The Commons: Sound economic theory

Suddenly, it matters what economists think

The Scene. Michael Ignatieff stood to relate the concerns of another individual he’d recently met—the latest in his 33-million-part series on the lives of average Canadians. “Mr. Speaker, on Monday, at Our Lady of Lourdes High School in Guelph, a young student named Diane asked me a question,” he recalled.

Across the way, various Conservatives groaned. But the Liberal leader would not be troubling anyone on the government side to respond to Diane’s question. In fact, he had already answered for them.

“‘We’re caring for my grandmother at home. If elected, what would you do to help people for caring for the sick and elderly at home?’” Mr. Ignatieff reported this young lady as having wondered. “I replied to Diane, ‘Our answer is the family care plan.’ The Conservatives’ answer is, ‘Use your vacation time.’”

No doubt the Conservatives appreciated that Mr. Ignatieff had saved them the trouble of telling Diane that much themselves.

“The question is this,” Mr. Ignatieff continued, now seemingly speaking for himself. “How can the Prime Minister justify tax breaks for profitable corporations instead of helping families like Diane’s?”

The Prime Minister did not think this was much of a question. “The real question of course is why the leader of the Liberal Party thinks he can pull off, for the fifth time, a promise which his party has broken four previous times to the Canadian public,” Mr. Harper explained for the House’s benefit, “which is of course his home care plan, part of the $75 billion in promises they have made for the next election campaign.”

Mr. Harper did not, alas, table the calculations to support his projection of $75 billion in Liberal promises. No doubt though you can safely trust his accounting, in no small part because the Prime Minister, unlike say his finance minister, is a trained economist.

“They cannot justify it by then turning around and saying they will pay for it all by raising taxes on the Canadian economy during a recession,” the Prime Minister continued. “As economists across the country have said, that is a recipe for disaster.”

And if there’s one thing we’ve learned over the course of these last few years it’s that economists possess a keen awareness of potential calamity.

Lacking the necessary schooling to comprehend all this, the Liberal leader stood and attempted to translate the Prime Minister’s words into simpler terms. “Mr. Speaker, the government is saying it can afford $6 billion in tax cuts for corporations and it cannot help Diane’s family,” Mr. Ignatieff ventured. “That is what it amounts to.”

“Shame!” called out various Liberal voices. “Shame!”

Taking pity on the liberal arts major opposite, the Prime Minister came back with an easier explanation of what the Conservative government has done—”tax reductions across the board”—and a series of declarations of what the Conservative government has not done. “When we make promises to Canadians, we deliver them,” he said. “We do not cut health care. We do not cut education. We do not cut employment insurance and we do not raise taxes like the Liberals did.”

Mr. Ignatieff and Mr. Harper then repeated their remarks en francais and then the floor was ceded to Ralph Goodale. Mr. Goodale, who claims to be not a pirate, nor an alien transformer, nor a vampire, nor a werewolf, carried on quite frightfully all the same, extending his right index finger quite threateningly and speaking in tones that, while not alien or monstrous, were certainly loud. The government’s economic story, he said, was “full of holes.” Further, he alleged, the finance minister was a spreader of “hocus-pocus.”

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was not presently present, but rather than let a parliamentary secretary dismiss this on the government’s behalf, the Prime Minister stood to honour Mr. Goodale’s aspersion with a denunciation. ”There is not a single credible economic voice in the country,” Mr. Harper reported, “that is backing the advocacy of higher tax rates that the Leader of the Opposition and the Liberal Party are proposing.”

And if there’s another thing we’ve learned over these last few years it’s that whatever the politics, it is sounds economics that must always carry the day.

The Stats. Ethics, eight questions. The economy and the environment, six questions each. Foreign investment and foreign affairs, three questions each. The G20, banking, the census, the Ukraine and CSIS, two questions each. Rights & Democracy, the public sector integrity commissioner, pay equity and infrastructure, one question each.

Stephen Harper and Mark Warawa, six answers each. Tony Clement, Peter Kent and John Baird, five answers each. Vic Toews, four answers. Rona Ambrose and Keith Ashfield, two answers each. Stockwell Day, Chuck Strahl and Ted Menzies, one answer each.

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