Tories: Economic union by 2010


The Conservative platform is mostly a damp squib, more or less by design. Or at any rate they’re trapped: if they were to put more in it at this late date, they open themselves to charges of panicking, making it up as they go along etc. — the very thing they’re trying to hang on the opposition.

Much of it is old news, having been unveiled already in the course of the campaign (or indeed announced in previous budgets). Some of it is wildly wrong — adding yet another regional development agency, pouring yet more subsidies into the auto and aerospace sinkholes, banning bulk water exports — and lots else is just unspeakably trivial: banning fees for unsolicited text messages, cracking down on tampering with gas pumps, and of course, “setting a minimum package size for cigarillos.” 

But amidst all the familiar micro-promises and useless chaff, there are a couple of gems. I love the pledge to abolish tariffs on imported machinery and equipment — timely, useful and a much more market-friendly way to help manufacturers than subsidies. And naturally I’m excited about this:

A re-elected Conservative Government led by Stephen Harper will work to eliminate barriers that restrict or impair trade, investment or labour mobility between provinces and territories by 2010. In 2007, the government announced that it was prepared to use the federal trade and commerce power to strengthen the Canadian economic union. Since that time, we have seen progress among the provinces and territories in strengthening the existing Agreement on Internal Trade. We hope to see further progress, but are prepared to intervene by exercising federal authority if barriers to trade, investment and mobility remain by 2010. [Emphasis added.]

I have not seen them attach a deadline to this promise before. This makes concrete and real what had previously only been a statement of intent. It’s the single most significant thing in the platform, and if acted upon, could be the Harper government’s most important legacy.

MORE: Other likes and dislikes…

– Senate reform: somebody has to take the lead on this
– “Ending insider loans to political candidates”: the biggest remaining loophole in the campaign finance laws – aside from the public funding the Tories once promised to abolish
– Expanding RESPs
– looser foreign investment rules: but why only airlines and uranium, why only 49%, and why only with reciprocal access granted by other countries?
– pursuing free trade deals with other countries: but why no mention of the European Union?

– gas tax transfer: in case you didn’t think municipal governments were unaccountable enough
– subsidies for all: not only for manufacturing, but mining, forestry, farming…
– subsidies for biofuels, wind, solar etc
– “Charter of Open Federalism”: I don’t know what it is, but I don’t like the smell of it
– the children’s artistic tax credit: the inevitable companion piece to the children’s fitness tax credit. I can only quote Andrew Potter’s plaintive lament: What about the fat, lazy talentless kids?
– the diesel tax cut: costly and enviro-nuts
– enriching the old age tax credit: a universal program, its policy rationale remains a mystery. Why should we pay people for being old? The Liberals have a better idea: enriching the income-tested Guaranteed Income Supplement.
– a $75-million government-run venture capital fund: is there a more obvious contradiction in terms?


Tories: Economic union by 2010

  1. Quebec federalists to start posturing as separatists over this “trampling over the choice of les québécois to determine notre propre destin,” you’re missing your queue! Quick! Les micros vous attendent…

  2. Bloody voice recognition software (yeah, yeah, the organic within-skull software): You’re missing your cue…

  3. I think you had right the first time.

  4. If they COULD pull this off, it would give Canada a bit more credibility in the “we are the (free trade) world” huge-arrific idea you spoke about a few weeks back.

  5. Yeah, this would be great! All parties should adopt it. Good for the Tories for including something of substance, though as MYL says it’s sort of a red flag to a blue-eyed Maoist bull.

    No no, MYL, I like queue better! Much more descriptive of federal-provincial relations these days.

  6. “…the “we are the (free trade) world” huge-arrific idea you spoke about a few weeks back.”

    Yeah, what the hell happened to that? Why didn’t anybody pick up on it in the campaign? Tell me it wasn’t a dream… MYL saw it too…

  7. A policy with a built in fail-by date! Bad for the proposer! Good for anyone who wants to make fun of proposee in the future!

    I mean, imagine if they’d put a date on all those new day-care spaces that tax-incentive was supposed to create.

  8. Jack, not only did I see it, I tried to resuscitate it during PW’s English lesson tonight. No takers.

  9. About interprovincial trade barriers. I brought this up during a all candidates meeting in Victoria tonight (Esquimalt – Juan de Fuca). The Tory, Liberal and Green candidates were for reduced barriers, the NDP gave it lukewarm support then went off on a tangent about immigrants getting professional designations. I support quicker quals for immigrant professionals but reducing interprovincial barriers is a higher priority.

  10. Re: lack of discussion among pols, if not among ourselves, I know the details aren’t getting released until after the election (if there are any details to be released), but still, is there an unwritten agreement not to talk about it or have the campaigns just not noticed? Perhaps it’s in everybody’s best interest to pretend it isn’t happening. At least we know what the next election is going to be about.

  11. I dunno Jack, this campaign has been so chock-full of really meaty issues (pardon me while I attempt a solo Heimlich) that it just crowded out some other deserving stuff, like international trade…

  12. You are obviously not from Ontario, MYL, Our last provincial campaign turned solely & exclusively on whether or not to fund minority religious schools. Not that that wasn’t a no-brainer, but it swept everything else aside.

  13. Well thank heavens trifles like the lawless zone west of Hamilton didn’t preoccupy anyone during the Ontario election campaign.

    Similarly, it seems “a federal election is no time to discuss any issues in any detail,” only Ms. Campbell has taught us you can’t actually say it.

  14. That was one wise woman, in retrospect. Talk about “speaking truth to avoid power.”

  15. Andrew, were we separated at birth? How old are you? Notwithstanding your inexcusable willingness to participate in news discussion panels at the Mother Corp, it’s like you’re reading my mind here, especially with the “More” details. It’s quite spooky.

  16. Clearly Coyne doesn’t think saving the environment is important.

  17. A re-elected Conservative Government led by Stephen Harper will work to eliminate barriers that restrict or impair trade, investment or labour mobility between provinces and territories by 2010.

    I keep hearing about these barriers but I never hear what they are. Do they exist in reality?

  18. By the way, is this true. I heard that when the Conservatives were passing the plan out to reporters they were asking if if they’d like it in single or 2-ply.

  19. “why only with reciprocal access granted by other countries?”

    Why not Andrew? What’s so bad about reciprocity? It links quite nicely with the free-trade-in-Canada riff.

  20. We shouldn’t have to wait until other countries stop exploiting their consumers to stop exploiting ours.

  21. Funny…eliminate interprovincial trade barriers…so – when is the scheduled date for the meeting with the Premiers to kick this off?
    Not scheduled yet? Hm!
    Excuse me for harping on a recursive theme…but the PM has overlooked mention of negotiating a Free Trade Agreement with the European Union…and the date for THAT is FIXED – 3 days after the election…

    Hm – Suspicious…condescending….Harper doesn’t want to breath anything about this during the election…

    Hm – well – suppose it leaks out now…won’t make him look good, I’m pretty sure!

  22. “We shouldn’t have to wait until other countries stop exploiting their consumers to stop exploiting ours.”

    Agreement with the sentiment aside, I honestly don’t see how a good stern talking to from Ottawa is going to solve anything.

  23. Look at it the other way though Andrew: why should other countries get to exploit their consumers if we can’t exploit ours? Er, wait…

  24. We are in the middle of “maybe” the worst financial blunders in history. That should be Canada’s only mission right now. Our leader needs to lead. we need to stop … drop and roll.. postpone the election and focus on the economy.

    that has to happen ..

  25. Andrew – yes, but the flip side of that is that once you get a few countries to sign on, this puts the holdouts at a disadvantage. The only rationale for non-reciprocal lifting of trade barriers, in my view, is for critical products which can’t be sourced from partners which we are freetrading with.

  26. – I oppose any Senate reform that doesn’t involve a tombstone
    – Expanding RESP is just a tax credit for people who don’t need government help
    – I hope they don’t loosen the foreign investment rules on banks! that’s worked pretty well for us, don’t you think?
    – I hate FTA’s, lets just eliminate all our tariffs and stop trying to sign away elements of our national sovereignty

  27. I like the Senate. It keeps the old farts in plain sight.

  28. Forcing free trade on provinces from the top down won’t have as many of the great benefits which you expect.

    Obviously free trade is a good and trade barriers such as tariffs, quotas, etc. are an abomination which only makes the provinces poorer which indulge in such things. But there is a reason why these wealth-killing interventions have persisted for so long. The reason is federal transfers and equalization plus numerous other federal boondoggles and pork subsidies which actually encourage local politicians to wreck their own provincial economies. On the one hand the provincial politicians enact trade barriers which buy them votes and, ah, “favors” from the companies and unions which benefit from the barriers. The overall wealth of their province suffers, which makes them eligible to receive even more money from the feds to compensate. But the federal money doesn’t go into the hands of the ordinary blokes who suffer because of the trade barriers – the money goes into the hands of the provincial politicians who then divvy it up among themselves, their provincial bureaucracies, and the various municipal politicians/bureaucracies and corporate cronies who have shown a willingness to play ball with them. This gives them the incentive to hamper trade. Destroying their constituents’ wealth increases their own personal wealth and power.

    So the problem of hampered trade within Canada is due in large part to the bloated, crooked, interventionist policies of the federal government. It does not therefore follow that the only solution is for the federal government to ratchet up the intervention and stick their boots even further into the economy of Canada. That might shift the focal points of political overlordship somewhat, but in the end politicians will be politicians and the wealth of the country will continue to be horsetraded by people who have no moral right to stick their noses into the affairs of private business.

    Ending transfers, equalization and a lot of other federal boondoggles would be the most beneficial way to enhance free trade within Canada because it would remove the incentive for non-federal politicians and bureaucrats to wreck their own local economies. But there isn’t a single federal politician who would ever even speak about this reform, let alone enact it. That’s because the government sector attracts people who enjoy power and wealth as much as anybody but who dislike working in the private sector and last thing they are inclined to do is implement policies which would diminish their own power and increase the power and wealth of non-politicians and non-bureaucrats.

  29. Jim Flaherty… “Other countries have been increasing their deposit standards. But they are still for the most part below the high Canadian standard of $100,000,” he said.

    Except the US just went to $250,000 to allay the fears of loss there and keep money in the banking system. This is the mean-spirited, insensitive approach you get from Conservatives. Little protection if you do have savings and absolutely no help or care for Canadians with marginal incomes that are most likely to really start hurting really soon.

    You can’t ‘stay the course’ with someone who missed the boat.

  30. I’m really tired of the oposition parties trying to paint this horriby picture that the economic troubles for Canada (particularly in Ontario) are being caused by the Conservative Government! The reason we are in trouble here is due mostly to the finacial break down the the US (they are not spending and traveling here) which in turn has raised the Canadain dollar. Our manufacturing, tourism, forestry etc’s DEMAND is all drivin by the fact our dollar has been low.

    In touch times you have to cut back on spending and look for the opporunities that are being created by the slow down etc.

    The opposition leaders want to throw money at the failing industries in effort to save jobs. While this is valiant in an effort to save Canadain family the pain of layoffs, NEWS FLASH..until the US econmy gets better thier not going to be buying what we manufacture no matter how much money the Government throws into the industry.

    Canada needs strong, stable Ledership that is not going to spend billions on bandaids putting the Country into debt and further into recession. Harper said he would lower the GST and he has! I don’t remeber the other guys ever actually keeping a promise??

  31. The reduction in taxes on diesel fuel is basically a subsidy for the trucking industry. The railways have to maintain their own roads, but the trucking companies pound the crap out of our government-funded roads and resist any measures to address their emissions by pretending that their emissions belong to the sector (agriculture, manufacturing, etc.) that does the shipping.

    Trucking companies in Winnipeg (where the diesel tax promise announcement was made) are part of a a lobby to make Winnipeg an inland port, which means sucking up federal funding for trucking corridors and warehouses connected with Winnipeg International Airport. Where’s that money going to come from if we’re reducing their taxes?

    They should pay more of the costs of their industry not less.

  32. I like the concept of Senate reform. I just don’t like the Harper concept.

  33. “I like the concept of Senate reform. I just don’t like the Harper concept.”

    It appears that only the latter will bring the former.

  34. I think I`m paranoid- because when I saw your title I immediately thought of the Security and Prosperity Partnership and the approximate 500 conspiracy theories surrounding it.


    ‘Water is not for trade’ – A myopic and very misguided statement. Why is it that OIL, which in Alberta means money plus devastation of the landscape, is OK to trade, but WATER is not?

    The Canadian government should establish a national policy, and it should take control of fresh water sales.

    The revenues will enable funding of Medicare and Education at a time when the rest of the world’s economies are heading into the tank.



  36. Bulk export of water isn’t a very good idea, ecologically speaking. Neither are the tar sands, but two wrongs don’t make a right.

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