, but we have yet to see any…..he certainly isn’t  going to visit legion halls and church basements to talk to ‘average’ Canadians. At best he’ll send Flaherty out to patiently listen to bank and business CEOs, and then ignore what he hears.

    The ‘choices’ he’s talking about are what to cut, and by how much….something he’s already doing…especially to depts and groups he dislikes.

  4. Destroy.

  5. Twaddle, twaddle, it is all twaddle.

    I have one question for PM Harper and his minions: what have they done to make Canada less of a second tier socialistic country Harper was bemoaning a decade ago? When Harper et al. are finally voted out of power, they are likely to have a worse economic record than Trudeau but Cons have chutzpah to claim they are free-traders and creators of wealth. It is pathetic.

    Trade deal with EU is better than nothing but it is not important because Europe is dying economically – all the action is happening in East and we are doing little to improve trade with Asia. What I find most disconcerting is that Harper/bureaucrats appear to think they have all time in world to craft policies but that isn’t true. Everyone wants to trade with Orient and Asia countries but while Canada talks about it as a goal in future, other countries are making arrangements right now. 

    Canadian pols apparently are content to spend their lives with thumbs up their bums, and minds in neutral, and it is greatly irritating.

    BBC Jan 16 2012:
    Chancellor George Osborne has announced plans to make London the leading centre for trading the Chinese currency, the Renminbi.

  6. Twaddle, twaddle, it is all twaddle.

    I have one question for PM Harper and his minions: what have they done to make Canada less of a second tier socialistic country Harper was bemoaning a decade ago? When Harper et al. are finally voted out of power, they are likely to have a worse economic record than Trudeau but Cons have chutzpah to claim they are free-traders and creators of wealth. It is pathetic.

    Trade deal with EU is better than nothing but it is not important because Europe is dying economically – all the action is happening in East and we are doing little to improve trade with Asia. What I find most disconcerting is that Harper/bureaucrats appear to think they have all time in world to craft policies but that isn’t true. Everyone wants to trade with Orient and Asia countries but while Canada talks about it as a goal in future, other countries are making arrangements right now. 

    Canadian pols apparently are content to spend their lives with thumbs up their bums, and minds in neutral, and it is greatly irritating.

    BBC Jan 16 2012:
    Chancellor George Osborne has announced plans to make London the leading centre for trading the Chinese currency, the Renminbi.

  7. I’m hopeful Harper & Flaherty will have something bold and innovative on R&D.  

    That said, I can’t imagine they’ll muster the courage to eliminate or substantially reform the refundable SRED tax credit scheme. It has become little more than a hourly billing colossus for consultants. Still, start-ups love (and in some cases, live on) the refunds. 

    Killing it for CCPCs (e.g., SMBs) will be politically treacherous and killing it for the domestic public corps & multi-nationals is tantamount to a tax increase. 

  8. They are already cutting Environment Canada staff and refusing to tell us which ones or what they do. So probably cutting monitoring of the climate and the environment, thus betraying our country to the filthy oil corporations.

  9. It’s the usual floated balloon to gauge the acceptability of reducing budgets on the expected sacred cows. In spite of the reorganized commitment in Health spending, I’m guessing that there will be some movement on the other provincial transfers (“adult conversation” and “tough choices” tend to be applied to the more universally-loved spending priorities of education and health). 

    Since environmental policies are hardly a “tough choice” as the cuts have begun and are likely to continue, my own guess will be some kind of new standards applied to transfers for education (maintained or improved for areas of study that directly benefit industry and instructions to reduce on the Arts and Social Sciences, perhaps?) and/or non-health social programs. 

    I focus on Transfer Payments as Martin’s prior success from cutting them is hardly a secret and many CPC-friendly regions don’t have the same dependence on them as others do. 

    Failing that, there could be some early rumbling over a fight over public sector pensions – it won’t be hard to find “townhalls” outside of Ottawa to “discover” overwhelming support for a fight over PS pension reform.

    At least, this is what comes to mind at the moment :)   

    • excellent post, wish i didn’t have to read most of the others here

  10. Funny opening on this article. Seems obvious why people are paying more attention to the results of the Liberal convention than Harper’s rehash of the obvious. At least it’s something new to talk about!
     
    I mean honestly, I could’ve given you those “points” of Harper’s, if asked, without any research at all. For pete’s sake, it’s the same type of crap governments have been saying for years and years.
     
    Hmmm, let’s see… Trade, R&D, HR, redtape, taxes… yawn.
     
    What does it take to come up with this stuff?
     
    Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
     
    It’s practically a form letter.
     
    In fact I begin to wonder if we’ve elected a machine. One that knows what good policy sounds like, even if it has no idea how to implement it.

    • Reporters are certainly paying more attention to the convention, but people aren’t: our traffic for non-LPC stories was higher all weekend than for stories from the convention. This post here, and the one where I simply posted the text of the letter, have received more traffic on the website today than anything any of us wrote from the Liberal convention.

      • But LPC coverage was spread out among 1,000,000,000,000,000 posts.  Might one piece a day  have focused reader interest?

        • Coverage here was terrible…much better elsewhere, so that’s where people went who were interested in the convention story.

          • Wouldn’t they have had to come here and read the first story to find out the coverage was terrible?

          • That live-blog would have been sufficient to put them off. LOL

          • Yes, but you have to consider repeat traffic. I tend to come back numerous times if I get engaged in discussions surrounding the article’s topic matter.

      • I find that a bit of an odd comment.There were new alternatives. Most libs were either over at liberal live or on facebook. Who else would you expect to follow here, other then a couple of libs like me who wandered over? If this had been a tory or ndp convention would the numbers at macleans have been all that high?
        Admittedly it would have been nice if more non libs had been interested in following @ macleans.

      • Why should I be concerned about this silly letter the PM writes to his MPs?  If he has anything of substance to say to me as a citizen he, or one of his ministers, can address the issues in the HoC.  There have also been tv interviews that are more telling than this wasteful letter.  Deciphering the hidden agenda might be fun if  you have nothing better to do of your weekends but frankly it’s no enigma.

      • I wouldn’t rely too much on “traffic” reports. Engaging articles stimulate a lot of repeat traffic, especially if it garners a lively debate.

        I myself barely glanced over the coverage here in that regard. It wasn’t overly insightful from my perspective and the comments’ section didn’t engage me in any debate or discussion I found interesting.

        In contrast, I’ve visited this article at least five times since yesterday, maybe more, simply because I was interested to see what people were saying. I doubt I’m the only one either, based on the number of comments.

        You may wish to consider that some “indicators” are not “indicative” of anything.

    • “In fact I begin to wonder if we’ve elected a machine.”

      You WONDER?  Some of us who didn’t vote the blue machine wonder who didn’t already know it WAS!

  11. Conservatives:

    “Harper continues by calling on ministers to consult with Canadians on these issues and to repeat, as he has in recent interviews, that “tough, important choices” lie ahead. “We must make those choices – choices that will lead to greater prosperity – but we must make them together with the Canadian people.”

    Liberals:

    “But it may be worth gently noting, to the astonishing number of Liberals who got up on the stage of the Ottawa Convention Centre this weekend to declare that only their party understands Canada, that an Abacus survey a year ago found that Canadians viewed the Liberals as the national party that least “understands the problems facing Canada,” “looks after the interests of people like me,” or “defends the interests of people in my province.”

    Thanks for the quotables Paul.  

    My hope is that there is a little of the old Reform Party fiscal ideology left and the MP’s pensions are reviewed.  (Hope you are reading this PMO Communications Staff)

    #1  Just read Luiza’s update on the Keystone – ha!  Looks like Harper’s comments on selling our energy elsewhere is getting some action from the supporters in the U.S.

  12. …….

  13.  A fairly dull report on the PM’s letter followed by even-more-inane-than-usual comments.  

  14. ……..

  15. Disqus $#@!$%

  16. Forgot, get more Canadians behind bars. Destroy supply management. Pack the courts tribunals and Senate. 

    • gerrymander

      • Forgot: destroy enemies: environmentalists, Liberals.

  17. FORGOT:
    1) Patience is a virtue.
    2) Silence is golden; the bleating sheep loses a bite.
    3) Firewall your line of supply, THEN attack your opposition’s.  Without letup.
    4) Information: quantity, not quality.
    5) You do not need the greatest number to prevail, just a critical mass on this one night.
    6) Know your enemy, but do not let your enemy know you.
    7) You have a very limited amount of time; use soundbites.
    8) Be good to the help; be their dream.
    9) Worship the monarchy.
    10) Money talks.

  18. “This will mean cuts to programs and departments that have no constituency within the Conservative party, and a lack of new programs in most areas.”

    Wouldn’t be a problem if he was only elected to govern for conservatives and for the exclusive benefit of the CPC – which he wasn’t last time i bothered to pay attention.
     Hell of a way to run a country if you ask me.
    PW’s pretty good at digging up relevant past precendents. Any thing to say previous majority govts always play it this way? IOWs that just tough – democracy at work – they have the talking stick right now?  

    “We must make those choices – choices that will lead to greater prosperity – but we must make them together with the Canadian people.”

    ..typo i think Paul. Shouldn’t that be for rather then with?

    Choices…ie., not foreign money that goes toward orgs we don’t like, rather then foreign money that goes toward good things – like jobs and economic development.

    Choices… between messy, overlong, stumbling blocks toward “prosperity” such as enviromental processes and alternative ideas and solutions which may less profitable for some while fairer to others. 

    Choices…like not taking no for an answer from FNs who do know the difference between the cost of something and the value of nothing.

    Choices…like setting up for the national good strawmen auguments that devide and polarize people.

    Choices…Between us and them!

     Dig deep conservative brothers and sisters we have enemies to confront in our relentless struggle to take back this country from those who would force us to share it with them.

    • ^%$#@! disqus.

  19. “This will mean cuts to programs and departments that have no constituency within the Conservative party, and a lack of new programs in most areas.”
     
    Wouldn’t be a problem if he was only elected to govern for conservatives and for the exclusive benefit of the CPC – which he wasn’t last time i bothered to pay attention.
     Hell of a way to run a country if you ask me.
    PW’s pretty good at digging up relevant past precendents. Any thing to say previous majority govts always play it this way? IOWs that just tough – democracy at work – they have the talking stick right now?  
     
    “We must make those choices – choices that will lead to greater prosperity – but we must make them together with the Canadian people.”
     
    ..typo i think Paul. Shouldn’t that be for rather then with?
     
    Choices…ie., not foreign money that goes toward orgs we don’t like, rather then foreign money that goes toward good things – like jobs and economic development.
     
    Choices… between messy, overlong, stumbling blocks toward “prosperity” such as enviromental processes and alternative ideas and solutions which may less profitable for some while fairer to others. 
     
    Choices…like not taking no for an answer from FNs who do know the difference between the cost of something and the value of nothing.
     
    Choices…like setting up for the national good strawmen auguments that devide and polarize people.
     
    Choices…Between us and them!
     
     Dig deep conservative brothers and sisters we have enemies to confront in our relentless struggle to take back this country from those who would force us to share it with them.
     
     

  20. “This will mean cuts to programs and departments that have no constituency within the Conservative party, and a lack of new programs in most areas.”
     
    Wouldn’t be a problem if he was only elected to govern for conservatives and for the exclusive benefit of the CPC – which he wasn’t last time i bothered to pay attention.
     Hell of a way to run a country if you ask me.
    PW’s pretty good at digging up relevant past precendents. Any thing to say previous majority govts always play it this way? IOWs that just tough – democracy at work – they have the talking stick right now?  
     
    “We must make those choices – choices that will lead to greater prosperity – but we must make them together with the Canadian people.”
     
    ..typo i think Paul. Shouldn’t that be for rather then with?
     
    Choices…ie., not foreign money that goes toward orgs we don’t like, rather then foreign money that goes toward good things – like jobs and economic development.
     
    Choices… between messy, overlong, stumbling blocks toward “prosperity” such as enviromental processes and alternative ideas and solutions which may less profitable for some while fairer to others. 
     
    Choices…like not taking no for an answer from FNs who do know the difference between the cost of something and the value of nothing.
     
    Choices…like setting up for the national good strawmen auguments that devide and polarize people.
     
    Choices…Between us and them!
     
     Dig deep conservative brothers and sisters we have enemies to confront in our relentless struggle to take back this country from those who would force us to share it with them.
     
     

  21. This comment was deleted.

    • Spam from the Korean Evangelical component. Don’t click through unless you’ve “… already come.”

  22. Much more interesting is the interview given to RadCan where Harper states that he accepts responsibility for all the decisions made by his government since his party has been holding a majority in the House.  He implies that he is not responsble for the decisions made by his government when he did not.

    Responsible government only applies when you have a majority?  Really? 

    • No, he implied that he is not responsible for decisions made by Parliament when he did not have a majority there.
      For instance, back when all I heard was that Parliament was supreme, the 3 opposition parties ganged up on the minority Conservative government and with the help of the Lib Speaker passed a motion that the Canadian government was in contempt.

      Harper is saying that he is not responsible with that decision by the majority in Parliament——he decided to let the people decide who was responsible for that action—very democratic of him, I thought.

  23. We don’t need to wonder what will be cut if we read some of Harper’s words from his NCC and Reform days — he and his opinions haven’t changed, he’s just realized he has to get things done through the back door while we’re all focused elsewhere.

  24. Seems to me that the first task is to translate Harper’s news speak into reality speak – his choice of language usually has nothing to do with his intentions.

  25. (1) China.
    (2) CFI and Centres of Excellence
    (3) CFI and Centres of Excellence, + scholarships (e.g. Banting)
    (4) cutting environmental regulations with respect to oil, tarsands, etc.
    (5) no tax increases
    (6) cuts to non-essential agencies.  I can probably list them, but the howls of indignation would be so  loud that I might die of delight.  Can’t have that.

  26. This could be read as an instruction from Harper to Mp’s telling them what he would like to see them address publically, in other words stay bland for the moment. I have no problem with most of Harper’s decisions except for increased military spending / activity. A U.S invasion of Iran looms, followed by a quick Syrian invasion I suspect, to destroy Hezbollah’s base. I do not want Canada involved in any way. But Harper has indicated we will be.

  27. I don’t understand why people argue that opening up trade with a jurisdiction in stagnation is a bad thing. Would I like to have free trade with Brazil, a growing economy, or the EU one that’s bigger than Brazil’s will ever be.

    The choice is clear to me but even then it isn’t as if we’re tying ourselves to a sinking ship. A deal with the EU doesn’t stop us from having a deal with anyone else. I just don’t get it. I’m very proud of the Conservative’s push for free trade. 

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