'FIVE BILLION DOLLARS' - Macleans.ca

‘FIVE BILLION DOLLARS’

The Bloc’s demands should serve as a model to the other opposition parties

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Those three words—in ALL CAPS to boot—comprised Andrew Coyne’s Twittered reaction to the Bloc Québécois’s demands ahead of the budget. It’s certainly a staggering request, especially considering the state of Ottawa’s finances and the fact more than half the money is earmarked to rectify historical grievances.

Before we go any further, here’s how the $5,058,000,000 the Bloc wants sprinkled around Quebec breaks down:

(1) Reversal of changes to the equalization formula implemented in 2009*: $1.25 billion
(2) Compensation for changes to the equalization formula implemented in 2009 : $250 million
(3) New spending on education and social programs: $800 million
(4) Compensation for harmonization of sales taxes in 1991: $2.2 billion ($1.5 billion in 2011-12)
(5) Compensation for a general decline in revenues: $137 million
(6) Compensation for the ice storm in Montreal in 1998: $421 million
(7) Gilles Duceppe’s pledge to vote for the budget: priceless

Thing is, even if I find it laughable to include a request for money for the ice storm, I have to confess I find the clarity here somewhat refreshing. That’s largely because the Bloc’s demands (PDF here) aren’t just that. What the party released today was more like an economic platform than a simple ransom note. The Bloc’s proposals include a whole host of changes, like additional financial aid to the manufacturing sector, money for an NHL arena in Quebec City, a hike in culture spending, the list goes on. There are also revenue generators like a new tax on income over $150,000, cuts to military spending, and the elimination of subsidies to the oil and gas sector.

So while the scope of Duceppe’s expectations for Quebec may be ludicrous—in itself, the fact the Bloc is asking for money can’t possibly come as a shock to anyone with a pulse—I’m finding it hard to get all that worked up about them. In fact, isn’t this exactly what opposition parties should be doing—you know, telling voters how they’d do things differently if it were up to them? Moreover, don’t we want political parties that make it clear which demands are negotiable and which are not—and to then stand by those principles?