‘We deserve better’


Partisans are invited to debate the substance of it, but Michael Ignatieff’s speech in Toronto just now did seem a fairly explicit attempt to up the public oratory ante in this country.

Full text after the jump.

Moving Forward from Hardship to Hope

The Canadian Club of Toronto and the Empire Club of Canada 

Thank you Helen (Burstyn) for that warm introduction.

And thank you to Ucal Powell, Tony Iannuzzi and the members of the Carpenters’ Union for sponsoring this event.

The Carpenters’ Union was instrumental in proposing the country’s first national infrastructure program 15 years ago. 

Of course, in those days, it was run by a Liberal government, so the funds were not just announced, they were actually spent – and they put people to work right away, not in a few years’ time.

I appreciate this opportunity to meet with both the Canadian Club and the Empire Club.

And it is always great to be in the riding of my friend of 40 years – Bob Rae.

I am pleased to be here, even if the President-elect of the Canadian Club, John Capobianco, ran against me in Etobicoke-Lakeshore. He was a worthy opponent, and I salute him as a man and as a citizen.

As I look around the room today, I believe that the audience is split fifty-fifty in terms of political support.

Half of you are big fans of Prime Minister Harper.

And the other half are huge supporters of … President Obama.

The Empire Club and the Canadian Club are institutions that have always mattered to my family.

My great-grandfather—a proud New Brunswicker named George Parkin—spoke to the club.

My grandfather—a Russian émigré named Paul Ignatieff—spoke to this club.

My Dad spoke to this club in 1969.

He said then:  “Those to whom this opportunity is offered, I realize, have to be brilliant, or original, or both.  Since there is difficulty in being brilliant when you are trying to be original, and being original when you are trying to be brilliant, I shall merely try to be informative.”

I’ve been travelling coast to coast  with the leaders of my economic team—John McCallum and Scott Brison—holding town halls with business and union leaders, students, legislators, seniors, representatives of a wide range of communities, and Canadian citizens from all walks of life.

You can’t lead if you don’t listen.  We’ve listened.

I have listened to heartfelt stories about lost jobs, small businesses on the edge, fears about paying for drugs for sick children, worries about having to go to the local food bank. 

I have heard troubling questions. 

How will I ever get my first job? 

Have I seen my last job? 

How do I tell loyal employees that we are closing down?

How will we help our kids with their college funds? 

A large number of Canadians tell me: “Well, I’ll get by but I am worried about my neighbor … or my co-worker. 

We’re a people who look out for each other.

We must not lose this.

Recessions can divide a country, make us mean, turn us selfish.  We must not let that happen.

We need to take inspiration from each other.  That inspiration is all around.

One day, I was standing on the platform at the Union Station subway stop when a woman came up and wished me luck.

I asked where she was from and she said Oshawa.

She was on her way to the YMCA for some job counselling. I asked why and she said: she was a tool and die maker and GM had let her go. 

I said, “You must be worried” and she said, “You bet. I’m a single mom and I’ve got one kid in university and another finishing high school, and it all comes down to me.”

“But we’ll get there”, she said.

And with spirit like that, we will get there. 

We will get there together.

I’m in politics to help that woman get there: get the job training she needs, get the next job, get her kids through university and make sure she has a secure and happy retirement with her grandchildren.

She needs a government as strong and resourceful as she is.

Those of us in elected office cannot fail her.

We need to stand together as a country.

We went into this time of turmoil together and we must come out together: more united, more competitive, more confident than ever.

I know we can.

We Liberals understand about leadership in tough times. 

Canadians turn to us when times are tough.

Canadians remember.

Sound fiscal management, repeated surpluses, debt reduction, and tax cuts on profits, revenue and income. Strong financial performance and forward-looking social policies.

Canadians remember — we cleaned up the $42-billion deficit left behind by the Mulroney years.

We slayed that deficit, but at a steep cost.

Today, Mr. Harper is taking us back to those tough Tory times. 

Just yesterday, he signalled that we should be prepared for a $64-billion deficit in the next two years alone. He wants to get the bad news out of the way before the budget.

I asked Mr. Harper not to play games like that.  I wanted him to put the facts and figures on the table, not let them slip out at his convenience.  I think he just can’t help himself.  He thinks it is all just some kind of game.

The release of this budget information is irresponsible and potentially costly to the economy.

And who knows how many years Harper is planning to be in deficit? He hasn’t shared that information.

What we do know is that it was a long, hard road to dig us out of a huge deficit after the last Tory government. 

As we face the budget choices next week, I’ve been clear.

Targeted help to those Canadians who need help most is absolutely essential.

Broad-based tax cuts that dig us deeper into deficit are not.

This is not about gimmicks or politically popular moves. 

It is about listening to the real needs of Canadians. 

It is about trust. 

It is about competence.

And this is an issue of political morality.

My generation should pay its own freight. We shouldn’t burden the next generation with debts we didn’t pay off.

If the government proposes a deficit, I want to see the plan that digs us out of it quickly.  And I don’t want that plan based upon some unrealistic projections made up inside the Prime Minister’s Office.  Trust Canadians with the truth. 

Then show them competence.

When a Liberal government returned the country to surplus we set aside a contingency reserve – savings for a rainy day. 

A $3-billion dollar cushion.

But this government had other ideas.  They scrapped that reserve. They spent rashly. They cut taxes rashly.  They brought Canada to the red line when times were good.

Now the cupboard is bare. We face hard times, headed towards a deficit which may top $100 billion before we see the other side of this.

Barely eight weeks ago, the government claimed there would be only a short recession and certainly no need to run a deficit.

How did Stephen Harper so completely misjudge the crisis before us?

In September, on the campaign trail, Mr. Harper said if we were going to have a recession, we probably would have had it by now.

In October, he told us there was still no recession, but there sure were “a lot of great buying opportunities emerging… as a consequence of all the panic.”

In all seriousness, that was Mr. Harper’s strategy.

Let the chips fall where they may, and if you can make a few bucks off the misfortune of others, good luck to you.

Then, on November 27th, in front of Parliament and all Canadians, the Conservative government put forward its economic update.

According to Mr. Harper, there would be a surplus.

He said that the right way to address Canada’s difficulties was to take away civil servants’ right to strike, attack pay equity for women, and stop public funding for political parties.

That was not a program. It was a provocation.

And we said: No you don’t.  Back down. Think again.  This isn’t a game.  It is a recession with painful human consequences.

On Tuesday, we’ll all see whether the Prime Minister has learned to listen. 

If he hasn’t learned to listen, he’s not going to lead for long.

But let’s not forget that that the real test of leadership is listening when it counts.  Not waiting until the shop’s closed down to raise the alarm.

It also means getting your story straight, telling Canadians the truth and acting on economic reality and not political chicanery.

Mr. Harper has failed to tell Canadians the truth.

The truth is, we’ve lost more than 100,000 jobs in the last 60 days.

Yesterday morning, StatsCan reported that retail sales are falling further and sales for new cars are in sharp decline.

The unemployment rate for young Canadians is pushing 13 percent.

We don’t want a country where young people begin their working lives in the unemployment line.

And it’s not just those who can’t find work or who lose their jobs altogether.

At Canada’s largest steel company, Dofasco, thousands of employees were put on a two-week layoff over Christmas.

And as of January 1st, salaried employees are now working only four days a week. 

How would any of us like to have started the New Year with a 20 percent pay cut?

It’s not just the workers in the blast furnace and the coke ovens, the recession is hurting every family in Hamilton. 

It is hurting every family in Sudbury, The Soo, Windsor and Thunder Bay.

And the Canadians who work in the big bank towers here in downtown Toronto are just as uneasy.

That’s the truth.

This isn’t a central Canada recession. This is a Canadian recession.

The city in Canada that lost the most jobs last month was Calgary.  Alberta is hurting, and when Alberta hurts, the whole country suffers.

The forestry towns of the B.C. interior are facing the collapse of the housing market.

In Saguenay, Lac St. Jean, Alcan is cutting jobs.

In Esterhazy, Saskatchewan, the potash mines are cutting back.  Right across the country, millions of Canadians feel their futures hanging by a thread.

They know that unemployment is not just a statistic.

They know that unemployment is fear in your guts, worry that you are not going to be able to feed your family, fear that what’s happened to your neighbour is going to happen to you.

That’s the truth.

In hard times, Canadians expect compassion, understanding, and non-partisan action from their government. 

That’s the truth.

Canadians expect their leaders to have a plan—a plan that responds to the challenges at hand, while laying the foundation for a better future.

A competent plan.  A plan to manage the problems.  A plan to lead the country.

This Conservative government has failed them.

By mismanagement or by design, Mr. Harper has weakened the capacity of the federal government to act in the face of turbulence and uncertainty.

Reckless spending and irresponsible tax policies have left Canadians’ jobs, savings, and pensions—and our nation’s future prosperity—hanging in the balance.

Canadians expect more. We deserve better.

We deserve better than a government that turned an economic crisis into a political crisis, and then into a national unity crisis. 

We deserve better than a government that is the last in the G8 to come up with a plan for dealing with a crisis that the entire world saw coming.

And that’s the truth.

A key test of leadership is anticipating the future.

A train used to run through the centre of the little town in Quebec where I spent some summers, and my father once told me that if you put your ear to the rails, you could hear a train before you could see it. 

And we did.

And you could. 

And Mr. Harper didn’t.

Mr. Harper wasn’t listening.  He didn’t have his ear to the rail, and he didn’t act.

Rather than get infrastructure money out the door and get Canadians working, this government let $2 billion of allocated infrastructure funding go to waste—unspent.

We don’t need funds that are never invested.

We need money flowing now. 

We need to put people to work now. 

The projects are approved and ready to roll. 

The jobs are set to go. 

Everyone has been primed for action for a long time – except for the federal government.

Instead, 44,000 construction jobs were lost in December. 

The members of the Carpenters’ Union know that all too well.  It’s tough during the holidays hiding the fact from your kids that you don’t know when you’ll see your next pay cheque.

On Tuesday, Mr. Harper and his ministers are going to promise the same infrastructure they’ve failed to deliver for the last three years.

The time for splashy re-announcements, simplistic promises and inappropriate spending—the hallmarks of Mr. Harper’s government—has passed.

This crisis demands that we use the power of our government to the fullest. It demands that we understand what our government can be—and what it should be.

Because it’s not just about infrastructure, it’s about infrastructure that builds the country, so that when we are through this recession we’ll be prouder, more united and more competitive than ever. Conservatives don’t understand that.

Liberals do.  I do.

Conservative governments don’t build national institutions like medicare, a constitution, a flag, childcare, or the Kelowna Accord. Liberal governments do.  And that’s what we need to do now.

We need to build a budget that looks forward, that binds our country together and makes us stronger today and much stronger tomorrow.

Canadians know that their standard of living has always depended on prudent investment in public goods. They are the ties that bind us together as an economy and as a people.

We need affordable housing, public transit, energy grids, high speed rail and programs to help lift many Canadians – and their kids – out of poverty.

We need to help protect the pensions and savings of senior citizens, so that retirement is a time of happiness and accomplishment not a time of anxiety and fear.

Mr. Harper has allowed this country to slip, to become less than the sum of its parts. Now’s the time to pull together, to invest wisely in the projects that bring us together and make this country more than the sum of its parts.

This crisis is testing our political system and those like me who have entered public life.

Canadians everywhere are asking politicians: raise your game, be equal to the hour.

The inauguration of President Obama shows us how one man putting himself at the head of millions can restore trust and restore faith in the political process.

We in Canada must do the same.

We do not need to drift with the tide. 

We can act. 

We can choose. 

We can work to avoid the worst and search for the best.

We can rebuild the trust that has been broken and restore faith in our own country.

Canadians want a government that puts the country first.

Enough with the games.  Enough with the attack ads.

Let’s try to do what’s right. I shall try to do what’s right for my country next week.

I will ask some tough questions of Mr. Harper when he presents his budget:

Will it help the needy?

Will it save jobs?

Will it create the jobs of tomorrow?

Will it be fair to all of Canada’s regions?

Will it burden our children with debt?

This is what a responsible Opposition does. And if the government fails, I am ready to lead. I do not seek office at any price. But I am ready.

My deepest instinct about this country is that we are strong, not weak.

We are united, not divided.

Determined, courageous, uncomplaining and resolute.

We have been, we are, and we will be an example to the world.  We have been, we are and we will be a light among nations.

Now, in crisis, our light must shine.

We must seize the moment, as Canadians have done before.

The Royal York opened its doors in 1929.  It was the tallest building in the Commonwealth and the only one in Canada with elevators.

When the stock market crashed a few months later, many thought the Royal York would close its doors.  Many thought we would never again see tall buildings with elevators in Toronto.

Look at this city now.  Look at this country now.

And imagine what can be.

We can jump-start job creation.  Spur innovation.

We can lay the foundation for the economy of the future.

Protect the vulnerable, protect the jobs of today and create jobs for tomorrow. 

That’s the essence of our national interest and the test that this budget must meet.

My job is not to let Mr. Harper skate by with a passing grade.  That’s not acceptable. Not in these times.  Not ever.

Now is the time to do better – so much better.

I want to appeal to the best in Canadians.

To their compassion, decency, respect for others, civility, hardiness, generosity of spirit, patience, persistence and idealism.

My party and I want to bring people together with common purpose and common enterprise.

To show courage and boldness, and revive the faith that people have in themselves and in their country.

To draw upon the resourcefulness of Canadians and ask them to be equal to the greatness of their land.

To forge long-term prosperity.

Strengthen our citizenship.

Strengthen our unity.

Rediscover our place in the world.

Canadians understand that the days ahead will be difficult.

But together, we can fill them with optimism and hope.

And our light will shine brighter.

Thank you.


‘We deserve better’

  1. “We slayed that deficit, but at a steep cost.”

    Sadly, no.

    As the 13 billion-plus student debt load, and the 120 billion-plus infrastructure deficit show, the Liberals didn’t “slay” the deficit: they downloaded it onto the shoulders of others.

    If Buffy had fought vampires the way the Liberals “slayed” the deficit, she’d have bought them all bus tickets out of Sunnydale so they could bite people somewhere else.

    • “We slayed that deficit, but at a steep cost.”

      Sadly, very much NO. “We slew that deficit,” please. You can’t be Obama if you neglect the strong verbs. You just can’t.

  2. When a Liberal government returned the country to surplus we set aside a contingency reserve – savings for a rainy day. A $3-billion dollar cushion. But this government had other ideas. They scrapped that reserve. They spent rashly. They cut taxes rashly. They brought Canada to the red line when times were good.

    The Liberal talking point about Paul Martin’s mythical $3-billion “cushion” is getting a little old.

    First, it would have hardly made a dent in the deficits we are looking at now.

    Second, it was pure window dressing, not fiscal prudence. There is no real difference between establishing a $3-billion “contingency reserve”, or using that money to pay down national debt and then borrowing later if necessary. It’s all about political optics.

    • Hardly make a dent? That’s a $3-billion cushion PER ANNUM. Plus an ultra conservative projections that resulted in huge surpluses year after year. Which, I beleive, Stephen Harper and Co. called money stolen from taxpayers, and decried such chicanery. Rainy day funds like that would certainly have eased matters tremendously, and put us in a much better position than even we are now.
      Rainy day funds are established for a reason, and just because people like Stephen Harper can’t see the logic of that when times are booming doesn’t mean that they aren’t just as prudent.
      It just demonstrates why Canada needs Stephen Harper to move on and let competent people run the government.

      • Rainy day funds like that would certainly have eased matters tremendously, and put us in a much better position than even we are now.

        We’re looking at deficits in the $30 millions, PER ANNUM, maybe more, depending on who you believe. I’m not sure what definition of “tremendously” you’re working with here, but a $3M “rainy day fund” would put us in the $27M deficit range, instead of $30M deficit range. Not exactly a golden bullet.

        • not millions, Olaf, Billions. They’re slightly bigger.

          • My bad.

        • Follow the math…………..
          $3B contingency x 3 years of Conservative govnerment = $9B.
          $30B annual deficit x 2 years projection = $60B
          $60B – $9B = $51B = 85% LESS of a hole we would be in had we had a more prudent govenrment, and that does not include the ultra-conservativism built in to previous budgets. (And the Conservatives kicked and screamed at it every year.)
          There’s no escaping, Harper’s going to wear this big time, and deservedly so.

          • That 85% should be 15%. ….. :(

          • Wow. 15% really is tremendous. If the “rainy day funds” carried over like that, but they didn’t. It wasn’t cumulative. By your reasoning, all those years that the Liberals were in surplus, the $3B should have carried over each year, so the contingency fund would be in the high $20Bs when they left office. It wasn’t, because they spent it or paid off the debt with it, each year. Just like Harper did, you see. The $3B contingency fund wouldn’t make much of a difference if we’re looking at $30B deficits, remains the point.

            There’s no escaping, Harper’s going to wear this big time, and deservedly so.

            Rightly so, to a certain extent. I was merely rejecting your implication that a contingency fund would have allowed Canada to skate through the economic crisis more or less scott free.

      • Michael: the point is that any “cushion” is an illusion – nothing more than an accounting trick. As I said, there is no difference between debt reduction and establishing a “cushion”. In fact, it makes more sense to pay down Canada’s higher interest rate debt, and then borrow as needed later on, at a lower interest rate. Right now, the government’s cost of borrowing is at an all-time low because interest rates are near zero.

        And, as Olaf pointed out (though he meant to say “billions”), the contingency fund would have done nothing to prevent the current defecits – it would have only created the illusion that the federal government was borrowing slightly less money.

        • Well, we have a huge difference of opinion, then. Even the US, which has not run a budgetary surplus since the conservatives came into power there, are still able to borrow more now that times are bad. It’s always an accounting ‘trick’ in that the money can pretty much always be there as much as the markets will support, whether you have been running in hole or not. But a lower indebted country like Canada is in much better shape for those previous (ie Liberal) years of surplus and debt reduction, always cushioned with ultra conservative projections and a contingency fund for a rainy day that never came (until now, now that’s been taken away).
          But I like the line that those beefy surpluses in years past were just illusions. I hope Harper and Co run with that.

          • You still haven’t grasped my point that taking $3B from a surplus and calling it a “contingency fund” is no different, in terms of economics, from taking that same $3B surplus and using it to pay down debt. If you don’t know enough about economics to understand this simple point, there is no point to continuing the discussion.

            One more try: suppose Canada’s “rainy day” fund is worth $10B after several years of surpluses. Suppose the gov’t is worried about running a $10B deficit so they decide to use the rainy day fund to make up the shortfall. Presto! No deficit.

            Now suppose the government had used that $10B to pay down the national debt instead of establishing a rainy day fund. Their only option is run a $10B deficit, which means that they will be borrowing back the $10B they paid down earlier.

            The only difference between the two scenarios is that in the first, the government was able to use the rainy day fund to conceal the defecit (in other words, to hide the fact that there was a shortfall between revenues and expenditures). In the second, the government was forced to be honest about the defecit and also saved money in interest payments during the few years that the national debt was temporarily reduced.

            Got it?

  3. I’ll let the ConBots handle this. I don’t care for speeches anyway.

  4. Sounds like a lot of the things Stephane Dion was saying, but couldn’t express properly.

  5. Nah. Gavin Crawford’s better.

  6. How do you up the ante of public oratory? I can’t quite wrap my head around that concept.

    • It may not be strictly legal, not to mention immoral.

      • Come to think on it, you may not want to wrap yr head around that one.

  7. Good grief : this rather poor attmept at a prosaic speech reminds me of a story told by Obama’s aide – apparently he had been aiding Obama for quite some time but never had a message to carry as of yet and lo and behold there was this meeting that was particularly long, boring and without content so apparently Obama wrote down a message motioned for his aide who picked up the note and read : shoot me now please! – ROFL

    • To be fair, as mediocre as it is, I don’t think Steve gives many speeches that are noteworthy (he sets the bar low enough to step over). Just about the only one I can think of is his first victory speech, where he seemed a different man. I was slightly creeped-out, but his tone gave me a glimmer of optimism that he might not be so bad after all. Turns out I was wrong, and that speech was more of a nyah-nyah at the centre-left than anything.

      • Actually I have been to quite of Steve’s speeches at least all the ones out here in the west that I could get to and they are different as he doesn’t try to get all touchy feely with the crowd – one thing he is very good at is humour – some of his zingers were well worth the speech. But that is irrelevant as what was being discussed was the above speech. I have a strange feeling that we will be deluged with the party that shines with the light of nations etc etc etc for quite some time by the LPC at least until until their internal polling shows them that canadians aren’t buying add water and mix LPC to get Obama and please please get to the point!

        • Have the text of any? At the very least, Steve’s delivery is usually fairly wooden. Not that that is a problem per se, but we’re talking about oratory.

        • some of his zingers were well worth the speech.

          Do you actually remember any of them? If so, please share. I’m so in the mood for conservative wit.

          • “Whether Canada ends up as one national government or two national governments or several national governments, or some other kind of arrangement is, quite frankly, secondary in my opinion. ”

            -S. Harper

          • Or how about:

            “You’ve got to remember that west of Winnipeg the ridings the Liberals hold are dominated by people who are either recent Asian immigrants or recent migrants from eastern Canada: people who live in ghettoes and who are not integrated into western Canadian society”

          • I love when Harper uses the phrase “quite frankly”.

            It’s like advance notice that my bullshit detector is about to fly into the red. For all the ‘chessmaster’ talk, this guy has a tell that would cripple him in poker.

          • Harper has had some zingers. Here’s a few:

            I’ve been told tonight that I should engage in self-deprecation but in my church they say that can make you go blind.

            You know, I’m constantly being called non-descript, lacking any kind of image, having no personality and each time I respond the same way, ‘Kids – go to your room’.

            I know some of you think here tonight that I am bitter of some of the campaign media coverage. But I don’t think it’s fair to describe my relationship with the media as stand-offish. I prefer the term walk-pastish, or better yet, drive-by-with-car-and-splash-with-puddlish.

            At a meeting recently, someone tested me on my economic knowledge. He asked me if I knew the definition of heteroscadasity. I said ‘Heteroscadasity, yes I remember but in the Conservative party we now call that the traditional definition of scadasity.’

            Those are from way back when Harper went to the press gallery dinners.

          • I’m not convinced he wrote those. Although the one about splashing the media with a car as you drive by rings rather true to me.

          • Enough Olaf, or I’ll wet my pants. And not for the usual reasons.

          • Haha some of thsoe are good, but remember the Cosnervatives are walking on eggshells when it comes to the text of some Stephen Harper’s previous speeches. This is a guy who left politics for the National Citizen’s Coalition when the Reform Party became to moderate for him.

          • Didn’t we determine last year during the whole speech plagiarism episode that Harper doesn’t have any input into the text of his speeches? Or does he just write the jokes and leaves the policy to whichever staffer is displaying the most zealousness?

          • The only authentically funny line i’ve seen atributed to Steveis: ” You always know where you stand with Mr Layton, as he never fails to let you down”.
            I like Feschuks take on SH delivering Churchills famous wartime speech. [ paraphrased]
            “Look, obviously we can meet them down at the beach. But quite frankly i’m not sure about never surrendering, we’ll just have to see if it’s in our best interests…the landing stages we should be able to hold as long as it falls within the parameters of this fiscal year end…”

          • Ian has a pt. Harper’s very best speechs don’t actually belong to him, but since he does have an elastic view of copyright maybe,strictly speaking, they shouldn’t count.

  8. “The Carpenters’ Union was instrumental in proposing the country’s first national infrastructure program 15 years ago.

    Of course, in those days, it was run by a Liberal government, so the funds were not just announced, they were actually spent – and they put people to work right away, not in a few years’ time.”

    What is he referring to? There have been plenty of infrastructure programs before 1993. Do we have a humongous thing built out of wood that I am unaware of? And if it did put people to work “right away” it was because it wasn’t subject to a million and one environmental assessments, a change that we can thank the Libs for.

    It’s hard to know if this raised the oratory in Canada because we need to hear Iggy, not read what he said. He could have been mumbling and bumbling for all we know.

    • Hear hear, we need the Youtube clip. Iggy staffers, au secours!

  9. The best part was when he said high-speed rail would lift Canadians out of poverty. How? I’m not exactly sure, but apparently it will. Iggy said so.

    • Read the whole sentence:

      We need affordable housing, public transit, energy grids, high speed rail and programs to help lift many Canadians – and their kids – out of poverty.

      • Re-reading it, I see what you’re getting at. High-speed rail stuck out like a sore thumb for me since I was focusing on the whole raising people out of poverty aspect of the sentence and could see how everything else listed could help the poor. Given the context of linking standard of living of every Canadian to public investment it makes more sense.

    • Well it might solve the homeless problem anyway.

  10. Yah, Ignatieff’s gotta get himself an Australian PM joke writer, stat!

  11. >Canadians remember — we cleaned up the $42-billion deficit left behind by the Mulroney years.
    >Just yesterday, he signalled that we should be prepared for a $64-billion deficit in the next two years alone. He wants to get the bad news out of the way before the budget.

    Iggy’s revisionism is irritating. The Liberals handed Mulroney’s government an operating deficit and just under $240 billion of federal debt at a time of relatively high interest rates. The Mulroney government restored the operating balance (revenues less expenses, not including cost of servicing the public debt) to a surplus (a net surplus of over $40 billion over the fiscal years (FY) 85-86 through 93-94). The Mulroney government was unable/unwilling to enact the necessary spending cuts or tax increases to zero out the interest on the federal debt, so the maintenance costs on that $240 billion of debt continued to accumulate. If it is fair to say that the Conservatives failed to solve the problem despite some effort, it is equally fair to say the Liberals created the problem.

    When Chretien’s government first won office, interest rates had fallen by roughly half from recent peak values. By the time Chretien’s government posted its first net surplus (operating balance less cost of servicing debt) in FY 97-98, interest rates were roughly one-third of recent peak values. The year of big federal spending cuts was FY 96-97, following a modest series of cuts in FY 95-96. But even those two cuts only amounted to a spending decrease in the neighbourhood of $12 billion: the lion’s share of the difference between net surplus and deficit was won by the increases in revenue and reductions in the cost of servicing existing debt. Interest rates were clearly trending down before Chretien became PM, so we know the Liberals can not claim credit. And irrespective of the magnitude of good effects (on government revenues) of the Free Trade Agreement and GST, we know the Liberals can not claim credit for those either.

    Then followed three years of restrained spending growth, but in FY 00-01 the government’s spending habits exploded and continued to leap from year to year – a trend well-established before Harper became PM.

    The Liberals governed no differently than how they accuse the Conservatives of governing now: in each year of a net surplus, a modest fraction was paid against the public debt and the rest went to new spending. Even without new programs or one-time initiatives, it must be expected that spending will increase year-over-year in nominal dollars to account for inflation. Recent spending increases by the Harper government have mostly been to keep pace with inflation and in the form of transfers to other levels of government. Those who howled loudly when the Chretien government downloaded some of its problems are presumably highly satisfied and laudatory of Conservative efforts to mitigate that change now.

    We remember that the coalition called for approximately $30 billion (at least) of new spending, and the only proposed mitigation was the tentatively extended and hastily withdrawn proposal of the NDP to make up the difference with corporate taxation. All Iggy has to quibble about is a difference of opinion in how it is spent, but it is unlikely there exist any people sufficiently brilliant to spend it wisely. The governati are simply blindly casting about with our money.

    Finally, although the Conservatives have essentially handled the finances much as did the Liberals, there is this one difference: the GST cut transferred about $12 billion a year in spending from the government’s hands back into our own.