Monday, June 6, 2011

The Federal Budget

Source: CTV News: Highlights of the Federal Budget
Source: CBC News: Flaherty Sticks to Deficit Pledge, But Adds No Details

Again, I'm still on the mend, so getting here to post isn't always a priority at the moment. However, I've found some time and a comfortable sitting position, so let's begin.

The House of Commons in back in session, for the first phase of the first Harper Conservative Majority government. Andrew Scheer was elected by his peers to serve as Speaker of the House, making him the youngest Speaker in the history of the Commons at 32 years old. The Throne Speech was handed down last Friday, during which a Senate Page engaged in some civil disobedience by holding up a sign saying 'Stop Harper' during the reading of the speech.

The page of course was fired from her position, but she seems to have entered the spotlight well enough that I don't think finding future employment will be too hard for her. Most of the parties have condemned her actions, or at least her methods.

And that brings us to budget day. I haven't had a chance to read through the whole budget text yet, but from what I'm reading in the highlights...It's more or less what we've expected. A re-hash of the failed budget from before the election, but with a few new goodies for a select few in it.

Primarily, Harper's Government has added the $2.2 billion dollar payment to Quebec to the budget; a move they would not add for the Bloc Quebecois for their support prior to the non-confidence vote that brought the government down.

Of course, hindsight is 20/20; but this is clearly nothing more than an attempt by the Harper Government to bolster their fortunes in Quebec. With the Bloc Quebecois decimated by the NDP in the election, the Conservatives are now hoping to replace the NDP as the first choice of Quebec voters.

After all, the Conservatives also took a number of wallops in Quebec as well, as several prominent Cabinet Ministers were relieved of their jobs and seats in the election. It's speculative, but I don't believe we'd have seen this measure in the budget had the Bloc Quebecois maintained their seat count, or if the Conservatives had surpassed the NDP in the province.

So, the budget so far contains an attempt to buy Quebec voters to the Conservative Party with tax dollars. What else does it have?

Despite it becoming a major talking point in the Maritimes, there is no mention of Federal support for a power project in Lower Churchill. This could also be tied to the idea of bolstering support for the Conservatives in Quebec, as Premier Jean Charest and others balked the idea as it would be harmful to Quebec's hydroelectric power providers.

Whether or not that is the reason why the Conservatives have put off the Lower Churchill project, despite being the first party to pledge support during the election, remains to be seen.

And finally, depending on who you believe, the talk of the deficit continues.

During the election, Jim Flaherty and Stephen Harper began to throw out numbers on when the deficit would be rolled back. Despite a budget saying it wouldn't happen until 2014 - 2015, I recall them coming out and saying a Conservative majority could roll back the deficit by 2013.

Despite this claim that the deficit could be rolled back years ahead, Flaherty's budget contains the same numbers as before, without the election time calculation. In fact, a year has been ADDED to the budget deficit numbers, with Flaherty's own projections suggesting that the deficit will be gone by 2015 - 2016.

And of course, Flaherty touts programs cuts and government spending cuts as the primary means of achieving the reduction of the deficit.

So, we have 2 broken promises (deficit reduction by 2013, Lower Churchill Federal support) and a massive payout to Quebec at a time when austerity is being preached and ways to save money within the government are being talked about. And that brings us to one promise they did keep: the promise to remove political per vote subsidies.

Now, I've talked about this issue before. Political subsidies allow parties to be able to share their message with Canadians, while decreasing the influence of powerful interests behind the scenes. While there are caps on how much a person can contribute to a political party, and bans on corporations and unions and other groups from contributing at all, the subsidies ensured that parties stood on equal footing compared to their support.

By removing the subsidies, we are allowing ONE PARTY to control the message. One party that is able to raise more money will be able to buy more air time, buy more advertising in papers and billboards, and be able to get their message out louder and more often than the other parties.

That is not democracy, that's oligarchy.

In order for democracy to work, political parties must stand on an equal footing and be able to get their messages across to voters. We cannot allow those with the most money to simply control the agenda and the message, to decide what is and is not important and what does and does not have merit in discussing. If we do that, then one party will always control the message and the medium and will clobber the electorate over the head into believing their spin and their bias, not the truth.

Democracy must be fair and balanced and removing these subsidies will only tip the scales and allow the Conservatives to control the message and the debate. Democracy thrives on debate and the free exchange of ideas, and this removal of subsidies will only foster the destruction of these ideals.

All in all, a budget that addresses nothing more than the Conservative desire to attract more voters and increase their own political fortunes.

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