It is true that the Conservatives have in recent months allocated substantial funds for provincial and municipal capital projects. However, given the rushed nature of this initiative, the very limited time allowed for applications for funding to be submitted to the federal government, and the fact that projects approved for funding are heavily concentrated in Conservative ridings, it is evident that politics, not economic policy, is the guiding force here. The total amount of money being offered by the Conservative Government could have had a positive impact on the country if allocated to major infrastructure projects devoted to such objectives as easing congestion or protecting the environment. Instead, the money will be scattered, in dribs and drabs, on local community centers and other such projects – all for the photo ops for Conservative members or candidates who are on hand for the announcements.
Pork barrel politics has been around a long time but the Conservatives have elevated the practice to a new level (or should we say have lowered it to a new depth). One is reminded of Tony Clements and the $50 million spent on gazebos and such for his riding under the heading of border security for the G-8 and G-20 meetings that Canada hosted in 2010 – although the only border anywhere near Tony’s projects is that defining Algonquin Park! In 1928, Herbert Hoover promised “a chicken in every pot” and “a car in every garage.” The new Conservative slogan might read “a gazebo in every riding – as long as you elect a Conservative.”
The Price Paid for Attempting to Balance the Budget
Even more disturbing than the misuse of the new capital funding is the extent to which the Conservatives have cut programs and reduced service standards in their obsession with reaching a balanced budget. Among the more ignominious results have been cuts to health benefits to refugees and increased delays for returning Veterans seeking to access services and supports. We would know more about the impact of the Conservative spending cuts over the years except that the government has consistently blocked requests for information needed for such an analysis from the Parliamentary Budget Officer, a position established by the Harper Government to foster trust in government. The irony is breathtaking!
Flying on One Wing
With the Conservative Government failing to introduce fiscal policies that would help to counteract the recession into which Canada seems to be slipping, we are left relying only on monetary policy – with the result that the Bank of Canada has recently announced a further cut in the bank rate – to 0.5%. This will only serve to overheat the real estate market further and lure more Canadians into an excessive debt load that they will likely have great difficulty carrying when interest rates move back up to any significant degree.
Evaluating the Conservative Record
If the polls are to be believed, many Canadians apparently still cling to the notion – against all evidence – that the Conservatives are best at managing the economy, so it must be acknowledged that they continue to excel as masters of spin. They also stand alone when it comes to excessive partisanship. But as far as managing the economy, the Conservative superiority is strictly a myth that needs to be debunked, forcefully!