The Commons: Say everything

With a sea of troubles lapping at our shores, the government opts to appease every possibility


The Scene. A day after the Prime Minister’s Office delighted in demonstrating their man’s eagerness to meet with the Governor of the Bank of Canada and the Finance Minister—both of them, at the same time—the leader of the opposition stood and asked if Mr. Harper might tell the House what the three men had talked about and what plans they had made. Here is how the Prime Minister responded.

“Mr. Speaker, as I have said many times, we have an economic action plan. That’s why we received a mandate from Canadians. Obviously, we are concerned about developments in Europe and elsewhere, but at the same time, the Canadian economy has created more than 600,000 jobs. This is one of the best records throughout the industrialized world. We will continue to do so.”

Apparently this much was news to Mr. Carney and Mr. Flaherty. (Later, the Finance Minister would say he could not comment on the contents of these discussions because the meeting in question was “private.” Which is a funny adjective to apply to anything that is announced with a news release, then videotaped and photographed for public distribution.)

On matters of the economy, the Prime Minister has mostly settled on two responses: say nothing or say everything. Here, obviously, he had chosen to go with the former. It most other cases these last few weeks, the government has gone with the latter.

At present, we are given to understand, the government is committed to “stay the course.” At the same time, it promises to be “flexible and pragmatic.” And while last week the Conservatives clapped and cheered as David Cameron sang a song of austerity, this week the government has taken to referring regularly and repeatedly to its own “expansionary” fiscal policy.

It is easy to understand why the government presently comports itself with such prudence.

Running for re-election a few years ago, Prime Minister both dismissed the possibility of a recession and swore never to go into a deficit. A few days after the vote, Mr. Harper conceded that predicting the future was a fraught exercise, but a few months later his government went ahead anyway and projected budgetary surpluses through fiscal year 2013-2014.

A few months after that, the government decided it would have to run deficits to a cumulative total of $84.9 billion, with a return to surplus in 2013-2014.

A year after that, it was $164 billion in debt, with deficits through 2014-2015.

A year after that, it was a mere $159 billion in debt, with a return to surplus in 2015-2016, except that 17 days later—and by then thrust into an election campaign—the government decided it would be back into surplus in 2014-2015.

Thus on its third return-to-surplus projection in as many years—with varying sizes of deficit spending in between—a careful approach to public pronouncements is no doubt wise. And so now, with the proverbial sea of troubles loudly lapping at our shores, the government opts to appease every possibility. Think the government should be prepared to step up and stimulate the economy? The Harper government promises to do what is necessary. Believe the government should be reigning in spending? The Harper government concurs. Worried about government debt in the worldwide context? The Harper government is too. Concerned that moving to austerity too soon could precipitate a depression? Rest assured, the government is only too proud to presently spend more than it takes in.

“Mr. Speaker, the government continues to run a significant deficit,” the Prime Minister informed the House this afternoon, “as is appropriate at these times, but we are taking steps to ensure the budget will balance as the economy grows.”

This is not to say that anyone else can have it both ways, mind. Nycole Turmel, for instance, lamented today both that the government’s push for austerity was endangering the economy and that it had created a structural deficit. Mr. Harper dismissed this entirely. “Mr. Speaker, that question is incomprehensible,” he protested.

A moment later, Bob Rae was on his feet, reading the Prime Minister’s own words back to him.

“Mr. Speaker, speaking in Lima, Peru, in November 2009, the Prime Minister told that gathering that Canada was not going to make the mistake of balancing the books at all costs, even if it meant raising taxes and slashing public spending. These were the mistakes that led to the Great Depression, he told the gathering,” Mr. Rae recounted.

In his seat, Mr. Harper nodded along with himself.

“I would like to ask the Prime Minister, if those words are correct, and I think most economists around the world would say that they are correct, does he not now recognize that circumstances have changed once again?” he asked. “The world is on the brink of a major recession, slowdown is all around us. What will it take for the government to change course, one again?”

Mr. Harper took this opportunity to criticize Mr. Rae’s record as premier of Ontario in the early 1990s. Mr. Rae was ready for the fight. “Mr. Speaker, over the last five years, the government raised spending, on average, by 18%, by $70 billion. The Prime Minister is in absolutely no position to lecture anyone in Canada on the subject of finances or anything else,” he shot back, wagging his finger.

Here Mr. Rae arrived at the question he’d been setting up.

“The question the Prime Minister has to answer is, what is he going to do when the circumstances change? A payroll tax increase of $1.1 billion is now planned for January 2012,” he reminded everyone. “Would he at the very least cancel that payroll tax?”

Here the Prime Minister had the makings of a conundrum. He is, for the record, staunchly opposed to the NDP’s view that planned reductions to the corporate tax rate should be cancelled. Could he both support a tax cut and a tax increase? Alas, an answer was not forthcoming.

“Mr. Speaker, the member gets on his feet to say, ‘You’re spending too much money. Why don’t you spend more?’ That is the kind of position we have come to anticipate from the member,” he sighed. “Of course, this government’s economic record has been mandated by the Canadian people and praised by analysts around the world. Frankly, everybody in this country has the right to lecture the honourable member about how he managed the Ontario economy.”

This would seem to count as both saying everything and saying nothing at all.

The Stats. The economy, nine questions. The G8 Legacy Fund, eight questions. Peter MacKay, six questions. Crime, five questions. Aboriginal affairs and the RCMP, two questions each. Saudia Arabia, abortion, the flag, veterans, foreign affairs, Ukraine and the Air and Space Museum, one question each.

John Baird, eight answers. Stephen Harper, seven answers. Rob Nicholson, five answers. Jim Flaherty and Peter MacKay, four answers each. John Duncan and Vic Toews, two answers each. Kellie Leitch, Keith Ashfield, Bev Oda, James Moore, Steven Blaney, Diane Ablonczy and Rona Ambrose, one answer each.


The Commons: Say everything

  1. Oh goodie, we now have an incoherent fiscal policy to go with our incoherent foreign policy, and our incoherent trade policy and…

    Harper missed his calling. He should have been a roulette wheel.

    Round and round and round he goes, and where he stops, nobody knows.

    • Its to keep people like you in the dark. You are already confused and so he likes to keep it that way. He is keeping all his options open. Get it.

      • I’m not the one in the dark, hon.

        ‘Keeping all his options open’ means he doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing.

        • I ain’t your hon. Quit being arrogant and condescending. Yeah thats right he doesn’t know what he is doing. That’s the ticket. You wish.

          If you think that Bob Rae and the Separatist leader of the Bloc lite has any better ideas you are living in a dream world.

          • Mornin’ sweetie. Sounds like you need another coffee…add sugar this time.

            Because you just admitted Harper doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing….but you don’t think anybody else does either. LOL

      • So you say he likes to keep Canadians confused?

        First honest thing you’ve said this year. LOL

        • No its not all Canadians. Its just the rabid anti Harper crowd. He keeps them off balance so they never know what he will do next.

          • I have little in common with the far-left, but frankly Harper drives me just as crazy when he goes into one of his populist trances. You know, the ones where he suddenly does something completely insane just to bolster his social conservative wing? As though they have anywhere else to go? LOL

            I have little complaint with him in terms of basic economic policies, obviously, but his super-crime agenda just make no sense to me whatsoever given the circumstances.

            I’d love to be able to support Harper unconditionally, but every time I think I might be able to trust his judgment, he comes out with another crazy populist theme that makes me pull my hair out.

            I’m still dazed by his undermining of the census and the very important perspective it provides everyone from businesses to municipal planners, supposedly for the sake of jail terms he could have as easily removed???

            And that’s the type of “keeping them guessing” that will undermine him if there is ever a credible alternative.

          • I can’t disagree with much of what you say. I have issues with the party and what some of the policies are as well. However, until I see a more credible leader of the Liberal party and policies which make sense and are costed I will stick to what we have.

            Even Lawrence Martin of the Globe has come to the conclusion that Harper could be around until 2020. Can you honestly see any leadership contenders in the other two opposition parties?

            When I support a party I consider their basic philosophies but of course there will be policies I do not agree with. That would be the case with any party. There never will be perfection.

  2. A steady hand at the helm can weather any storm. Mandate !

  3. Weary is back to being weary.  Are you really going to spend 4 years of this mandate writing this drivel? Really?

    • LIke the rest of the left they still don’t grasp that this is a majority government and the foolishness that went on for the past six years is over. So Wherry has to say something, anything if he wants to keep his paycheque.

      • Foolishness like… what? The spectacle of a founding member of the Reform Party becoming the spendiest Prime Minister of all time?

        • Hey Leroy,

          They mean “foolishness” as in “we have all the power now suckers and we’ll do as we please, so you’re “foolish” if you think reminding us that our word is now worth less than used toilet paper will change anything.”

          After all, they apparently have no shame.

          • Unlike the arrogant Liberals we have no problem recognizing our faults. However, you guys had six years where anything you wanted to do you got to do.

            Trying to create faux scandals and trying to stop the Conservatives from achieving any legislative success was the order of the day. In the end it did not work and the actions of the opposition resulted in a majority Conservative government.

            So now the shoe is on the other foot. You guys had your fun. Now it is time for you to face the realities of a majority government.

            You are right there is no shame. Its called a government who has a majority who now has earned the right to govern the country as it sees fit. Just as the Liberals had the same right over 13 long years.

            You can criticize and I am sure your buddies in the media will be happy to publish every lie or misinformation that you wish to point out.

            In the end it will be the Canadian people in four years time who will decide whether the government deserves to be re-elected.

          • Oh I see, THAT’S why you think irrational policies and profligate spending are okay.

            Well then, I guess you’re right, you have no shame.

            And here I thought this party was supposed to be different.

            I guess that just makes me gullible eh?

            I suppose I should just know by now that no politician keeps their word?

            What a sad statement.

          • “Unlike the arrogant Liberals, we are perfect, and ever so modest about it.”

            Dood, you guys are already about eleventy times as arrogant and smug as the Liberals ever were.

        • Hey the spendaholics in the Liberal party and NDP wanted massive spending and I suspect if their coaliton had taken power they would have spent even more. Are you suggesting that the Conservatives should not have spent?

          Be careful that smirk will turn to sadness as the government goes through the budget and gets rid of some of those precious Liberal programs/services. The whining after the next budget will be great.

          • Sadly, if the tax base of Canada hadn’t been destroyed by the reform party, the opposition could have increased social spending and we’d likely be in the same boat as we are now.

            Instead we get Harper who spent untold billions to buy his majority.

          • As someone who believes in taking responsibility for my actions, I’ll take the tax and spend Liberals over the borrow-and-let-someone-else-pay-for-it and spend-even-more Conservatives.

          • Then you can do that in four years time. However, I suspect the Libs will still be broke with another failed leader but have at it. If you are objecting to the deficit then you are mighty lucky that the coalition never took power in 08-09.

          • M, look at your own party’s budgets for the past five years if you want to see politicians with a spendahol problem.

    • Gee, honest exasperation at double talk and obfuscation is now “drivel” eh?

      I’d love to hear the spin that brought you to that conclusion.

  4. . (Later, the Finance Minister would say he could not comment on the contents of these discussions because the meeting in question was “private.” Which is a funny adjective to apply to anything that is announced with a news release, then videotaped and photographed for public distribution.)


    Oh dear it’s the dunce cap for Jumbo after that one; trouble is Tony seems to be wearing it full time these days…and then there’s Peter. Poor Mr H. Four more years to go.

    Great piece AW.Why don’t you send it to Cameron just for fun.

  5. Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.

    Just frickin’ wait.

    In FY 2005-06, federal program expenditures were $175-billion. That was the last year BH (Before Harper).

    In FY 2011-12, they are budgeted at just under $245-billion. The Tories have a majority government. There is no one else to blame any more.

    That’s an increase of (carry the 6) 59% since the last non-Harper budget.

    That’s an increase of 48% in five years, since the first Harper budget.

    And Stephen Harper is attacking the fiscal credentials of…. BOB RAE?

    Newsflash for every fiscal conservative in Canada: Bob Rae was more responsible as the NDP Premier of Ontario, than Harper is as “Conservative” Prime Minister of Canada.

    • That’s why many of the people of Ontario are mad at him, in fact.  As an NDP Premier, he should have been more about opening the services gate than being fiscally responsible.

      • hahahaha. That’s rich. Yes he should have confiscated more money from the hardworking people of Ontario.

        • Opening the services gate != confiscating more money.

          Not directly anyway. You can look to the current CPC to see that.

    • You got to be joking. Ok, not sure if your numbers are right for the Conservatives. However, why not post the numbers for Rae during his 5 year reign of terror in Ontario. Then maybe we can accept what you are saying. Make sure you compare apples to apples.

      • If you have a problem with the stats, take it up with Jimbo. They are straight out of the Department of Finance, unless, of course, Flaherty has been fudgeting his budget, just like he did in Ontario.

  6. This is the Harper flying off the handle way of governing.  He floats along until there’s a crisis and then he flies off the handle with incompetent solutions he can blame on the opposition when they fail as they inevitably do.  Canada has a Harper party that has no clue of how to run a democratic country.  That should be clear to anyone that cares.

  7. The fact of the matter is that this governemnt has been an economic joke since the beginning!
    While in opposition, Harper screamed for the deregulation of the banks – he and Mr Manning declared we had to have the same playing field as the American banks: screamed that we should  waste lives and money in Iraq because you should go to war with your buddies, right or wrong:did not recognize there was even in a recession when he was forced by the oppostion to consider  that this was not simply a good opportunity for the rich to pick up cheap stocks; blew through the surplus before the recession even started: spent a ton of public money trying to get himself elected in Quebec: every budget Flaherty has filed had be be adjusted as his numbers never added up. These clowns have not run a good economy – what got us through is the strength of the Liberal economic policy. Now you seem them lurching around, no idea of the implications or consequences of foolish ideologic meanderings and all of them taking full advantage of the public purse as they fly around on personal junkets on the public dime and spending public money in weak conservative ridings to get themselves elected. Instead of parroting the conservative talking points and denigrating the Liberals at every opportunity, perhaps the press will now do their job and point out the weaknesses of this mediocre Harpoer government. Intelligence matters, truth matters and experience and knowledge matter – and the Canadian future depends on it!

  8. Ever get the feeling that ten years from now Canadians will be collectively slapping their foreheads at the mess the CPC has made of things?

    I mean honestly, crime’s been dropping for nearly three decades, and yet despite a massive worldwide recession and rampant unemployment, they’re spending BILLIONS of dollars on jails and the legislation to ensure they’re full????

    Spending tens of BILLIONS on fighter jets?

    Leaping into every dogfight from here to Timbuktu?

    Even before the recession this government was growing spending at levels not seen since Trudeau while cutting revenues, and things have gotten worse since.

    Honestly, as a self-describe fiscal conservative I really wonder if they won’t destroy the label for all time once the chickens come home to roost on these insanely inappropriate policies.

    • Well, the whole crack down on criminals thing is a job creation program. Between the extra vacancies created by locking more people up, and the new jobs building and then staffing the prisons the jobless rate is bound to fall!


    • I sincerely hope it doesn’t take 10 years.

  9. Phil King…..so its pofligate spending and irrational policies. Hey the Canadian people just made their decision on May 2nd. Remember your irrational policies may not be irrational to other people. There are 32 million people living in Canada and they are not monolithic when it comes to policy. Thats why we have elections. You are free to disagree with a poltiical party and the last I heard the vote is fair and democratic. In four years time you can make you decision based on the overall results.

    The Conservatives are implementing the platform they ran on in the last election. By the way you talk about spending. What will you say when they start cutting some of the wasteful spending out of Ottawa. Will you then start calling them heartless, mean spirited etc.

    If the crime legislation, the elimination of the census etc. etc are still deal breakers for you in four years time you can vote for another party. That’s the beauty of Canada. 

    • Except voting for another party won’t fix the mess.
      The census can never be truly fixed. We will now never be able to make it as good as it could have been if they’d have just left well enough alone with it and not charged us extra for the privilege of breaking it. And to get back to its current level of reliability as to changing trends in Canada, that’ll take a minimum of another 80 years or so.

      As for the crime legislation, tell me, how is a vote in four years time going to change grandma being in jail for a year? Will a vote really give her back that year of her life?

      • You are right. When politicans get elected they seem to lose all common sense.

        I don’t know if you use the census information for your business etc. but you really need to let it go. Canadians have passed judgement and most ordinary Canadians could care less about the census. However, if you used the information and now have to hire your own pollsters to get the information I guess its a problem. The government has all kinds of information. They need to put their house in order so the information can be taken from the existing records that the government has available to them.

        Grandma in jail for a year? Now thats a laugh. Read the legislation. The majority of law abiding citizens want the system tightened. They are after the bad guys. You may think buidling more basketball courts will be adequate punishment but I and a lot of Canadians do not believe so.

        Virtually every poll taken shows that Canadians believe the justice system favours the criminal. They want tougher sanctions.

        • Is it Conservative policy, then, to govern by polls?

          • Nice Try. The Conservatives have had in their platform for years now the tough on crime agenda. They believe there is a problem with the judicial system which appears to favour criminals rather than victims. The public happen to agree and this is confirmed in polls.

            Like all political parties they do follow public sentiment and to ignore it would not be smart.

        • Hiring pollsters is going to do absolutely nothing if what you’re looking for is reliable data on how demographics are changing over time. You know, actual research, not just marketing.

          And I have read the legislation. The case I”m referring to is a specific one where grandma sent 4 grams of marijuana to a friend suffering from arthritis. She got charged with trafficking, that’s a minimum 1-yr sentence under the new legislation.

          The majority of law abiding citizens also want to pay no taxes and receive more services. Building basketball courts has nothing to do with minimum sentences, and what’s really funny is that this legislation will probably *cause* more basketball courts to be built as there’s generally one that’s part of every new prison.

          And it wasn’t very long ago that virtually every poll taken would have shown that people believed the earth was flat, that evolution was false, that human flight was impossible, that women were incapable of being able to think well enough to have the vote, that slavery was the natural order, and so on.

          Ideally, we build our society’s structures on the truth. Not just what people believe.

  10. After 5 or 6 years of Harper at the helm it is clear very few of us are clear about who the guy is and what his governing style is all about – it is remarkable really that pro journalists are still writing columns like this – it is not just AW.
    The best i can come up with as a definition of Harperism is this:

    “we’re NOT those guys!  We’ll never go into deficit but if we do they made us, but we’ll take the credit anyway; we’re for what the little guy wants – unless it’s not what we say he should want; we wont go along to get along – but we’ll pay ransom to terrorists and say we wont; we’ll scream blue murder about the sins of other parties but take no responsibility for our own; we’ll stand up for our idealogical positions, but mostly outside Canada but we hav’nt the nerve to stand up for them inside Canada – not if they’ll lose us votes; we’ll dredge up and decry the dark past of the NGP of Canda, while relentlessly branding every symbol in the country tory blue and laying the groundwork for a NGP of the CPC, because we know Canadian values are Conservative values and that makes it all right to behave like…well… liberals.
    I’m not saying Harper is any worse the the liberals at their worst; he merely wishes to be them but not have to account for it…he doesn’t have any bigger ambition then that.  

    In short they’re bound and determined to become the new liberal party of Canada, cept they aint cuz they hates em and everyone knows they’re different. No wonder they look like they’re all over the place…it’s tough to deal with that much dissonance. I’ll take a jerk like Harris over Harper anyday. You know where he stands, what he’s going to do and if you don’t like it you can put a good fight and occasionally win on merit. You can’t hit Harper because he’s never there long enough to take responsibility for anything; someone, or something is always a worse choice in his mind than himself, whether there’s any evidence for that or not…actually it works best if there is no clear evidence for or against it.

    These guys are the liberal party after the liberals lost their way and only stayed on because they had nothing else to offer; Liberals – but without all that shame, so they say?

    The most you can say about Harper so far is that he’s the least worst of all possible choices…that’s not just a consequence of real world politics and the limits of wielding power, that’s actually the goal. That’s all there is folks. It doesn’t get any better; it just promises to not get any worse; and they’re going to do their darndest to make sure you know all the rest are rilly rilly bad…Dion, Ignatieff and Rae. Even when they get an opponent who is genuinely liked he goes and dies…maybe providence wants us to put up with Harper whether we will or not? It is our destiny.

  11. “We will continue to do so.”

    Go back, read that whole paragraph, and tell me what it is “we’ll continue” to do…It doesn’t make any sense.


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