The Commons: Does anyone here know how to balance a cheque book?

In this House nothing can be said to be certain, except aspersions and taxes

by Aaron Wherry

The Scene. Bob Rae opened this afternoon’s session with a vigorous display, lecturing the government on the need to reconcile environmental and economic policy and even thumping his desk with his right hand—his flare seemed to ignite a certain passion on all sides. So this last afternoon before a blessed break week was full of vim, most notably on the matter of our overdrawn national bank account.

“Mr. Speaker, it is the wrong choice to cut taxes for the largest and wealthiest corporations while the global economy remains fragile,” Bonnie Crombie cried from the back row of the Liberal side. “It is the wrong choice to cut taxes for the largest and wealthiest corporations while a debt crisis rages in Europe. It is the wrong choice to cut taxes for the largest and wealthiest corporations when markets fluctuate at the drop of a hat. Why does the government plan to borrow money and mortgage our children’s future to pay for its reckless corporate tax cuts?”

The Finance Minister did not have an answer for this one, but he did have aspersions (and in this place that’ll do).

“Mr. Speaker, we know that the Liberal opposition wants to raise taxes,” Mr. Flaherty declared. “They want to raise personal taxes for Canadians. They want to raise taxes for small and medium size Canadian businesses. They even muse about raising the GST. We know, from the way they have voted in this place, that they are opposed to the tax reductions that we have made over the last four years, that is $3,000 on average for every Canadian family in tax reductions over the course of the past four years.”

Matters quickly descended into noise from there.

“Mr. Speaker,” Ms. Crombie shot back, “the minister drove the province of Ontario into debt.”

The government side howled as a dozen members helpfully pointed in the direction of Bob Rae, the former Ontario premier seated in the Liberal front row.

“It is thanks to a decade of sound Liberal financial management,” Ms. Crombie continued after a pause, “we are not in the same mess as Greece and other countries.”

More hooting and mocking from the government members.

“I know the Liberals are in favour of raising taxes,” Mr. Flaherty said when Ms. Crombie had finally finished. “Most Canadians actually do not want to pay more taxes and they do not want to go through the cuts that the Liberal Party of Canada government did in the mid-1990s.”

Mr. Flaherty went on to refer to Mr. Rae who had, in a previous career, apparently lamented for the spending cuts of the previous Liberal government. Alas, the Finance Minister’s time ran out before he could finish and then it was John McCallum, Mr. Flaherty’s old nemesis, who was up with things to say.

“Mr. Speaker,” Mr. McCallum fired back, “the only party that wants to raise taxes is the Conservative Party with its massive EI premium hikes, costing 200,000 jobs.”

Over again to Mr. Flaherty, who noted that Mr. McCallum had, in 2007, supported cuts to the corporate tax rate. Then back to Mr. McCallum, who wished to provide some context to that long-ago year. The two combatants were now shadowboxing each other, each going red, or at least redder, in the face from the effort expended.

“Mr. Speaker, remember that in 2007 we were running a surplus and we were in favour of lower corporate taxes, but not when it puts the country into greater debt, which is precisely what the minister is doing,” ventured Mr. McCallum.

“We are at a crossroads,” he declared. “Borrow money today to cut corporate taxes or freeze corporate taxes, fight the deficit and invest in education.”

“We can take the Conservative path of the eighties and become more like Greece, or the Liberal path of the nineties and become more prosperous,” he concluded. “Why are Conservatives choosing more debt over prosperity?”

And so Mr. Flaherty was obviously compelled to question Mr. McCallum’s patriotism. “Mr. Speaker, I know what the Liberal government wreaked on the Canadian people in the mid-1990s, what it did to our schools, what it did to higher tuition in universities, what it did to our hospitals, what it did to nurses. All of those things, that is what the Liberals did in the 1990s,” he reported. “This is Canada. We have the best fiscal situation in the G7. We have the soundest financial system in the G7. We have the highest credit rating in the world. The honourable member should be proud of the performance of his country and stop knocking it.”

And so it was settled. We shan’t raise taxes, we shan’t cut spending. We shall do nothing and simply hope for the best.

The Stats. The environment, the oil industry and Helena Guergis, five questions each. The United Nations and taxation, four questions each. Culture, three questions. Securities regulation, Haiti and Hepatitis C, two questions each. Parliament, the budget, the navy, labour and firearms, one question each.

John Baird, 11 answers. Jim Flaherty, seven answers. Christian Paradis, four answers. James Moore, three answers. Lawrence Cannon, Jim Prentice, Jason Kenney and Leona Aglukkaq, two answers each. Diane Finley, Keith Ashfield, Peter MacKay, Lisa Raitt and Vic Toews, one answer each.

The Commons: Does anyone here know how to balance a cheque book?

  1. I used to be big fan of QP, but this column has tempered that

    • Stick with it, Wherry grows on you : – )

      • I don't mind the column itself, but the way these QPs go it simply disheartening: it's just mindless bashing by all involved.

        Really, when you think about it, QP is like an internet message board: no accountability and thus no substance.

        • It has become a circus and no substance at all, gossip and dirty politics. I don't think most Canadians take it seriously anymore, I love watching it but personally, I feel is a waste of time, it needs some changes!

          And I love Wherry, I imagine him typing fast and furious, with his head very close to the the key board, and when he highlits with red, lifting his head with pride and using his index finger without hesitation and a strong conviction that he is right (and sometimes he is : D).

  2. But just think, if they keep our taxes where they are now, Candice Hoeppner will be able to keep using her MP postage budget to send "not 10 percenters" to voters in Wayne Easter's riding in an attempt to get him to vote for her Private Members Bill C-391 (abolition of the gun registry). I think it's a wise use of the money we all send to Ottawa every paycheque!

    As a Canadian, I want less WASTEFUL spending and nothing more.

    http://viableopposition.blogspot.com/

    • There is some people that just rubs you the wrong way and he seems to do that to alot of people.

    • If all you can do is make ad hominem personal attacks you should simply not comment. We know that people like you are pure as the driven snow and everybody loves you because you are Liberals.

  3. I used to be a big fan of QP as well, but it has become sad and unwatchable.

    I find that this column at least makes the unwatchable readable.

  4. Aw, Flaherty just forgot to mention that in the 90's we were "BROKE", losing our credit rating and what did Flaherty do? He lowered taxes on "borrowed" money.

  5. It seems to me the record would show the Harris government in Ontario happily let those nurses go (several thousand, I believe), regardless of what was going on at the federal level, in an effort to cut health care spending; I believe he compared the nurses to those working in hula-hoop factories after the hula-hoop fad had played out…
    Several hospitals were also recommended to close as a result of the Health Services Restructuring Commission
    The transfer cuts from the federal level came after the health care sector layoffs and cuts..

    • And let us all spend a moment to remember the victims of Walkerton, ten years ago.

      • Due to increased demand for the Food Safety & Quality Program, funds were distributed to as many applicants as possible. In sum, the Harper government actually INCREASED funding to this program.____In Jim Flaherty's 2008 budget, the government allocated $113 million to the Food & Safety Initiative and added 200 new CFIA inspectors.____Harper is also updating the FDA, which has not been modernized in over 40 years.____Contrast that with the Liberal record on food inspection:____-cut 773 inspectors from the food inspection service____-1995 Liberal budget cut 21.5% of the national agriculture budget. That's one-fifth of farm funding in this country! At that time, CFIA was part of the Dept of Agriculture and it was hit hard.

    • The cuts began under Bob Rae. Mike Harris invested more in Health and Education. The Liberals gutted 25 Billion in transfers to the provinces. They also used the 56 billion in EI funds to pad their books and post a pretend surplus. They changed the regulation and made collecting and qualifying for EI more difficult during a recession that was deeper and lasted longer.

      Those Neo-Liberals were hitting the most vulnerable.

      • Harris: The education premier, the water testing premier, the science premier, the native rights premier. I could go on.

        • No links to those programs? Can't find the facts? Start here, it is called a b-u-d-g-e-t. http://www.fin.gov.on.ca/en/budget/ontariobudgets

          Tax cuts and lower interest rates have set the stage for an upturn in the North American economy. (Page A3)

          Ontario's 2000 growth surpassed that of the rest of Canada, the United States and all of the other G-7 major industrial countries.(Page A5)

          Ontario created 558,700 jobs during the 1998-2000 period, the strongest pace of job growth in the province's history. Of these new jobs, nine out of ten were fulltime, private-sector positions. (Page A9)

          Real disposable income is expected to rise by 4.5 per cent in 2001 and 3.5 per cent in 2002. The continuing increase in disposable income is supported by lower taxes and robust employment growth. (Page A14)

          thanks for coming out.

  6. "Mr. Speaker, we know that the Liberal opposition wants to raise taxes,"

    If only we were so lucky… nope, the Liberals seem to have roughly the same plan as the Conservatives for deficit reduction, which is a few token gestures that add up for a fraction of the problem and then silence.

    Yes, our situation is better than many other countries, but because of municipal and provincial debt, it's not that much better – by most figures, total public debt passed 70% of GDP in 2009. To tackle current deficits on all levels and prepare for the cost of the coming retirement wave, we will have to both cut services and raise taxes. Far from being an either-or choice that pundits or ideologues present us with, or the neither choice our political parties present us with, we need to do both.

    So when Mr. Flaherty says "This is Canada. We have the best fiscal situation in the G7. We have the soundest financial system in the G7. We have the highest credit rating in the world."

    I can't help but think, yeah, because in the 1990's, there was a political party with enough sense and kahones to do exactly what was necessary to fix our fiscal situation. Now we have three parties with neither traits.

    • One take on the 1990s is that, first of all, we pretty much had a gun put to our head by international creditors and the debt markets and, secondly, the government of the day were pretty much free to do what they wanted, because there was virtually no chance of them being unseated — they held a solid majority and the right was hopelessly divided.

      • Absolutely – similar to Greece today, but the Con supporters don't like little facts like that. There was no choice bu tough love. Personally, I didn't find it so hard to get through and the results were important.

    • Flaherty continues to brag about the governments "fiscal situation" yet he fails to mention we are number #1 in the G7 for citizen debt?

  7. The Liberals balanced the budget in the 90's by cutting transfers to provinces AND from growing tax revenue as a result of the GST and Free Trade, two Conservative policies they opposed but maintained. They cut the deficit in three years which was word for word the Reform parties fiscal platform.

    I think the lesson is that both liberals and conservatives can be trusted to manage the nations finances but we shouldn't let the NDP anywhere near the federal treasury. Canada's deficit's really started to take off in 1973, the last time the NDP had a loose coalition with Trudeau,

    • "I think the lesson is that both liberals and conservatives can be trusted to manage the nations finances but we shouldn't let the NDP anywhere near the federal treasury"

      Uh… what?!? Can you back that up at all? First of all, how can you draw a conclusion about the NDP when you haven't even tried to make a case for it?

      Second, has a Conservative government delivered a balanced budget in your lifetime? Your parents' lifetimes?

      • Second, has a Conservative government delivered a balanced budget in your lifetime? Your parents' lifetimes?

        You mean like the 2006 Canadian federal budget? Or the 2007 budget?

        • you mean when they were spending the surplus which was decreasing as they spent?

          • Technically, the 2008 budget was also a surplus budget that included a substantial debt repayment. Also,
            I don't really see the point of making comparisons to the free-spending Mulroney and Trudeau governments.

          • Well, ok, besides that one too…

          • Ize just joshin', but you know that..:-)

          • Of course. ;-)

        • "You mean like the 2006 Canadian federal budget? Or the 2007 budget? "

          Yup, fair enough. But they didn't really do anything to balance those budgets, did they? And they were in the process of creating a structural deficit (all the while assuring us that a structural deficit would never happen) by making unfunded cuts to the GST.

          So I guess the best you could say about Conservative budgeting is that it takes them some time to make a hash of the country's balance sheet. Now George W. Bush – THERE was a true conservative. He turned Clinton's surplus around in his first year.

          • “There is no Liberal Party,” says one lifelong card carrier who has sat at cabinet tables.
            “It died a long time ago. It's not completely extinct yet, but there's no there there.” In this lifelong Liberal's eyes, the party has been stalled for years. No new energy, no new ideas, no vision of what it might like to do. The singular advantage of proroguing, this Liberal would say, is that it has put an end to the squirming every time the opposition pounces.
            “The ‘gotcha' stuff is out of control,” says the Liberal. “They bring in all these nerdy keener kids from campus and it's some kind of game to them. They're turning politics into pro wrestling.” The media concentrates on the top, Ignatieff, and on the Hill, but disenchanted Liberals say there is a story to be told far from the now-silenced sound bites of the Centre Blockhttp://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/pror

          • I fail to see the relevance.

          • "….they were in the process of creating a structural deficit (all the while assuring us that a structural deficit would never happen) by making unfunded cuts to the GST…."

            Holding a political party to a Global Meltdown that was deeper and many economists got wrong? How are those forecasts of Kevin Page working out, how many revisions?

            a) Campaign Promise Made and Kept. GST reduction.
            b) Read the budget the largest expenses (Transfers to provinces Health, Education, Social Services)

            Money is being spent not planned in campaign platform promises.

            EI increases for 5 extra weeks, Regional development, Nov 2008 coalition demanded massive deficit, G8-G20 meeting in December, Canadian Premiers negotiated and signed EAP 2 year deal.

            The Auto Bailout?

            Harping on "structural deficit" are talking points of the Liberals. Priorities change and the government is reviewing and cutting wasteful programs.

          • This has nothing to do with the economic crisis.

            According to Kevin Page, we have a structural deficit that's almost exactly the size of the GST cut. When the economy recovers and tax receipts return to pre-recession levels, we will still have a structural deficit roughly the size of the GST cut.

            Also: "structural deficit" was Harper's talking point before anybody else. Back when he dismissed a looming deficit as "not a structural deficit."

            Also: You still haven't explained the relevance of your previous post.

          • I don't freeze time and ignore changes. Backseat drivers do that.

            A) Ignore Priorities change, campaign promises made were kept regarding GST.
            B) Cite a single source Kevin Page or Richard Colvin as the only truth holder. Not balanced or credible arguement.

            If you believe politicians are completely honest, should be held to every single statement than good luck with that standard.

          • You've still completely failed to address what I said.

            In fact, there's barely a discernible point in there except that you don't believe Kevin Page, who, I'll remind you, is not a politician.

          • lol word filter ryhmes with Stilts happen.

            Each party promised in the campaign 2008 to provide a balanced budget. The other parties promised to spend $ 20-30 billion more.

          • Swing and a miss.

      • The NDP entered into an agreement to support Pierre Trudeau and the Liberals when the 1972 federal election resulted in no party winning a majority of seats in Parliament. That arrangement lasted until 1974, when Trudeau called a snap election and won a majority.

        The historical record is quite clear that Canada started running serious deficits under the Trudeau Liberals and his finance ministers Donald MacDonald and Marc Lalonde. This set up structural deficits which Brian Mulroney inhereted when the Tories won power in 1984. Mulroney was never willing to administer the sort of harsh fiscal medicine that might have brought the situation under control. That's part of the reason that the Reform Party was born under Mulroney's watch — Mulroney's lack of willingness to slash spending. But, to be fair to Mulroney, the Liberal opposition at the time screamed bloody murder every time Mulroney went to cut anything. There's plenty of blame to go around.

        • And you expect to get through life laying the facts on the table in a clear chronological order……..no rewriting history……no screaming for increased spending and deficit reduction at the same time……..strange, very strange……….. ( kiddin` of course ).

  8. $3000 tax savings for the average Canadian?

    I must not be an average Canadian.

    • I don't know whether you are an average Canadian but I am a retired senior. The pension split has resulted in some $5,000 in refunds over the last two years. Based on this I guess I am an average Canadian. Look harder you may find it.

      • Oh, that's wonderful… so the deficit is going to seniors, the people who had voting power (and ultimate responsibility for the fiscal situation on all levels) during the 70's and 80's when the bulk of the public debt got piled on…

        And yet, during a recession when youth unemployment skyrockets and tuition continues its increases unabated, spending on programs that would help people under 30 are virtually non-existent, even though we're all going to be stuck with the bill from the current deficits along with the ones seniors and near-seniors never fully paid off…

        Seriously, why are those who helped create the mess getting the break instead of those who are going to have to fix it?

        • Whee. I was wondering which bias was heretofore unrepresented on these boards. Turns out it's ageism.

          • Ageism implies I'm criticizing individuals for their age, or attributing traits of their generation to individuals without cause. On the contrary, my criticism is squarely with the generation itself, as a whole.

          • Your criticism of the "generation itself" is the problem. I'd think twice before blaming people who happened to be born in the 1930s, like hollinm, for "helping to create the mess".

          • People born in the 1930's were in their prime earning potential during the 70's and 80's and represented a large, significant part of the voting population. Sure, the boomers hold more of the responsibility, but that doesn't let others off the bat.

            I will take back including all seniors – those born before 1930 made their sacrifice earlier in their lives and were largely responsible for restoring our financial situation before the 70's, so even if they were partly responsible for the current fiscal situation, they paid that debt in advance.

            Either way, why are seniors getting assistance when the youth largely aren't? Seniors contribution to the economy has largely passed and they are neither an integral part of the recovery, nor will they be part of solving the current debt issues. Furthermore, they're now shielded from much of the current economic pain, unless they left retirement savings largely in the stock market, which no retiree should (really, why don't we hold people responsible for their own failings because they're old?). On the other hand, younger Canadians will be a driving force behind the recovery, will have to deal with the debt, and yet are suffering from spiking unemployment above and beyond that of the general population.

            This feels like trickle-down economics again but from an age perspective – give money to the already-established seniors and near-seniors whether they need it or not, and hope that their extra spending will trickle down to their children and grandchildren. Well damn, I know we need spending as an economy, but if you give it to the youth, especially if it's through tuition relief or jobs, we'll spend it too – except now that money is going for an investment in the future.

          • First of all not all seniors were born in the 1930's. Some were born later. So we helped create the mess eh. The younger generation have been living high off the hog for the last 30 years and feel they are entitled to something for nothing. Get stuffed.

          • Yeah, that's pretty much my point. Sorry if I aged you by guessing you were born in the thirties rather than the forties ;-) .

          • All I can say is that from my days (now over) when I was active in federal politics, there's no question that seniors and their concerns get an inordinate amount of attention from politicians and their ilk. There are some solid and understandable reasons for this. Seniors vote. Because, by and large, they have time to vote. For the same reason, seniors actually do stuff like join political parties and local riding associations and the like. Go to just about any riding association meeting, and count the blue hairs.

            Res ipsa loquitur.

  9. I made about $400 extra but I had to spend $4500 for my new furnace to get that……

    • Sucker! Now you're stuck with a new furnace and $400 extra that you wouldn't have had otherwise…

  10. I hope all the deep thinking commentators in Ottawa take note this weekend that Manning/Harris/ Harper tax cuts, deregulation, privatization, and service cutbacks are not just a strategic game in the cut and thrust of question period; they can have tragic consequences. And eventually will.

    • Please reserve extreme words like tragic in reference to an economy to countries like Greece and Ireland where a sense of entitlement for gov`t jobs and services has left the economies of those countries in shambles.
      Meanwhile, be thankful you live in Canada where you can live in relative luxury because of our seemingly endless supply of natural resources that the world still wants.

  11. So now we have a contest on this board as to who the best fiscal managers are eh. Some people love to wallow in the past.

    Well when Harper/Flaherty start cutting your beloved wasteful Liberal programs to cover the deficit etc. then I expect that I will see you guys on this board congratulating them. When pigs fly that will happen.

    • Serious question – which programs would you like to see cut?

      • I'd start with that grant to the horsey magazine that Coyne lambasted . . . that'd save a cool hundred grand or so . . .

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