The Scene. The Prime Minister was, just yesterday, lamenting the tawdriness of this place. “I’ve been very clear with the Canadian people our number one focus week in and week out remains the economy. When we sit down as a caucus or when we sit down in cabinet, that’s 80 percent of our discussion,” he recounted to a group of young people. “Everything else that often gets so much attention from your former media colleagues, Mike, these are sideshows. The economy is what matters and it’s got to be what matters everywhere and it’s got to be what matters at these meetings in June.”
That the Prime Minister was, at that very moment, participating in an actual sideshow is an irony that seems to have gone uncommented upon by Senator Mike Duffy, the former journalist assigned to host this little infomercial on Parliament Hill. “Prime Minister,” Mr. Duffy is recorded to have assured, “we’ll be watching with great interest.”
Still, so apparently inspired by yesterday’s display were at least five of Mr. Harper’s cabinet ministers that they set out today in hopes of bending the world to Mr. Harper’s will. To Mumbai went Jim Flaherty, to Shanghai went Stockwell Day, to Washington went Peter Van Loan and to Ottawa went Lawrence Cannon and Tony Clement: each determined to explain why talk of an international bank levy was both unwelcome and possibly disastrous. Once more, apparently, dark forces are aligning against this nation’s economy. And once more, apparently, the only thing standing between us and total doom are Mr. Harper’s high principles and unshakeable resolve.
“Obviously Lawrence and I are here along with other ministers spanning the globe today to speak with one voice for Canada,” Mr. Clement explained, deftly employing an odd metaphor to describe the sound of at least five different individuals speaking.
Mr. Cannon, seated to his right, look concerned. Mr. Clement was insistent, struggling to control his hands which were obviously quite eager to plead for reasonableness.
“Canada is and will remain opposed to a tax that would penalize financial institutions that remained strong and prosperous while many of the world’s banks failed,” Mr. Clement explained. “And of course the most important reason why we oppose the bank tax is because it is unfair to Canadian consumers who would ultimately foot the bill as they use their banking services.”
Previously it was merely the Liberals, the socialists and the separatists who wanted our hard-earned money. Now apparently most of the western world is out to rob us. But the first to ask the ministers a question, alas, wasn’t entirely clear on what exactly could be said to be the problem here. “You’re saying that Canada won’t apply a bank tax so why would anything that the United States or Europe does, they view the bank tax as justifiable and a good policy, why would that affect Canada?” the reporter asked.
“Those who advocate for this tax on financial institutions are not saying simply that the United States must do this or the UK must do this,” Mr. Clement responded. “They’re saying globally as G20 countries, as OECD countries even, this has to be something that has to be applied to all countries regardless of individual circumstances. And we’re saying that is the wrong approach.”
This did not seem to quite explain why we couldn’t simply beg off and proceed in our own way, but Mr. Clement had more complaints.
He warned, for instance, that a bank tax might lead to higher service charges, the sort of thing, if memory serves, that man with the funny accent from ING is always warning us about.
What’s more, this bank tax—like almost everything else, it seems—is a shiny object that threatens to lead us astray. “We do believe that this is a distraction,” Mr. Clement testified, “that for many countries that there are other reforms that can and should be done.”
And if that’s not bad enough, there’s the other thing.
“Regardless of that decision,” he continued, “what you’re doing as well is you’re rewarding bad behaviour on the world stage. There’s a moral hazard issue whereby if if this tax creates a bailout fund, then what you’re doing is you’re encouraging risky behaviour.”
Mr. Clement was rife this day with metaphors—”The wheels of advocacy are grinding in motion right now,” he mused at one point—and happy adjectives. Our national approach to finance and banking was this day said to be all of admirable, steadfast, strong, robust, stable and secure. But one cynic wondered if, given the Finance Minister’s admission that a financial reform agreement was unlikely to be arrived at this summer, the G8 and G20 meetings might not be worth the trouble. “What,” he wondered, “are these summits going to do other than create more traffic in Toronto?”
Mr. Clement shooed this away with hopeful words about “progress” and “discussion” and “moral suasion.”
“There are other countries that we feel share the same position so we want to exercise some global leadership,” Mr. Clement had said at another point.
Thus can our global leadership now be said to be well-aired.